Collaboration key to success of e-services
Reports by Ross Milburn
Closer co-operation between government departments will give citizens what they want - a single website that can answer all their queries
E-GOVERNMENT is a fast-growing global phenomenon that will eventually transform the relationship between citizens and governments, while greatly improving the efficiency of service delivery and better satisfying the needs of the public.
However, the public's response to the government's adoption of e-commerce methods has been mixed, and some services are underutilised.
Efforts are under way to refine e-government to make it match the needs of citizens and government users more closely.
One reason for the initial lack of enthusiasm is that government departments have gone online independently, fragmenting the services needed by the public.
'A Hong Kong citizen who wants to buy a house may have to go to five different departments to complete the paperwork,' said Dion Wiggins, vice-president and research director for Gartner.
'This could mean going to five websites and entering data that is 80 per cent the same in each case. The citizen wants to go to a single government website and fill in one form that can provide data to all the appropriate departments. The issue is customer value, not just internal efficiency.'
Cisco Systems, which builds e-government networks, has found that cross-agency collaboration is one of the foundations for successful e-government. A common complaint from citizens is that e-government is too complex, and that it can be difficult to know where to get help.
Cisco worked with governments to find solutions to this problem, said Charleston Sin, Cisco general manager, Hong Kong and Macau.
'For example, New York has introduced a 311 number for all non-emergency government services,' he said. 'A citizen can call 311 for any government service and operators answer the question or connect the caller immediately to someone who can.'
Canada had a similar option called the Services Canada bureau, he said.
'Citizens can either go to a certain website or dial 1800 Canada for assistance on any government-related questions. Over 50 per cent of all calls made to the federal government now go through Services Canada.'
Singapore's eCitizen portal aggregated both government and non-government services, Mr Sin said.
'For example, if you move house in Singapore, you only need to go to the eCitizen portal and enter your information once to notify all government services, and non-government services such as banks, telephones and utilities.'
Internal users also benefited from interdepartmental sharing of e-government applications, Mr Wiggins said.
'For example, the government of Brunei has one implementation of PeopleSoft and one team to manage it, yet in each department the application appears as if it were its own system. The operation and maintenance of the system is centralised, which vastly reduces costs.'
In a similar vein, Cisco is wor-king with government agencies to build internal shared services for routine administrative functions such as payroll, human resources and facilities management. Countries such as Singapore, Australia, Canada and Austria were adopting this model, Mr Sin said.
'Shared services allow different government departments to consolidate administrative tasks into web-based, integrated services that can be shared by multiple agencies, allowing civil servants to focus more on their core activities,' he said.
Two years ago, the Thai government mandated that all its departments should use e-procurement, but they were asked to report e-procurement activities only once in 90 days.
'This meant that many of the trading advantages of e-procurement, such as aggregating orders with other departments to increase purchasing power and lower transport costs, were lost,' Mr Wiggins said. 'Also, information on pricing and availability was out of date by the time it was shared. The real benefit of e-procurement is gained only through interdepartmental collaboration.'
Most of the barriers to e-government were problems of politics, rather than of technology, Mr Wiggins said. 'For example, if a government wishes to introduce a national ID card, the issues that arise include who uses it, what data is stored and in what format, and who will be able to access that data. Privacy laws may have to be amended to access personal records, and electronic signatures have to be valid if electronic documents are to have legal validity, and that takes time.'
Sybase reports that the latest database technologies can support an emerging category of applications that can help citizens make informed decisions by providing analysis capabilities to answer citizens' questions. The need is for analysis-ready databases that can handle large numbers of users with complex queries, manage large amounts of data in an efficient way and provide fast response times, while running on commodity hardware.
There is also a requirement to store large amounts of historical data online in a way that is easy to access. Analysis database technologies can offer data compression and provide support for a large number of users, plus high performance and security.
Date September 5, 2006
Venue Function Room 1-3, Level 3, Cyberport
To publicise the government's IT initiatives and review the progress of its projects
For e-government practitioners and IT professionals to share
experiences and get updated on industry trends
Future of e-government
Latest solutions and applications for government and public services
Transformation and business process redesign and management
Expo themes Information and knowledge management, business process management, network and security management, open source applications, and web applications and solutions for government and public services
Who should go CEOs, directors, heads of departments, IT directors, project managers, policymakers, councillors, public interest lobby groups, IT professionals, vendors and outsourcing executives
Admission Register online, one-day conference package $1,000