Fingertip Conrol

Over the next four years, Government has budgeted $15 million to embrace the
world of e-government. Which means in four years it’s hoped we’ll be paying taxes, fines, registering births, deaths and cars, and generally interacting online. This is e-government. The queueless, faceless, paperless, transactional future.
But four years you say, at the rate things are changing, we may have split into three islands and Wellington will be the tropical paradise. Truth is, say experts, New Zealand is lagging behind its trading partners, and other governments in e-government.
While many governments are already talking to their citizens, giving them information, and doing business, New Zealand appears to have fallen into its own parallel universe.
So just what is the problem? Is it know-how or funding? And what are the real gains from Government improving customer service levels to Joe Public anyway?
If you accept the results from Deloitte Consulting study – At the Dawn of e-government: The citizen as customer – from over 250 state-level government departments in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the UK, customer-first approach pays huge dividends. Deloitte’s research found that customer-centric governments (those making an effort to improve customer satisfaction) achieve nearly 50 percent more success in:
? Providing easier customer access.
? Increasing service volume.
? Getting better information on operations.
? Reducing employee complaints.
? Reducing employee time spent on non-customer activities.
? Improving their own image.
These customer-centric governments are embracing Internet technologies to track customer information, link legacy systems and integrate technology, says Deloitte Consulting’s Matthew Hitch (public service/healthcare). But the next key step, is to increase the value of customer self-service and the two-way flow of information through the Internet.
This is where the “e” in e-government makes the difference.
The trouble is, e-commerce barely appears on the radar screens of non-customer-centric governments like New Zealand. Recent iterations by Trevor Mallard, Minister of State Services (www.ssc.govt.nz), and Commerce Minister Paul Swain (www.med.govt.nz) indicate that the Labour Coalition finally recognises the need to become customer centric.
Shane Middlemiss, Wellington e-government guru with online strategic consultancy I2I, says the Government’s tardiness is inconsistent with the Labour Coalition’s rhetoric.
“Countries like Australia, Korea and Singapore are making huge gains on us and we need to move quickly. If we want an e-commerce ready private sector, then we need an e-government enabled private sector,” says Swain.
If Deloitte’s study is right, New Zealanders are bracing at the bit to deal with government online. While 11 percent of Kiwis currently use government services online, this is projected to increase by 125 percent by 2002. The report also reveals that 40 percent of New Zealand Government respondents indicated they had or were going to implement self-service channels such as the Internet, call centres or kiosks.

Mission if possible
So what is the Labour Coalition’s mission on e-government? It’s three pronged:
? Make all Kiwis capable of using telephones, PCs and the Internet to access government information.
? Reduce the cost of corporate compliance.
? Give people say in policy development.
Within five years, Mallard expects people to be able to electronically register information with Government, for example births, deaths and marriages, conduct financial dealings and complete and send all government forms from one place on the Government’s website.

Where are we at
Deloitte’s research suggests New Zealand is two years behind Australia, Britain and Canada in implementing e-government services.
The evolution of e-government, says Hitch is six-stage continuum (see table 1.1) that starts with information publishing and ends up as full service centre, personalised to each customer’s needs and preferences. Barely out of the starting blocks, he says the Government is still grappling with how to embark on stage one. Although, in fairness to the Government, an Andersen Consulting study suggests the world’s leading e-governments have only achieved 20 percent of their potential for online service delivery.
Middlemiss concedes things are improving. “There were only 12 agencies with websites when we embarked on the Government Within Reach Project in 1995. Virtually all government agencies now have site. But it’s been case of get up site, any site… and only five percent would be offering services online.”

Web scramble
There’s clearly been mad scramble to launch government websites. But many of the larger agencies (including Winz and the Cabinet Office) remain woefully limited, according to former chief statistician Len Cook, who chaired committee of chief executives looking at IT issues.
The total amount being spent across all government departments to help agencies offer online services remains unclear. Trevor Mallard recently announced operational funding of around $16 million (over four years) and capital of $1 million, set aside to make all government information and services available via the Internet.

e-Unit
Apart from ad hoc efforts by individual government agencies, the Government’s most significant e-government initiative is its new e-government unit.
Established within the State Services Commission, this unit’s major role will be developing overarching e-government strategy, data management policies, standards and guidelines and helping other government agencies embrace its e-government vision.
Mallard expects the soon-to-be-established, e-government advisory board to have drafted its e-commerce strategy in time for the Government’s electronic commerce (two-day) summit, early October.
Like Swain, he freely admits that New Zealand’s e-government initiatives lag well behind similar countries overseas. He clearly intends for New Zealand to play catch-up with e-government initiatives in Australia and beyond.

The right stuff
While e-commerce experts like Middlemiss and Hitch are perturbed at the speed and funding levels, they are also concerned at the ability of government agencies to attract the skill sets needed.
They both argue that while new initiatives are positive step forward, serious under-funding means New Zealand will struggle to catch up with e-government in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. “The Government’s target of delivering all services online by 2003 is admirable, but not catalyst to incite action. It should provide more leadership in advancing e-government goals, and set more aggressive targets for the delivery of online services,” says Hitch.
He believes insufficient remuneration, perceived inflexibility and an unwillingness to relocate to Wellington means government agencies are struggling to hire and retain those needed to develop multi-channel e-government solutions.

Confidence tricks
E-commerce skills aside, Middlemiss says there’s also lingering reluctance by those empowered to champion e-government initiatives to relinquish autonomy over the space in which they operate. Compounding insufficient e-commerce skills, says Middlemiss, is the awkwardness government agencies have communicating needs and outcomes with consultants while in pre-policy mode.
Not surprisingly, Deloitte’s research finds little confidence among New Zealanders that the public sector would deliver services online. “Research also highlights how the skill shortage, the conundrum for the private sector, is having an impact on the public sector. Thirty-eight percent of New Zealand respondents cited staff’s technical expertise to be the greatest barrier to successfully improving customer service.”
Hitch says

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