Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Where did it all go? What do we get for it?

Two articles that came up whilst I was scanning e-government news intrigued me tonight. The first, from the Norfolk Evening News, asks the first question; the second is answered by the Canadian's own news site. Norfolk, the place where "ANGRY councillors demanded answers about where more than £7 million sunk into Norfolk County Council's electronic government scheme has gone?" - their CAPS, not mine. Some say it has gone into the website, into call centres and so on. The opposition leader though "said she was not convinced the scheme was improving the council's services." In the absence of being convinced the article notes “they could have knocked 0.4 per cent off the council tax by putting £1 million less into the e-Government budgetâ€? and goes on to say “We are not trying to say they should not be spending money on e-Government. I believe in e-Government and have seen what it can do elsewhere.â€? I believe and have seen what it can do … and that’s what brings me to Canada, where they say "Forty-five services are now fully on-line. The Government On-Line 2004 report highlights our achievements to date and addresses the remaining key challenges to put all 130 of the services most needed by citizens and businesses on the Internet by 2005." And The volume of on-line transactions, such as visiting Web sites and downloading information or forms, increased by 54% in 2003. The Jobs, Workers, Training and Career portal registered more than eight million user sessions in 2003, and the number of job banks offered via this portal has doubled Much of which could be because of the project to “improve services for individuals and businesses by redesigning its main Web site - the Canada Site (www.canada.gc.ca )â€? So that’s what you get in bald figures, but is it improving the services (to ask the Norfolk councillor’s question of the Canadians)? Canadians who submit on-line requests for Statements of Contribution (to the Canada Pension Plan) receive them within 10 days, while the same request sent by mail takes about one month to process and return. In addition, businesses that incorporate on-line pay $200 rather than the regular $250, and $20 to file an annual return on-line rather than $40 for a paper filing, a 50% savings. (These numbers sound pretty arbitrary to me ... just a little too round ... maybe it's just that government doesn't do consumer pricing? Get your incorporation here, only $199.99, today only. But the point is that Canada can say that costs to the end customer have fallen as a result of online service - the reductions may be artificially priced, but they're in real terms. For those cost reductions to have happened, Canada has had to make equivalent savings somewhere in the process - that means either headcount has fallen or capacity has increased, making the staff more productive). Human Resources and Skills Development's Web Record of Employment (ROE) service has processed nearly 73,000 transactions as of March 20, 2004, saving time and costs for payroll professionals. It is estimated that by 2006 at least 80% of businesses will submit their ROEs on-line. (Ah, Pareto ... 80% will be online ... not sure how far up from 73,000 that is. It doesn't sound like very many, but I don't have volumes of how many are done off line. Again though, there's some stressing here of the saves to payroll professionals) Similarly, HRSD's E-Payroll will link business and governments electronically and enable real-time access to and verification of payroll data, thus simplifying the delivery of social programs to Canadians and rendering cost savings for both business and governments. Intriguingly, the Candians make use of something called “The Secure Channelâ€? which is a common infrastructure connecting Canadians and businesses to the government with the highest standards in privacy, security, availability and reliability. Already in use by several GOL services, the Secure Channel will also be used by Canadians during the 2006 Census, enabling Canadians to fill out their surveys on-line.â€? In my language, the secure channel is a Government Gateway – and theirs operates in a broadly similar way to the one in the UK with some differences because of local administration. If 0.4% of council tax is to play for, could it be achieved with e-government? I think we'd all like to think the stakes are far higher than that. Is £7 million a lot? Hard to say, a lot would depend on how mcuh was split between "e-government" in its usual sense (websites and stuff) and call centres and other related (but not directly e-government) projects. Does saving £1 million cut down the return a lot? Does it cut it down just a million?

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