eGov: from option to obligation
In 2011 Deloitte predicts eGovernemt (eGov) usage will reach an inflection point. Across developed countries, the proportion of businesses that use eGov services for at least one process is expected to average over 90 percent, up from 75 percent in 2010. Similarly, the proportion of citizens that use eGov in industrialized countries should rise by at least 10 percentage points. In some countries, the importance of eGov as a way to boost public sector productivity and efficiency may even prompt the appointment of a national Chief Information Officer (CIO) where one did not exist previously1.
Rising demands for government efficiency and productivity will likely provide a major push for greater adoption of existing eGov platforms and, in some countries, increasing eGov roll-out2. Use of online channels may increasingly be mandatory;3 this should boost the return on investment for eGov infrastructures. For example, according to one estimate, mandating electronic invoicing could save the equivalent of 0.8 percent of GDP annually4.
Over the last decade, governments around the world have collectively invested billions of dollars to deploy an array of eGov infrastructure, from tax returns to building permits5. However, use of these portals varies considerably. In most cases, eGov has been positioned as an additional channel for citizens and businesses to interact with the government6. Only rarely has it been mandated7.
In the past, one of the main problems with mandating eGov was the risk of excluding certain segments of society, such as those without Internet access or those who might find online self-service portals too difficult to use. However, now that most consumers and almost all businesses are active online, in some countries eGov use needs to catch up with the times, and start being positioned as the primary channel, not an optional one. For example, Figure 1 shows household Internet use compared to the use of eGov in Europe. In all countries there is a significant gap, with Internet use outpacing eGov use by an average of more than 20 percent. And in some countries, the gap is as large as 50 percent.
Figure 1: Internet access, use of e-forms, and use of government websites, Europe, 2009.
Source: Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, 2010, based on data from Eurostat, 20108
Use of e-government by businesses has also been limited – albeit not necessarily due to business' reluctance: in some cases online channels were simply not available. For example, in some territories it has only been possible to submit an electronic invoice since February 20109. In other cases, the ability for agents to submit returns on behalf of their clients has been complicated by the assignment of a single sign-on and password per company, making it impossible for agents to submit accounts online for multiple clients. In many cases, the ability for government agencies to correspond by email with companies and their agents was still either "scarce" or "unavailable" at the end of 201010.
For central and local governments, eGov has tended to create additional costs, as it was often layered on top of existing communication channels. In addition, potential eGov savings were sometimes reduced through flawed internal processes that required data to be transcribed manually by one department's staff and then re-keyed manually by another department's staff just to get information flowing11.
For citizens, eGov is most likely to gain traction for services used predominantly by younger age groups, such as student loan applications and temporary driver's licenses12. But over time, use of traditional channels such as walk-in centers and call centers may be restricted to exceptional cases only: there will always be citizens who cannot afford to go online, or else are unable to use online channels. Also, governments will likely insist that digital data be usable across departments. This will require standardized processes for electronic data gathering, as well as consistent formatting standards, such as extensible business reporting language (iXBRL)13.
As for emerging countries, deployment of eGov in emerging countries is typically limited by two key constraints: technology roll-out and literacy. For example, only 15 African countries have an Internet penetration higher than 10 percent1. However in emerging countries that have limited fixed broadband infrastructure, mobile communications could play a key role, as the latter tends to enjoy greater penetration. For example in India in H1 2011 the mobile subscriber base is expected to be in the region of 800 million14. This compares to 11 million broadband subscribers15. In such contexts, focusing on eGov via mobile is likely to be a key way forward, particularly in the medium-term.
One Indian state, Rajasthan, has launched a eGov service that relays essential information to the public, including rural pensioners, the elderly and disabled via mobile phone. Updates on everything from approval of pensions to information alerts are provided via this channel16. The system also includes text to speech conversion to address the needs of those with low literacy.
Emerging countries that already have eGov portals in place are likely to expand the range of citizen online services to include ancillary services such as healthcare17. In 2011, foreign aid and investment in developing countries may also help drive eGov projects18.
While mandating use of eGov is mostly about improving productivity of existing technology assets, administrations should not overlook technology's capability to improve a country's attractiveness to foreign investors and also key talent. Efficient digital communication and transaction channels can all position a country positively, much in the same way that leading physical infrastructure can. While many governments, particularly those in industrialized countries are likely to remain focused on cost, the medium-term strategic benefits of digital government should remain on the agenda.
In emerging countries where pressures on local and central government budgets may be less severe, administrations should use eGov solutions to enable rapid economic growth without having to create an equal or greater expansion of government infrastructure and bureaucracy19.
The fact that some segments of society are not computer-literate or lack online access should be viewed as an important but not insurmountable barrier to eGov. In fact, a principal enabler of any new process or application is accessibility, which itself is a function of good design20. If eGov applications are available in versions designed to maximize accessibility, they could actually serve as an entry point to get more people to use computers and the Internet. In some cases the entry point is likely to come via Internet connected mobile phones – each country needs to assess which technological platform is most pervasive and fit for use.
Governments should also consider whether social networks could provide one channel for communicating with citizens.
Migration to electronic filing of company reports, based on the iXBRL standards, will likely require tax collection agencies to develop new skill sets. For example, there might be less need to review documentation and make basic calculations, but greater need to analyze complex patterns of data and identify situations requiring investigation across companies.
Leaders in emerging markets should consider treating eGov and e-commerce infrastructure projects as prerequisites for economic growth, on par with roads and ports/border security. This may provide their countries with real opportunities to accelerate the pace at which they close the gap with developed economies.
