Study: U.S. not sole e-gov superpower

The U.S. government has made more progress in e-government than most of the world, but it still lags behind Canada and Singapore, according to a study released last week.

According to an Accenture study, only Canada has achieved true "service transformation," developing systems that not only move services online, but improve them, and encouraging increasing numbers of citizens to take advantage of them.

The consulting firm divided e-government efforts into five levels, or plateaus, based on the progress they've made, with service transformation as the highest plateau.

"You have to not just put forms online," said Vivienne Jupp, Accenture's managing partner of global e-government services. "Customer relationships are now underpinning e-government." The United States, Singapore and nine other countries are at the fourth level, "mature delivery," Jupp said.

Most countries have achieved at least basic online service delivery, and they're now focusing on improving their systems and increasing usage, said Steve Rohleder, group chief executive of Accenture's global government practice. He discussed the report in a keynote address and news conference April 8 at the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C. "It's what we saw in the commercial world three to five years ago," he said.

Singapore edged ahead of the United States because of some innovative technologies, Rohleder said. The country mounts inexpensive chips on cars, for example, that can detect when the cars are driving on a road where the government wants to curtail congestion. Tolls are set up for those roads and drivers receive bills in the mail based on the chips' readings.

The United States' E-Government Strategy is moving ahead from modernization to true transformation, said Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, speaking April 9 at FOSE.

The big jump in the number of citizens interacting with the government online in the past year is pushing federal agencies to move faster on realigning processes and services, he said. That number increased by 26 percent between December 2002 and February 2003 alone, according to a NetRatings Inc. Nielsen// NetRatings study.

"I believe we're about to move to the next phase," Forman said.

But Canada is already at that phase, and officials there are finding it's not an easy place to be, said Michelle D'Auray, Canada's chief information officer.

Although more citizens are going online to interact with government, they are also interacting through phone services and in-person contact, she said. To serve all those delivery channels, Canadian agencies are integrating services so there is consistency.

"That forces us quite drastically to look at how we integrate and how we transform our services," she said. "Our concept of what a service is is actually changing, it's one service across the government" and really thinking of the entire government as a single enterprise.

Mexico is still in the early stages of its e-government efforts. Yet, in addition to its digital government strategy — which is the equivalent of the U.S. E-Government Strategy — officials have developed an e-Mexico strategy, said Abraham Sotelo, director of the country's e-government program in the Office of the President for Government Innovation.

E-Mexico encompasses government, education and health care and seeks to deal with the issue of the vast Mexican digital divide. Less than 10 percent of citizens have Internet access. Officials want to have 80 percent to 90 percent online by 2006, Sotelo said.

Much of that will be done through satellite broadband access that is being developed right now for installation in community centers, libraries, schools and other common locations nationwide, Sotelo said.

One of Mexico's biggest successes of the past year was its electronic tax filing initiative. Last year, the country's entire population filed electronically, a mandatory measure made possible because citizens were able to access the system through terminals set up at local bank offices, Sotelo said.

Mexico is currently ranked 19 out of the 22 countries included in the study, but it is quickly catching up, according to Accenture. The report cites Mexico's new government portal, which is similar to the FirstGov portal in the United States, as "possibly the most remarkable of Mexico's e-government efforts."

As for the United States, Rohleder said the relatively low levels of funding that Congress appropriated for e-government initiatives in 2002 and 2003 are not a serious hurdle. Creative uses of e-government systems can save money, making up somewhat for the lack of funding.

However, "there has to be some level of appropriation for any initiative to get it started," he said.

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