If your organization is still just talking about
electronic service delivery (ESD), then it will have to run to catch the
next train - Government On-Line (GOL). The single concept that attempts to
capture the GOL vision is "user-centric." The goal is to build
electronic services around what is variously described as the user,
client, customer or citizen.
The concept represents an enormous challenge for
procurement specialists who will oversee the purchase and implementation
of the three public 'electronic windows' to tomorrow's systems: the
hardware and software for direct voice response; kiosk systems that put
government systems in public spaces; and of course, building and
maintaining secure Internet sites.
Art Daniels, a veteran administrator with the Ontario
government said, "For the purchasing person, it's a great market,
because it's very competitive. There is no longer a need for departments
and ministries." People want to deal with products and services, not
branches and levels of government, and Electronic Service Delivery enables
that kind of interaction. Daniels cited the Kingston, Ontario experiment
that removed levels of government from the telephone book's blue page
section and listed products and services like firearm permits or birth
certificates instead. Public satisfaction was immediate and intense.
Dean Miller, an Ontario-based director general with Human
Resources Development Canada, said, "Timing pressures have forever
changed. Services are expected online and we have to be all things to all
people. We have to help people in their choices."
The citizen will have something Miller called managed
choice. He advised planners to think about services first and then select
the appropriate delivery channels - not everything through every channel.
People with special needs will still require special service delivery
options and government is obliged to provide them.
Jim Alexander, program director of the Strategic
Infrastructure Initiative at the federal Treasury Board Secretariat says
today's government websites are department-specific, which runs counter to
how people want to use the Internet. Service expectations are already
exceptional. Information and transactions must be accessible within three
or four clicks of the mouse. The new, digital citizen expects a response
to an email inquiry within four hours, whereas a reply to a mail inquiry
within two weeks is still considered adequate.
What will federal online services look like? They will be
fully bilingual and available everywhere through a single Internet site,
though still duplicated by existing, traditional service delivery methods:
mail, telephone, counter service, facsimile, all channels which private
enterprise can modify or avoid completely. The difference between
e-commerce and e-government, according to Campbell Robertson, manager of
e-business solutions in Oracle Canada's Ottawa office, is the number of
suppliers each wants to deal with and the time spent with them.
"Where private-sector organizations want to reduce
the number of suppliers and amount of time needed to deal with suppliers
and other stakeholders," he said, "governments want to increase
the number of suppliers and the number of contacts with them."
Canadians expect to see a consistency of service in their
contacts across those channels and also across governments. Why should
similar federal, provincial and municipal permits involve vastly different
forms, fees and requirements for information? The GOL equivalent of
comparison shopping will be citizens who demand ease of use, reasonable
fees and an end to what they perceive as pointless bureaucratic demands
for irrelevant information.
The Speech from the Throne remains the federal guiding
star in the move to become the government "most connected" to
its citizens by 2004. While the framework at the federal level to make
that happen is falling into place, with policies on consumer protection,
privacy guidelines, electronic signatures, security systems and a tax
neutrality policy, some Canadian businesses still don't see the need. Our
top retailers are half as likely to be online as their US counterparts,
and many businesses simply do not see e-commerce in their future.
Helen McDonald, director general of GOL at Industry
Canada, said Canadian companies traditionally have about a two percent
share of any market in which they participate. In the case of e-commerce,
the federal government would like to see that increase to a market share
of about five percent. That level of participation would create 180,000
So far, the Canadian government is not online in a real
sense. "We don't really have a critical mass of services up there
yet. What we really lack is a clearly articulated vision and targets that
are out there in the public," McDonald concluded.
There are many ESD success stories at every level of
government, but the challenge of GOL is to make products and services
multi-jurisdictional. Alexander sketched three tiers in the development of
The first is a simple presence, with information, email
capability and perhaps a common look and feel across departments and
The second is full ESD, with online transactions and all
the security features and "back office" processing that implies.
The third level, and possibly the ultimate that can be
realistically visualized today, calls for, in Alexander's words, "a
fundamental shift in our business processes - inter-jurisdictional
While the online public servant will be on an equal
technological footing with the rest of the world, the GOL initiative will
be won or lost behind the scenes, in the business arrangements between
branches, departments and levels of government.
Can we succeed? Alexander sounded an ominous note when he
said, "Fifty percent of all government information technology
executives are in a position to retire within three years." Canada,
with multiple and often conflicting jurisdictions, faces real obstacles in
transforming ESD into GOL. Can politicians resist branding their
electronic services by name and department to the detriment of usability?
Can bureaucrats resist barriers like compulsory surveys, unnecessary
passwords and "upselling" to other programs and services?
Canadians will undoubtedly compare the federal online
service with those of other cities, provinces or countries. A host of
private-sector providers stand ready to provide whatever online services