Oh eCanada!

WASHINGTON — For the third year in a row, Canada heads a list of 22 countries in terms of the sophistication of their online services and in overall e-government maturity. Singapore ranked second and the United States third in the annual survey released Tuesday by Accenture.

The Accenture analysis considered a variety of factors, including how well each government’s services incorporate customer relationship management (CRM) practices, as well as the level of “maturity” with which each government delivers electronic services. Included in the study were the breadth and sophistication of the online services offered, such as whether the services involve only publication of information, offer some electronic interaction capability, or provide full capabilities for online transactions.

Accenture then placed each government in one of five levels of online maturity. The first plateau is the lowest overall maturity, which basically entails little more than having an online presence. The fifth, and highest, plateau is overall service transformation. Canada was the only country to reach the fifth plateau in the study.

According to the study, Canada’s e-Government outperforms other countries with its customer-service vision; methods for measuring success of services; broad, integrated approach to offering government services through multiple service-delivery channels; and a cross-agency approach to online services.

Further, the report states, Canada has placed its citizens and businesses at the core of its e-Government initiative, identifying services for individual customer segments, and government executives view e-Government as an “evolutionary process that is part of a broader service transformation effort.”

Singapore, the United States, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and France all ranked on the fourth plateau of mature electronic service delivery. According to the report, these governments have established customer service objectives, and their portals offer “valuable, convenient online services to their customers.”

For instance, Belgium’s government last year launched a new portal that targets services to customer segments — citizens, businesses and civil servants — incorporating a feature that can be used by the visually impaired to access information online.

Countries on the third plateau of service availability (The Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Norway, Italy and Malaysia) had basic portals, built with the goal of making as many services available online as quickly as possible. These countries had broad electronic service adoption targets; some sophisticated transaction capabilities; and were somewhat focused on their customers, with individual agencies taking initial steps to work collaboratively to offer online services.

The Accenture study, “eGovernment Leadership: Engaging the Customer,” is Accenture’s fourth annual global study on electronic government. As part of the study, the company interviewed more than 140 senior executives in government agencies across North America, Europe and Asia and conducted additional research of e-Gov practices in 22 countries.

When asked to select factors “driving development” of online government services for citizens, 93 percent of the government executives surveyed selected “improving citizen satisfaction,” 83 percent selected “customer demands for new and better services” and 77 percent selected the need to meet “government performance targets.” Only 51 percent selected “pressure to reduce costs.”

“The mantra we increasingly hear from government executives is ‘give the people what they want,'” said Steve Rohleder, global chief executive of Accenture’s Government practice. “As government executives focus on tailoring online services to meet the needs of specific customer segments, just as businesses do, their e-Government programs will be more successful and deliver greater returns on the investments.”

Accenture found that e-Government maturity follows a cyclical pattern, with periods of rapid development followed by slow-downs in progress as governments reach another plateau. Moving from plateau to plateau to reach a higher level of maturity required a country to re-evaluate its objectives and results and then modify its approach.

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