E-gov entering adolescence

E-government initiatives worldwide are becoming teenagers, at least in Internet time, according to a new survey. And countries are beginning to adjust their

e-government strategies to better serve citizens, the survey found.

Accenture officials issued the fifth global e-government study last week, ranking the maturity of programs in 22 countries and examining their status and future plans. Maturity is measured by a combination of the percentage of services online and the number of people using those services.

For the fourth consecutive year, the company judged Canada as the most mature. The United States

and Singapore tied for second in

e-government maturity.

But those rankings only scratch the surface of what is going on, experts said. Governments are shifting e-government efforts to focus on citizens, which will help agencies become more efficient, said Stephen Rohleder, group chief executive for Accenture's government operating group.

This year marks the next step in the evolution, Rohleder said. "We see a maturing in the e-government services, but we're also beginning to see the next wave of e-government," he said. "Government [officials are] beginning to realize they need to understand what citizens think of what they've done so far and to take action based on that."

To help accomplish those goals, this year's report includes a new poll of citizens in 12 of the 22 countries. Accenture officials examined citizens' use of and satisfaction with e-government services, and they confirmed the findings of a study by pollsters Peter Hart and Robert Teeter and the Council for Excellence in Government last year. Both surveys found that people who use online government services have a much higher satisfaction rate than those who use traditional mechanisms, such as phone or in-person visits.

However, merely broadcasting that fact will not attract citizens to the Web, Rohleder said. "Citizens have been frustrated for too long by their interactions with governments, so even when the services offered are improved, citizens must be driven to the site," he said.

Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government, said governments need to accelerate the movement toward online transactions.

"Part of it is promoting and letting people know what the benefits are, but part of it is also getting the infrastructure right" and making it easy for citizens to access all levels of government, she said.

As the study shows, government officials are beginning to make this shift. Office of Management and Budget officials launched an effort last month to determine which marketing efforts would increase use of federal e-government initiatives.

Some agencies have already conducted user surveys and focus groups as they try

to adapt their services and products to users. But others are only getting started, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology.

Those types of initiatives are important to becoming what Accenture officials call a high-performance government, which meets citizen needs and desires in the most efficient and effective fashion, Rohleder said.

Accenture officials have developed a tool, the Public Sector Value Model to measure progress toward that high-performance level. Executives at the company are already talking to OMB officials and others about integrating the model with existing measurement tools, such as the Program Assessment Rating Tool. OMB officials use that as an essential part of the Bush administration's budget reviews, Rohleder said.

Those same outreach and study efforts are occurring worldwide, according to

e-government leaders from the United Kingdom and Canada, speaking at the Gartner Government Conference in Washington, D.C., last week.

In the United Kingdom, the government portal that served as the centerpiece for the bulk of interactions with citizens has been replaced by a new portal, Directgov, which was launched in March and designed based on citizen feedback. U.K. officials discovered that citizens do not want to navigate government structures; they simply want to access government, said Bill Edwards, director of e-communications within the U.K.'s Office of the e-Envoy.

The Directgov Web portal is also moving to a multichannel offering to satisfy

citizens' desire to use more sources than the Web, Edwards said. For example, officials recently launched a digital TV service connected to the site, and other services are planned, he said.

"People are migrating to the forum that they're comfortable with, and there are a

lot of different channels that people are

comfortable with," Rohleder said. "Government has to be flexible and innovative, has to understand that phenomenon."

In Denmark, nonelectronic and e-government services are designed to be provided governmentwide. Officials are even changing their political structure to provide better service, said Mikkel Hemmingsen, deputy director general of the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. He spoke last week at the META Group Inc.'s Government Enterprise Architectures Conference in Arlington, Va.

The country has 14 counties and 274 municipalities of varying sizes, but a wide-scale reform effort will include consolidating those to five counties and 100 municipalities. Once that reform is complete, the goal is to "have a political structure that is suited to the services we want to deliver," Hemmingsen said.

Denmark's enterprise architecture process, which focuses on everything from Extensible Markup Language to document management systems, is designed to include input from the private sector on every issue, he said. Although citizens are not involved, this process ensures that no government technology or IT policy goes forward without public input, he said.

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