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Article : E-Government Plans Are Gaining Momentum

Much has been written about e-government in recent months, and Tony Blair's PIU report pledge to have 'all online by 2005' has caused a furore of debate. Customer Interaction Management provider, Noetica, commissioned a survey of local government professionals in the UK that sought to attain their views of, and preparation for, e-government. The authorities surveyed knowingly represent over ten and a half million citizens in the UK, and 40% of those currently provide between 50 and 700 services.

Contact was made with the correct respondent for e-government in 93 authorities. Of these, 35 chose to take part. The remainder declined, for reasons ranging from council policy forbidding involvement in surveys, to people being too busy to participate.

Who Was Asked?
Encouragingly, the majority of authorities surveyed were found to employ designated e-government staff. Job titles within this area include e-government champion, e-government specialist, co-ordinator, and policy officer. The graph below illustrates division of sample by job area.

Preparation For E-Government
Some participants stated a percentage approximate to services they currently provide online. The highest amount of those said they have less than 10% of services available here. Interestingly, one council says it has all services online now. Away from these approximate findings, many participants were able to say which services are online, and the graph below represents this. The highest is Information Services (including local community and business news, events, and information about the benefits and other provisions). This is currently supplied by 31% of authorities. This is followed by the provision of council tax services, which is currently online in 20% of authorities.

Information Services

Council Tax Housing Library

How Many Services Online By End Of 2002?
The second largest proportion of authorities surveyed (17%) expect to have 50% of services online by the end of 2002, which is encouraging progress made toward the 2005 deadline. What is perhaps less encouraging, is that 34% of authorities do not know how many services will be made available. Last year, authorities were asked to submit an IEG (Implementing Electronic Government) statement that detailed their overall vision for modern service delivery by 2005. Of all submitted, 60% passed and received funding. Encouragingly, 11% of respondents in this survey have cited their IEG statements as a benchmark, adhering to these as guidelines for online progress.

What Does The Citizen Really Want?
Participants were asked what they believed the single most important service demanded online by citizens was. The majority were unable to answer the question. Coming next was access to revenue and benefits. A number of services were listed, as illustrated in the next chart.

Involvement In Pathfinder Projects
Currently in the UK, 25 authorities have Pathfinder status. This has enabled them to receive additional funding, and each council is viewed as a model example to others in bringing operations online. This survey sought to find out how the Pathfinder authorities among the sample had benefited from involvement here. 29% (10) of those surveyed have Pathfinder status, and have experienced many benefits, as illustrated below. It should be noted that 40% of Pathfinder authorities surveyed could not give examples of benefits, perhaps due to the fact these projects are arguably still in their infancy. Of those benefiting, the vast majority cited the opportunity to share learning as the greatest, followed by sharing experiences. It appears that many participating authorities welcome having the comfort of a template to work to.

Collaboration With Other Authorities
Encouragingly, over two-thirds of survey participants currently collaborate with other authorities for online government. This includes the sharing of software, working on smart card projects online, and portals that link county authorities. The Government's vision for a joined-up future is apparent in our findings, with many benefits being realised from authorities collaborating online.

Online Forms
The survey addressed the issue of how citizens can interact online with authorities, and reveals that intelligent online forms are viewed as an integral part of e-government. Just over a quarter of authorities already have forms up and running online, with an addition 74% planning to provide them. A third of authorities estimate 50-100% of online services to require some kind of form, whilst another third of authorities estimating that up to 50% of services will require them.

Responsibility For The Creation Of Forms
The task of creating online forms lies in-house, with 63% of authorities undertaking this task themselves. In addition, 20% will be using a mixture of in-house skills and those of web developers. 9% of authorities have said that the ultimate responsibility for this lies with the specific department(s). In situations where this task is the responsibility of each council, two-thirds estimate it to be conducted in house.

Call Centres
The emergence of e-government brings with it questions about the future existence of current client-facing operations. As one of these, the call centre is currently used in 43% of authorities, the majority employing 10-20 people. Almost all of these are run in-house, and over half the call centres have been operational for under two years.

How important is the call centre to your e-government operations?


Important Not Important It's Not E
Don't Know

Authorities were asked to rank the call centre in order of importance to e-government. Over half gave it a grading of 1 (the highest) with a third giving it a 2, or saying that it is equally as important as other e-government enablers, such as kiosks. Participants were asked if the traditional (voice-only) call centre is up to the task of e-government, and almost half believe it isn't.

Despite opinion to suggest the call centre is not up to the task of e government, its value within existing services can clearly be seen. The chart above shows citizen contact regarding revenue and benefits to be the highest use of a call centre's time. This is followed by social services, housing and refuse queries, and demonstrates the important citizen-facing role currently played by the call centre. The responsibility of running the call centre does not seem to be undertaken by a central body in the council. This survey reveals the responsibility scattered among many departments: from social services and housing, to general customer services departments, to a specific e-government set-up and an environment group. As with the creation of forms responsibility lying with the specific department, it seems the same is true of call centre operations.

To enquire further into how the call centre may exist within e-government, the survey sought to find out how integrated the call centre is with online activities. Findings suggest a multi channelled approach to citizen contact in the future.

Participants were asked how they saw the role of the call centre in e-government, and 80% say it will become more integrated, with many believing that this will be so with specific applications. No authorities surveyed believe it will become isolated.

Interestingly, 70% of authorities who do not currently have a call centre say they plan to run one. The majority of these (46%) plan to have one up and running within the next year. This is indicative of the way that call centres will arguably evolve into 'contact' centres that integrate with online communications, and support e-government.

Restrictions Of Website Technology
The practical implementation of e-government will not be straightforward for some authorities. Participants were asked if there were any restrictions on the technology they could use on their websites. This could include, for example, Flash, Java, downloads and pdfs. Of all surveyed, 23% said there were restrictions.

About Noetica:
Established in 1997, Noetica is a developer of software solutions for management of call centres. Noetica's solution - Synthesys has been designed specifically to enable non-technical staff to have complete control of the call centre. Synthesys' key features include customer relationship management (CRM); callflow/script designing, service call centre management and support; outbound campaign management; web compatibility and computer telephony integration (CTI).

Today's Tip of the Day - Feasibility Of An IP Contact Center

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Monday, August 26, 2002

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