Two reports released this week take different stances on New Zealand's success in e-government.
A Deloitte Consulting study says New Zealand will have to play catch-up to other western democracies on e-government, while an Andersen Consulting survey ranks New Zealand as a "visionary follower".
The Deloitte's international study shows that while there is progress in the area of using information technology to bring government and citizens closer together, there is a long way to go.
“The whole issue of getting a clear e-government focus has been lacking,” says Cobor Scholtz, the Deloittes New Zealand Consulting public sector and local government leader.
For example, what work has been done so far relies mainly on the notion of people accessing the Web via home computers, or possibly those at work. But compared to other countries there has been little work put into providing kiosks for those without access to a PC.
And while other countries are already providing portal access, allowing access to a range of government information across many departments by way of one site, this has yet to really get off the ground here, he says.
A case study in the report from Victoria, in Australia, shows a portal which includes a range of 30 different transactions across a number of departments. Users don’t need to know which department they are dealing with at any one time; and for them, it doesn’t really matter.
“To a large extent what is going on so far in New Zealand is about publishing information online rather than actually carrying out transactions between government agencies and citizens by way of the Web.”
The study shows there is not as much demand for government services over the Internet as there is across the Tasman.
“I think the important thing to remember is that e-government is not an immediate thing – its about taking a long-term view. The report sets out six stages to e-government, and its important we go through all those.”
By 2002, New Zealanders’ preference for Internet access to government services is expected to increase by 125% – compared with nearly 200% in Australia. At present, only 11% of New Zealand citizens access government services via the Internet.
The significance of this is that overseas experience, in both public and private sector Web developments, has shown a strong level of customer-driven development, and the relatively low level of interest reflected a lack of confidence in the public sector to deliver such services over the Web, Scholtz says.
One senior public servant working in this area – who pleaded anonymity – observed that the report put New Zealand in the ‘B team’ on the issue.
“Which is not great, but it’s not bad either. If this study had been carried out 18 months ago it would have been very embarrassing. Quite a lot has happened since then.”
The Andersen Consulting survey puts New Zealand in the second-to-top of four possible rankings for progress on electronic government. But the survey makes it clear that even the leaders in e-government implementation are not sparkling performers.
The survey was conducted in March and looked at 20 governments and their various services to the individual and businesses.
Andersen reports that more than 90% of the 157 services national governments offer that could be transacted over the Internet are not handled electronically. Even trailblazers like the US, Singapore, Australia, Canada and France have achieved only 20% of their capacity to provide online service delivery.
New Zealand is ranked as a “visionary follower”, behind the US, Australia, Canada and Singapore, which qualify as “early leaders”, but ahead of “cautious implementers” like Italy and Japan and “slow starters” like Belgium and Ireland.
Andersen characterises the progression along the e-government growth line as one from “publish” (passive information displayed) to “interact” (where the user puts in some information; to look up a company on the Companies Office database, for example) and on to “transact” where actual business is done.
New Zealand’s strong points, according to the survey, are in:
- Online registration of voters and applications for visas;
- Administration and purchasing – the ability to access information about departmental requirements and submit proposals online;
- Legislative administration – the ability for the public and businesses to view the Budget on-line is cited.
“New Zealand has a reasonably extensive presence” in e-government, says Jack Percy, Andersen Australia/New Zealand partner.
“It’s made a good start on the ‘publish’ and ‘interact’ fronts and there is some transaction, for example the Companies Office lets you register a company online.”
Information collected during the survey indicates that the early adopters of e-government were those countries where the executive leadership set a clear direction early on and took steps to put its vision into action.
We have had a vision expressed by the National Government, specifying a number of goals for the year 2003, which have been supported by the present Government, says Percy.
“Now we need clear action plans for getting there.”
Successful governments, the Andersen report says, also tended to be those that had taken “an intentions-based approach” to delivering online services – considering how the citizen or business might want to interact electronically with government overall – rather than an agency-by-agency approach.
“E-government, if approached correctly, will blur the lines of government, enabling citizens and businesses to conduct business electronically while giving no thought to which particular agency they must approach,” said David Hunter, Andersen Consulting worldwide managing partner for the firm’s global government practice.
Percy points out possible difficulties for that view in New Zealand arising from the provisions of the State Sector Act, which encouraged individual departments and chief executives to make their own decisions more or less in isolation from others.
Other barriers, identified internationally, are the existence of different computer platforms in various departments, security and privacy questions, and the “personal key issue” – whether it is possible or advisable for a citizen to have a single number by which he/she is known to all government systems.