E-Government May Not Mean Efficiency

The concept of e-government often brings to mind efficient and convenient interaction between the government and citizens. But some research suggests citizens aren’t yet ready for e-government, and governments should instead improve their back-end IT systems.

As long as citizens have concerns about providing government organizations with personal information such as credit card or banking details, the effectiveness of e-government will be limited, according to a study from Taylor Nelson Sofres.

About two-thirds of the respondents said that they felt “unsafe” using the Internet for this purpose. Among those countries with the highest concerns about security issues are Germany (85 percent), Japan (84 percent), France (84 percent) and the United States (72 percent).

Six percent of all respondents (19 percent of Internet users) have used the Internet to pay for government services or products involving the use of a credit card or bank account number. Globally, 26 percent of people have used the Internet to access government information, provide information to the government or to transact with government services online.

Online interaction with the government varies widely depending on where respondents live. Not surprisingly, countries with the most advanced Internet use have the highest incidence of e-government use. Use of government online services is highest in Scandinavian countries such as Norway (53 percent of the population), Denmark (47 percent) and Finland (46 percent) as well as in North America. In Canada, 46 percent of the population uses e-government; in the United States it’s 34 percent.

But the study of 27 countries also found that in other markets where overall Internet usage is well established, use of government online services is low. In France, for example, 18 percent of the population used government online services in the past 12 months compared with 33 percent of the population regularly using the Internet. In Germany, 17 percent used e-government compared with 36 percent using Internet.

Across all the markets surveyed, the study found that approximately 20 percent of people have used the Internet to seek information from a government Web site. In addition, some 9 percent have used it to print off government forms and 7 percent to provide personal or household information to government organizations.

“These findings show that the potential for widespread use of government online services clearly exists,” said Wendy Mellor, research director, social and government at Taylor Nelson Sofres. “However, whilst usage in some countries is far more developed than in others, there is clearly considerable scope for government organizations to look at more effective ways in which the Internet can be used to encourage participation in government-related activity.”

While e-government is perceived to be more efficient and can help contain costs, a series of reports by Gartner has warned European governments that the race to provide as many services as possible online could be a mistake. It said that “e” is in some cases costing more to achieve less, and governments should focus on smart use of IT rather than “e”, to meet their objective of providing better service levels to the public.

“E-government in Europe is an unlikely gold rush,” said Andrea Di Maio, research director with Gartner. “Most governments have assumed that citizens want to have Web interaction, but very little has been done to understand their needs and to define where delivering a service online will actually add real value.”

According to Gartner, better service levels can often be achieved without excessive reliance on Web delivery. For example, Sweden has achieved higher tax collection rates and service levels by dramatically simplifying paper forms and preferring stronger back-office IT processes to an electronic front-end. This means taxes cannot be filed online yet, but the effort to file them is much lower than in countries where online filing and payments are possible. A survey conducted by GartnerG2 in Britain in September also shows that face-to-face or telephone interactions are still preferred for several services.

“While e-government has sparked countless best-practice exchange and comparison initiatives, which are useful in accelerating efforts in regions that are lagging behind, they risk missing the real point,” Di Maio said. “Initiatives must be based on quantifying value and cost for constituents, as well as governments, and address service-delivery targets alongside the other aspects of e-government transformation. Progress must be measured against national needs, not on the basis of what other countries think and do.”

Related reading