The e-government reboot Canada needs now

The Auditor-General’s report shows some major holes the public sector needs to fill. How an omni-channel approach could help

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Last week, a scathing report by the auditor general acknowledged the dire state of e-government in this country — as well as lost opportunities for reducing expenses and improving efficiencies.

A big issue, according to the report, is a lack of a strategic vision. The Auditor-General’s office suggests we haven’t had one since 2005, when the five-year Government On-Line (GOL) initiative expired. For the past eight years, the feds have been talking a lot of talk about online service delivery, without any vision — or much to show for it.

In fact, last year the United Nations ranked Canada as 11th in the world for delivering online services to citizens (we were third in 2010).

“Although the government has identified in both Budget 2012 and Budget 2013 the importance of improving services to Canadians at a lower cost, no strategy has been implemented to establish priorities or guidance for doing so online,” the Auditor-General report says. “There are few government services for which users can complete all the transactions online without having to resort to other channels, such as calling or visiting the department in person.”

The argument for e-government improvements

This isn’t to say there aren’t pockets of innovation in government. But much more needs to be done. While Service Canada does have single-portal access to some services, federal departments still don’t share basic information such as an individual’s mailing address. And while federal departments do offer online services, secure access is frustrating for users to navigate, the report says, requiring multiple steps to first set up secure access and then to enroll in a program.

Last year, only 56 per cent of citizens were satisfied with the service they received from government. So usability also needs to be a focus.

The feds could learn a thing or two from the retail sector — and that means embracing the concept of the omni-channel (providing the same experience, regardless of the channel). But this requires converged infrastructure, connected systems and unified communications. The end result, though, is one where citizens receive a consistent experience across all service-delivery channels, and where a transaction picks up where it left off without having to start at the beginning.

After the report circulated around government, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada agreed to develop a service delivery strategy to be released by March … 2015.

And e-government is a no-brainer. It reduces costs and improves efficiencies, which directly impacts tax-paying citizens. The cost savings are actually quite dramatic: A 2011 Treasury Board study found the cost of an in-person transaction was $28.80 compared to 13 cents for the same transaction online.

If the promise of e-government is to make government more citizen-centric, then Canada is failing. It’s time the feds step up and make this a priority — preferably before March 2015.

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