What is e-Government?
e-Government is the introduction of electronic methods of improving the way Government performs it's business. The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has set revised targets for all Government services to be offered online by 2005. This includes the aim to have e-enabled elections with the capacity for an e-enabled General Election some time after 2006.
The current principal access channels are:
e-Government can offer services to citizens by providing them with greater access to information; to businesses by providing a single point of access for administrative information and requirements and between administrations, here, e-Government can provide ways to enable a structured interaction between national, regional and local Government.
Examples of e-Government
Services to citizens
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council has established 11 Customer Service Centres covering the major communities in the East Riding. Contact centres deal with all enquiries. The councils Customer Service Centre deals with over 1 million calls per year. Calls can be re-routed around the different contact centres to deal with peaks and troughs of workload. A recently purchased Customer Relations Management package ensures that all contacts, whether by phone, in-person or by correspondence are recorded and available for the next call. The council is also developing a series of remote access points called Citizen link to allow video contact in the most rural areas with the council and other services providers, including the Citizens Advice Bureaux and other community legal services.
A number of councils use swipecards to replace girobooks, which provide more flexible methods of payments for tenants and to reduce transaction costs. Westminster Council swipecards can be used to pay rent at any of its one stop centres, at post offices and at special payment points throughout the country. Apart from being lighter and easier to carry by tenants, swipecards save Westminster approximately £50,000 pa. They also reduce the potential for human error which can occur in a manual system.
The Leicester Disability Information and Communication Network has equipped eight centres in the city with suites of specially adapted PCs. The computers, which are used by 600 disabled people, have aids including keyboards with oversized keys and devices instead of mice for controlling the machines. The centres also have colour scanners and digital cameras. Leicester has commissioned 10 kiosks with an adjustable touch screen and keyboard, which will be placed in public places around the city. The team of five people that run the project has developed a website with chat rooms, games, email and internet access. One of the unusual features of the programme is that it aims to produce systems that cover as many disabilities as possible. There are eight different ways of looking at the website, for instance.
Several housing authorities, for example Nottingham, the London Boroughs of Camden and Newham and Nottingham are developing digital TV to provide information and housing services. This recognises that TV is widespread in a way that personal computers with internet connections are not yet. Nottingham City Council is working with ntl to provide a digital communications service to 4000 homes. This will provide email and internet access via the TV used for a range of services with an emphasis on education and e-Learning.
One-stop shopping portals (ie. HELP is a comprehensive citizen portal of the Federal Chancellery in Austria), are gradually becoming the norm for citizen services. A life-event orientation (The term life event refers to the Government services needed at specific stages in life, eg. having a baby; starting/leaving school; changing employment status; being a victim of crime; moving home; becoming disabled; retiring), is often offered on the portal, bringing together all relevant information for citizens related to a specific stage in life. The Irish General Register Office life events site provides automatic processing of child benefits claims. CAT365 from Spain addresses education and training, finding a job (and an integrated business creation service).
Such citizen portals are becoming more sophisticated by adding electronic identification, electronic payments and increased interactivity. The Finnish Centre for Pensions is offering a web-site in three languages on pensions, including a service to identified insured persons who use a personal authentication card to access internet banking, currently reaching some 80% of the working population.
Services to businesses
e-Government can help in such areas as public procurement and customs and taxation. The Swedish Virtual Customs Office processes 90% of all declarations electronically and deals through automated clearance with 70% of the declarations within 3 minutes. The national public procurement agency in Denmark has achieved through ETHICS electronic tendering a doubling of its productivity and a complete elimination of complaints.
Services between administrations
Regional and local administrations are often at the forefront of the delivery of online public services. Co-operation between administrations is the basis of the service provided by Agencia Tributaria, simplifying and speeding up the provision of tax certificates to citizens through secure electronic communications between the administrations and with citizens. ENTERPRISE-51, a single office providing advice and services to companies in 51 municipalities of the Italian province of Pordenone. The UK 3 Islands Partnership provides electronic services for both citizens and businesses to remote islands in Scotland with sparse populations, avoiding extensive and expensive travel.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), organisations that provide services have been required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, such as providing extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services. But it is only in the last couple of years that websites and other IT systems have been regarded as being covered by the act.
Issues to be considered
A number of issues have to be addressed in order to scale up from individual examples to widespread availability and use of e-Government and to enable more advanced and user-friendly services.
- Inclusive design
The design and operation of e-Government systems should, from the ground up, take into account the needs of the disabled, and make it possible for them to use these systems as easily as the non-disabled.
To the greatest extent possible, users should be able to do everything they have to do or want to do with their government through one e-Government portal.
All e-Government applications should be integrated with each other, so users can avoid the need to provide the same data over and over.
Access to an e-Government portal and it's connected site's and application's should be available to citizens from any internet-capable connection, ie. PCs, PDAs, smart phones and other internet appliances.
- Ease of use
e-Government sites should be designed and operated so that the most novice of computer users can readily find the information they need, provide the information requested by the government agencies with which they are dealing and otherwise perform all e-Government transactions.
e-Government systems need to protect the confidentiality of data provided by citizens, the records created and stored by government and the content and existence of citizen-government transactions performed over the internet. Smart cards, with or without biometrics, along with digital certificates, can provide this necessary security.
Data about citizen-government transactions and the content of those transactions, needs to be protected by the government.
- Continuously evolving
e-Government services need to be continuously upgraded, updated and modified to suit the users needs, the structure and agenda of the government, and the latest technology in data processing and network design, construction, operation and access.
An e-Government site must provide appropriate (and up-to-date), links to other e-government sites, at its own and other levels in the government hierarchy. All e-Government sites need to work together seamlessly.
- Office of the e-EnvoyThe Office of the e-Envoy is part of the Prime Minister's Delivery and Reform team based in the Cabinet Office. The primary focus of the Office of the e-Envoy is to improve the delivery of public services and achieve long term cost savings by joining-up online government services around the needs of customers. The e-Envoy is responsible for ensuring that all government services are available electronically by 2005 with key services achieving high levels of use.
- Digital Television - A policy framework for accessing e-government services. Office of the e-Envoy, December 2003
- The Role of eGovernment for Europe's Future Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 26 September 2003
- Best Practice Manual (Part 1). eEurope 2002 Smart Card Charter Trailblazer 8 - User Requirements group, March 2003
- Smart Cards: Enabling e-Government - Draft policy framework. Office of the e-Envoy, July 2003
- Modern councils, modern services - access for all. Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR), September 2001
- e-Government Interoperability Framework, Part 2: Technical Policies and Specifications, Version 5.1, October 2003. Office of the e-Envoy
- Voxpolitics - Objectives for e-government