Does e-government really work?

This morning, at Microsoft's Government Leaders Forum in suburban Washington, D.C., e-government officials from three separate countries touched on a variety of issues that hinder the mission of using technology to deliver citizen services.

Abraham Sotelo, chief of Mexico's government electronic services unit, said one of his country's biggest e-government challenges right now is integrating federal services with those provided by state and local agencies. The technical challenge itself isn't as important as why Sotelo said it must be done. Namely, he said, because citizens don't care whether a service comes from a federal, state, or local body. They just want the service.

Martha Dorris, GSA's deputy director of citizen services, said awareness is a big hurdle. She said internal studies showed that just 8 percent of the population knows that FirstGov, the U.S. government's main portal, even exists. But actually funding an awareness campaign "is an issue," she added.

And Ron McKerlie, Ontario, Canada's chief strategist for service delivery, said that too many e-government services are still too hard to use. "We've made things so complex and the penalities so great that people are afraid they're going to screw up," McKerlie said.

(That describes pretty well why at least one tech-savvy GCN editor will prepare his taxes on the computer again this year, then print them out and mail them in. Granted, the IRS's e-filing program has been a great success in a short time, but it's not yet ubiquitous.)

Dorris and McKerlie also explored a related topic: human interaction. The Internet has been great for empowering individuals to do things like shop without going to stores, get tech support without calling a toll-free number, etc. In other words, de-humanizing various parts of life. But many constituents already consider government to be a huge, inhuman monolith. De-humanizing the inhuman could be a problem.

McKerlie said that poorly thought out e-government services risk "losing human touch." Dorris agreed, insisting that citizens still want to deal with humans in government, which is why call centers remain so important to e-government efforts, and why services channels need to be integrated.

Food for thought.

Posted by Brad Grimes

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