1New Zealand's newly appointed Government CIO starts his role on 2 February 2011. Source: Push for e-government creates CIO position, Computerworld, 23 November 2010:http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/news/push-for-e-government-creates-cio-positionIn some countries, e.g. the US, this role already exists.
2XBRL submission of company accounts and other business reporting should drive significant cost savings for governments and businesses. See: XBRL FOR TAX, BANKING, CORPORATE ACTIONS AND CAPITAL MARKETS EXPANDING GLOBALLY,http://www.xbrl.org/LatestNews/; For a view on drivers for e-government adoption in Pakistan, see: PM for adoption of modern ICT applications to improve efficiency of public sector organizations, Associated Press for Pakistan, 26 December 2009:http://www.app.com.pk/en_/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92666&Itemid=2
3For details of the UK's "digital by default" strategy, announced 22 November 2010, see: Digital by default proposed for government services, CabinetOffice UK, 25 November 2010:http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/news/digital-default-proposed-government-services
4 E-Invoicing Could Help Save European Economy Millions And Support Growth - Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell, European Central Bank, eGov Monitor, 28 April 2010:http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/36005
5 E-government is not a financial cure-all, Guardian, 6 April 2010:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/apr/06/smarter-government-costs-services
6In the EU, which electronic invoice submission is an option, and one which was first effected in February 2010. Source: European Commission Receives Its First Electronic Invoice From Supplier in Feb 2010, eGov Monitor, 26 February 2010: http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/34057
7For example in Denmark, electronic submission of invoices for jobs done for the government has been mandatory since 2005. Source: e-Invoicing in Denmark, eGov Monitor, 10 July 2006: http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/6669;Finland will mandate electronic submission of invoices to the public sector by end 2010. Source: E-Invoicing Could Help Save European Economy Millions And Support Growth - Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell, European Central Bank, eGov Monitor, 28 April 2010:http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/36005;also see: Mandatory Requirements (E-government in New Zealand),http://www.e.govt.nz/programme/agency-checklist/mandatory-requirements
8Insert end note for Eurostat
9European Commission Receives Its First Electronic Invoice From Supplier in Feb 2010, eGov Monitor, 26 February 2010: http://www.egovmonitor.com/node/34057
10ICAEW survey on HMRC service standards, ICAEW, 19 November 2010:http://www.ion.icaew.com/TaxFaculty/21018
11For a discussion on the need for data to be exchangeable between departments, see: E-government is not a financial cure-all, Guardian, 6 April 2010:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/apr/06/smarter-government-costs-services
12For a view on the UK's plans for deeper use of e-government channels, see: Government plans to put services online 'could widen the digital divide', The Telegraph, 21 November 2010:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/broadband/8149609/Government-plans-to-put-services-online-could-widen-the-digital-divide.html
14iSuppli report, 22 September 2010, cited in an article in TechWorld, 23 September 2010:http://www.techworld.com.au/article/361947/rural_markets_hold_key_india_mobile_growth/and http://www.isuppli.com/Mobile-and-Wireless-Communications/News/Pages/India-Cell-Phone-Penetration-to-Reach-97-Percent-in-2014.aspx
15Broadband Subscriptions in India, eMarketer, March 2010
16Rajasthan Government reaches Underprivileged via Mobile Phone, eGov News, 11 May 2010:http://www.egovonline.net/news-list/34-news/8227-rajasthan-government-reaches-underprivileged-via-mobile-phone-.html
17For example Kenya's AfriAfya, a network of Kenya's largest health NGOs, is using technology to improve community health in rural areas. In Algeria, an H1N1 flu information portal has been set up for citizens and healthcare providers. eGovernment innovations are likely to include: new means of communications, e.g. in Benin eGovernment portals now include podcasts and online forums; Ghana's government portal uses social media tools such as YouTube; Facebook contacts of key ministerial staff are available. Cape Verde has started implementing e-government by allowing e-voting, which has helped the country tally votes within minutes of poll closings and avoid conflicts about results. Gujarat introduced e-voting in 2010. Source: Gujarat introduces e-voting in civic elections, Gujarat Global News Network, 28 July 2010:http://www.gujaratglobal.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2159&Itemid=38
18Uganda's national data backbone and eGovernment implementation, which is in its first phase of implementation, is financed by a US$110 million loan from the Chinese government and infrastructure from China's Huawei Technologies. Source: Huawei Technologies: China's Go-To Company for African ICT Infrastructure Investments, ICTworks, 7 April 2010: http://www.ictworks.org/network/ictworks-network/359;Korea's Ministry of Knowledge Economy and the Korean Trade-investment Promotion Agency, KOTRA recently pledged to help the governments of Kenya and Tanzania by sharing its technological knowledge. Source: Africa e-government study to get underway, DatacenterDynamics, 15 November 2010:http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=news&mod=News&mid=9A02E3B96F2A415ABC72CB5F516B4C10&tier=3&
19For example in Dubai, AED 1.1 billion was collected via its ePay payment gateway during the first half of 2010, a 60 percent year-on-year increase. Source: Popularity of ePay growing, says Dubai eGovernment, ITP.net, 11 August 2010:http://www.itp.net/581404-popularity-of-epay-growing-says-dubai-egovernment
20For an example of how a new computer form facto made technology accessible to a 99 year old, see: iPad has 'changed' 99-year-old woman's life, CNET News, 22 April 2010: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13506_3-20003192-17.htmland a video on 'Virginia's new iPad':http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndkIP7ec3O8