Hong Kong’s e-government services initiative is a contrast to New Zealand’s in its clear evidence of public/private cooperation. Government services are mixed almost indistinguishably with associated private ventures and draw on the latter for up-front and ongoing funding.
A section of the ESDLife website dealing with weddings, for example, links to private wedding planners and carries advertisements for gold items and top-quality brandy. Both are traditional features of Hong Kong weddings, says Philip Ng, director of professional services at what has until now been Compaq Hong Kong. “Relatives will often give the couple a gold ring, or a gold Mickey Mouse”.
Compaq is the HK government’s prime partner in the ESDlife initiative. Hutchinson-Global Crossing was also involved. The Hong Kong effort has not suffered from Global Crossing’s financial collapse, Ng adds. “We were lucky that Hutchison is extremely cash-rich.”
On pages built around government services, a rule says there should be a minimum of 60% government content. Even those pages contain elaborate graphics, some animated. Ng sees the high graphics content as necessary “to create stickiness”, encouraging people to use and return to the online service.
Under the covers, the system interfaces departmental and private content providers with the central service provision modules, where the various agencies can call on standard routines for common tasks like filling in and submitting a form, change of personal particulars or information look-up.
An identity card with digital signature is a vital part of the process for tasks requiring confidentiality, and the user is reminded with a small graphic when this will be needed.
Kiosks in the street and public buildings are a significant part of the set-up, bridging the digital divide for those unable to afford their own PC or mobile device (the government pages are written for easy accessibility for such devices). The kiosk includes a scanner to read paper documents, as well as slots for ID, credit and debit cards.
Using online services for government transactions is free up to a certain limit. A “points” scheme with rewards was provided to encourage citizens to use the facilities, and the government subsequently had to introduce the cap to discourage a few who were going online at every trivial opportunity, just to rack up points.
There is a sensible limit to facilities provided from kiosks, Ng says. “We don’t think anyone will seriously want to fill in their tax return at the railway station.”
Private services such as ticketing for events are provided at the kiosks, as are printable location maps.
Alternative views are provided on the website by life event and by government department.