E-government targets set for 2005 will not now be met, it has emerged. Both the Information Society Commission (ISC) and the Minister for State with responsibility for the Information Society, Mary Hanafin TD, have acknowledged that the original deadline is not achievable and that the Government’s strategy needs more realistic goals.
A report published by the ISC entitled, eGovernment – More than an Automation of Government Services argued that the Government must look beyond putting all services online to a more critical engagement with how information and communications technology can improve overall public sector performance.
The report noted the concern expressed that because of budget constraints and the sheer scale of organisational change required, the 2005 deadline would not be met. “However, the key point in relation to providing public services online is that only those services which are deemed to be worthwhile and capable of online delivery should be online by 2005,” the report stated.
In the New Connections Action Plan published in March 2002, the Government had committed to the objective of having all public services that are capable of electronic delivery available online through a single point of contact by 2005.
As a result the objective became a central focus for all Government departments and agencies, with mixed results. There have been notable projects like the Revenue On-Line Service – which now collects €2bn in taxes annually – and the ongoing development of the Public Services Broker and Reach. However tangible objectives, apart from local county council level initiatives, have yet to be met.
“Factors to be considered in determining what is worthwhile include likely usage patterns, service quality and satisfaction levels,” the ISC report stated. “Clear and relevant improvement measurement indicators will assist this process. Priority should be given to those services which confer greatest benefit by being online.”
The report highlighted cost of delivery as a further improvement consideration. “Bearing in mind the significant costs involved in providing online services, it is questionable whether the taxpaying citizen is getting value for money if government moves online a service for which there is little demand.”
Colm O’Reilly, chairman of the working group on e-government within the ISC, explained: “The report is suggesting that we need to take a broader view and look at e-government as a defining factor in social inclusion and national competitiveness. The key aspect is to look beyond putting all services online, but [instead] services that apply to the citizen. We are talking about total quality and driving back value into the interaction between citizens and the Government.”
O’Reilly emphasised the need for a citizen-centric approach to enhance the provision of services to individual and corporate citizens through various channels such as walk-in “one-stop shops” at local public offices, the use of the telephone and prepared call centres for citizen services, internet devices like computers, PDAs and mobiles, public kiosks, digital television and postal services.
Taking O’Reilly’s point, Minister Hanafin added: “We are not talking about ‘e’ before government any longer, we are basically talking about modernisation and innovation of how the citizen and government interacts. The Government has taken a lead in putting various services online and these have been European award-winning projects, but from here on we need to put online what people want and need.” Hanafin added that later this month the eCabinet will go live within the Government, bringing IT to the fingertips of Government ministers.
Daniel O’Hare, the chairman of the ISC, told siliconrepublic.com: “What is needed is not simply a matter of transporting every single government service into an electronic format. What is needed is a fundamental rethink of what can actually benefit the citizen best by being put into an electronic format and how services across the board can be modernised and improved.”
By John Kennedy