Features: October 22nd, 2002

Building Compelling e-Government Services

By Stephen Chandler

E-government initiatives are now top priorities for governments around the world. But the development of e-government services in the UK is happening against a backdrop of criticism about projects that overrun, budgets that grow out of hand and services that are underused once implemented.

So given the fact that government departments, local authorities and other public services must meet the 2005 deadline to provide all services electronically, how can they develop best practice when specifying and building secure, reliable e-government systems that people find easy to use?

Responding to challenges

EzGov has delivered e-government systems successfully to over 70 government agencies worldwide and is currently working with a number of UK government departments including the Inland Revenue and the Court Service. We believe that there are a number of challenges to be aware of before kicking off new e-government developments.

The first is not to make the project over-complex. What goals is the project designed to achieve, for both government and citizen? What is the roadmap that we need to develop in order to achieve those goals? And what is the timeframe that we are working within?

In our experience, and in the cases of world class e-government systems, the roadmap can be divided into four equally important parts: vision and strategy, e-government programme and plan for execution, build, deliver and implement, and security/hosting.

The first stage involves a deep understanding of business drivers, stakeholders and objectives. A child benefit system, for example, must be written with the needs of one set of stakeholders, or users, in mind. An electronic VAT return system must be developed around the very different needs of another set of users.

This stage of the planning process must include thinking about how different stakeholders will want to use the system and where they will be when they use it (at home, in a Post Office, from a mobile device, via a call centre). A number of tools can help with this process, including best practice research and stakeholder analysis.

The second stage is to translate strategy and vision into an executable plan. This stage helps to prioritise tasks and projects according to the timeline and vision. Again, tools exist to help with this process, including best practice examples, project methodologies and usability studies. The result of this plan will be a defined, time-based plan that covers budgets and specific tasks assigned to people within the project team.

The third stage is to execute on the plan. This will involve building systems on a technology platform in partnership with project leaders who have deep experience of the platform as well as the particular domain involved. In the case of e-government, this will involve an understanding of how a new application interfaces with legacy data, possibly from multiple sources.

Experience suggests that flexible component-based technology is required at this stage, because it allows systems to be upgraded in the future without major re-programming. Components can be bought ready built and assembled into the right shape for a department, and re-used for new or different applications.

The final stage is to ensure that solutions are secure and available. Most e-government systems involve transactions of some kind, so it is imperative that systems are hosted securely. Users must be able to trust systems with their financial details and to feel comfortable that they can always interact with government at the time they need to.

The reality with internet based transactions is that they are more secure than general credit card purchases, but there must be no breaches to dent user confidence.

The goal of delivering e-government is easier to achieve if the path to delivering individual solutions is proven and carefully planned. Those in charge of e-government services must also monitor take-up and use after the system is rolled out and make changes if necessary.

They must also ensure that everyone who needs to know about the new service does know about it, and not just go through the motions of providing services electronically in order to meet the 2005 deadline – then leave it to chance whether people use the system or not. Only then will governments deliver systems that deliver – and are seen by the outside world to deliver – real value to their stakeholders.

Stephen Chandler is a Director of EzGov.