18 November 2002
Sustainable local eGovernment
By Stuart Hibbert
Half term report
Despite the large sums and valiant efforts
invested so far in eGovernment, it isn't yet meeting the original
promise of improved services and cost savings. Most of this is down to
citizen adoption which compared to other governments is low (Taylor
Nelson Sofres' recently ranked the UK 23rd out of 31 in terms of
citizen adoption). But this has to be put into perspective that the
vast majority of transactional services have yet to be made available
electronically and conveniently; with increased availability and
convenience will come increased uptake.
Transactions are at the heart of it all
The majority of citizens and businesses appear
to be using electronic channels primarily as an information source -
but it is the availability of transactional information that is driving
As Fern Naito once said "When you have them by their wallets, their hearts and minds will follow".
The e-GIF policies and framework documents have
identified transactional information as a key to successful
eGovernment, but the reality of what is actually happening appears to
be quite different. What has been introduced so far doesn't appear to
be, or have the ability to be, joined-up with similar services, and
doesn't really consider the needs of citizen and business users - this
is evident in the recent results of the Taylor Nelson Sofres report.
In contrast if we compare this to the
commercial world, 9.8 million people in the UK, will be using
electronic banking services by the end of 2002 according to Datamonitor
- which goes to demonstrate that if the services exist, citizens and
businesses will use them.
Introducing the citizens' transactional home
For eGovernment to be successful, you need to
provide your citizens and businesses with electronic applications that
are more convenient than traditional means (face-to-face, telephone,
post). Electronic services need to be structured around the needs of
citizens and businesses; available irrespective of location; at times
that suit them - 24/7; on any device (digital TV, PC, mobile devices or
kiosks) which is easy to use and understand; and most importantly,
overcoming issues regarding digital exclusion (disabilities, language
or ICT skills).
Electronic service delivery projects that are
delivered in isolation to other services are likely to fail due to
their fragmented approach; inconsistent appearance; varying levels of
quality; or even just not appealing to citizens and businesses. From an
individual implementation point of view it may be easier - but you are
in danger of reinventing the wheel many times over (security and
authentication, multi channel support, etc) and more importantly
Generally speaking, in an isolated delivery
environment, many of the transactions that are undertaken are by
themselves insignificant due to the time between events. By bringing
all of these transactions together (customer service, council tax, NDR,
benefits, parking, housing, etc), you create an environment that is
interactive (drill down into as much detail as is required and act upon
it - a living transaction); enabling (payment, applications, queries,
etc); familiar because it offers a consistent experience and quality of
service; regularly updated; supports multiple electronic channels;
offers a feeling of affinity to your organisation; and many other
benefits which are only possible in a joined-up world.
As this is likely to become the citizen and
business destination when interacting with you electronically it offers
a massive marketing opportunity to make them aware of local issues - as
well as soliciting their opinions and getting them involved.
Although the e-Envoy is publishing solid
frameworks and polices, we have, through our dealings with local
authorities, picked up the feeling that there is a general lack of
guidance as a whole.
Services should be structured around the needs of citizens and businesses - not based on organisational structures.
From an implementation point, you are likely to
have many disparate computer (and manual) systems that need to be
brought together. Existing system vendors will already be touting
bolt-on modules for their particular applications - in an isolated
world with no other dependencies this works well - but not generally
when a more joined-up service is expected.
Some technical issues:
Fewer separate front-ends:
The functionality accompanying a citizens'
transactional home needs to be allow a user to see a summary view of
accounts, drill down to get further detail, look at historical records
and make payment on the accounts. In order to achieve this, relevant
data need be drawn from the separate systems (proprietary, structured
and semi-structured) as XML into one database for internal use and
making available to the public through electronic channels.
As well as drawing data from various sources it
will be necessary to write the data back to those resident systems in
their various specific formats thus maintaining the currency on those
Joined up channels:
The new system must be able to feed the range
of channels that citizens are going to have at their disposal. Citizens
are likely to use a combination of channels, both conventional and
electronic. As an example - having received an SMS (mobile phone)
message, Citizen Kane calls your call centre to get further
information, and decides to apply for the service electronically using
your interactive digital TV service.
In addition it must be able to match the needs
of the citizen by presenting the data in a range of languages and
formats for people with disabilities and non-expert ICT skills.
Security and Authentication:
Before a member of the public can access their accounts through an electronic channel, their identity needs to be authenticated.
It will be essential to integrate user
authentication for the new facilities with any existing systems,
ensuring a single login procedure that can use third party verification
databases such as Electoral Roll or the Post Office Address File.
Usernames and passwords can be quickly and
cheaply issued to a verified electronic address (email / mobile phone).
Accounts can be activated immediately or require a further associated
step to be completed (e.g. call to contact centre).
Authentication through client certificates and
smart card technologies will need to be integrated as these services
Staff access rights can suit the
organisational management systems. For example, an area manager can
view a consolidated view of all the sites in their area - whilst their
manager would see the information for all of the area managers.
If the benefits can be proven to your citizens
and businesses transaction services are likely to become the reason
that they choose to interact with you electronically as the information
available is personally significant to them, more accessible than
through other conventional channels, convenient and responsive to their
Success will enable tremendous efficiencies to
be achieved, ranging from cost savings to business processes. In fact
research shows that less than only about 3 per cent uptake of service
is required to provide adequate return on investment. E-transactions
will radically enhance the way in which you interact with and the
relationship you build with your citizens and businesses. All of which
will mean you have more resources available to deal with those which
need you more.
This is what we call the citizens' transactional home.
Stuart Hibbert (email@example.com) is a co-founder of X200 Limited. A private company located in London, England which provides integrated citizens' transactional home solutions. If you would like to find out more about X200, please visit their website at www.x200.com or call them on +44 (0) 870 201 1200.