e-Government Technologies to Improve the Delivery of Governmental Services

Around the world, governments at all levels are increasingly using e-government technologies to improve the delivery of services to their constituents and supply chain partners. In fact, given the proliferation of inexpensive hand-held wireless devices that can access e-governmental portals, even many developing nations are turning to these technologies to help reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of the administration of governmental services for all stakeholders. In order to achieve the numerous benefits for all stakeholders that can be attained through the deployment of e-government technologies, though, a number of environmental factors must be taken into account to ensure the continuing success of the enterprise. Therefore, to determine how e-government technologies can be used to improve the delivery of governmental services and what best practices have been identified, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a discussion of the findings and a summary of the research in the conclusion.

Literature Review

One of the main constraints to gaining access to governmental services in the past was the significance distance that typically existed between governmental centers and many of their constituents. In fact, the location of the rural county seats for many American states was based on how far a farmer could ride in a single day and return home using a horse-drawn cart. All of this has changed in the Age of Information, though. For instance, according to Averyt (2005), "Knowledge age government operates in a world of 'flat politics,' where the distance between rulers and ruled shrinks. Information technology, so the argument goes, puts the electronic mailbox of every government official within easy reach of every citizen's keyboard" (769). Therefore, information technology, when generally applied to the delivery of governmental services, creates e-governmental opportunities for individual constituents. In this regard, Kiggundu reports that, "E-government refers to government or public sector activities that take place by digital processes within government and between government and the public, including private citizens" (48).

In recent years, though, the concept of e-government has transcended this relatively limited definition to include the entire spectrum of governmental activities. For instance, Kiggundu adds that, "E-government can also be government to government, between government and citizens, with business organizations, or within the same government institution (Intranet)" (48). This point is also made by Moon who reports, "E-government is narrowly defined as the production and delivery of government services through IT applications; however, it can be defined more broadly as any way IT is used to simplify and improve transactions between governments and other actors, such as constituents, businesses, and other governmental agencies" (424). Moreover, many e-governmental services have also become increasingly accessible by virtue of the proliferation of a wide range of mobile wireless devices with Internet access. For example, according to Dixon, "Electronic government aims to increase the convenience and accessibility of government services and information to citizens, businesses, and governmental units. This is generally achieved through the use of information and communications technologies (ICT), a broad class of technologies including computers, automation equipment, the Internet, and mobile devices" (418).

Some recent examples of e-governmental initiatives include the following:

1. Optical recognition software to read United State Postal Service addresses on letters when sorting them into bins;

2. Public health agency dissemination of timely information on emergent health care issues including the recent H1N1 virus;

3. The Obama Administration's open government directive, including www.data.gov where public data sets and tools can be downloaded by anyone; and,

4. A national, integrated Kenyan government information system to automate payroll, promotions, recruitment, and other personnel functions (Dixon 418).

While efficiency and convenience are some of the more salient benefits of e-governmental initiatives, the experiences of many governmental entities to date have fallen short of the promise of true e-government as envisioned by many authorities. As Dixon points out, "E-government to date has emphasized automation using a variety of technologies. This has created efficiencies in public administration practice, but the achievements have yet to fulfill the promise of better knowledge management and e-democracy" (419). The potential exists to apply information and communication technologies to the entire spectrum of governmental services, but there is far more involved in implementing and administering an effective e-governmental initiative besides just placing existing informational content online and providing a few links to government officials. For example, Milner (2002) suggests that, "As electronic government comes of age around the world, leadership remains at the core of success, beginning with the definition of e-government itself. Leaders who define e-government in a narrow sense -- simply moving services online -- miss larger opportunities which will determine competitive advantage in the long run" (17).

These opportunities exist along a continuum of milestones that can be used to assess the maturity of an e-governmental approach to the delivery of governmental services as described in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Seven leadership milestones to implementing and administering an e-government

Milestone

Description

Milestone One: Integration

Termed alternatively one-stop shopping, one window, or a central entry point as a portal, this approach is designed to allow citizens to access services without having to know which department handles the service

Milestone Two: Economic development

Governments, in collaboration or working through private and nonprofit sectors can facilitate increased bargaining power that can provide small- and medium-sized companies with affordable expertise and technology (i.e., Web development, e-commerce applications, hosting, and high-speed internet access).

Milestone Three: e-Democracy

The spectrum of e-democracy includes voter registration, voting, public opinion polling, communication among elected representatives and their constituencies, universal access to technology, wired legislative bodies and legislative processes that encourage greater citizen participation. In addition, online hearings, submitting expert testimony online, opinion polling and open communication and information provide opportunities for real-time participation throughout the democratic process.

Milestone Four: e-Communities

E-government should include a focus on enriching the communities that government serves by forming communities of interest within a geographic community.

Milestone Five: Intergovernmental

Within countries, there are growing needs to integrate national, state/provincial and local government operations, services and technologies. Citizens and businesses need to interact with all levels of government.

Milestone Six: Policy environment

Old laws have to change and new laws are needed. Members of oversight bodies need education and guidance on internet-related policy issues.

Milestone Seven: Next generation internet

High-speed connectivity is opening wide the doors to the next generation internet.

Source: Adapted from Milner 2002

It is important to point out that time is of the essence in achieving this continuum of milestones, and that governmental leadership teams must take steps to ensure that attention is given to each of these milestones from the outset rather than waiting from one to be completed before proceeding to the next. For instance, according to Milner, "These milestones are neither discrete nor sequential in nature. Each milestone has equal priority, contributing to the cumulative attainment of the others. Concurrent activity among the seven areas are required from the beginning" (17-18). Notwithstanding Milner's observation that "each milestone has equal priority," it is reasonable to suggest that a given governmental entity will have certain priorities at a given point in time that will take precedence over other initiatives, but the important point is to ensure that e-governmental initiatives are comprehensive in scope by including all of these milestones in their objectives and ensuring appropriate oversight is in place to monitor their effectiveness.

Another important point to emerge from the foregoing is just how cost-effective e-governmental initiatives can be compared to traditional approaches. For example, each of these e-governmental milestones can be achieved or at least promoted through the use of low- or virtually no-cost methods, including the following steps offered by Milner (2002) for achieving the foregoing e-democracy milestone:

1. Announce all public meetings online in a systematic and reliable way. Include the time, place, agenda and information on citizen testimony, participation, or observation options. Use the internet to build trust in-person democracy.

2. Internet-enable existing representative and advisory processes. Create 'virtual committee rooms' and public hearings that allow in-person events to be available in totality via the internet.

3. Hold government-sponsored online consultations. Complement in-person consultations with time-based, asynchronous online events (1 to 3 weeks) that allow people to become educated on public policy issues and interact with agency staff, decision-makers, and each other.

4. Educate elected officials on the use of the internet in their representative work. Get them set up technologically and encourage national and international peer-to-peer policy exchanges among representatives and staff.

5. Create the tools required to respond to e-mail in an effective and timely manner. E-mail is the most personal and cherished internet tool used by the average citizen. The manner in which a government deals with incoming e-mail and enables access to automatic informational notices based on citizen preferences will differentiate popular governments from those that are viewed as being out of touch (26).

Conclusion

The research showed that electronic government seeks to improve the convenience and accessibility of government services and information for all stakeholders, including citizens,…