Surfing the Net Streamlines Administrative Procedures

However, the purpose of the services on offer electronically is not generally to collect public money. The services are primarily intended to benefit citizens and companies, for example by sparing them time-consuming visits to government bodies, and by optimizing processes. In Sweden, for example, car registration over the Internet is already the norm, in Ireland, applications for building permits can be submitted online, and in Austria, a business can register via electronic channels.

From Job Searches to Customs Declaration

E-government benchmarking study
E-government benchmarking study

In October 2002, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young investigated the degree to which 20 basic public services – from the job searches and placement through to customs declaration – are available for citizens and companies over the Internet. In its study, the Management and IT consulting firm analyzed a total of 10,569 government bodies from the 15 EU member states and from Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. 86 percent of these now have their own Internet sites.
The study was conducted on behalf of the European Commission. It is a core element of the eEurope program launched by the European Union, and aims to make the benefits of the information society available to all European citizens. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young has carried out the survey three times since October 2001.

Scandinavian Countries and Ireland Lead the Pack

Comparison of countries
Comparison of countries

The comparison of countries in the study revealed considerable differences with regard to online availability, however. It showed that government authorities in Sweden and Ireland had the highest values, with 87 and 85 percent respectively, while German authorities only achieved 48 percent. In the European ranking, Germany therefore slipped from 14th to 16th place in the space of a year, and is near the bottom of the list, ahead of Belgium (47 percent) and Luxemburg (32 percent).
From a different perspective angle, though, Germany was revealed as one of the leaders when it comes to country-wide services – including tax issues, public procurement and the job placement services. Electronic services offered at municipal and regional level, on the other hand, do not fare quite so well. “Germany needs a strategic head that can coordinate and bundle the many varied and heterogeneous initiatives of government, the individual states, and the local authorities. Second, an agency – DeutschlandOnline – is needed to operate across all levels and act as the motor and catalyst for German e-government. And third, considerable progress can be made through inter-municipal cooperation,“ says Dr. Helmut Haussmann, former Federal Minister for the Economy, and now Vice President at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in Berlin.

Growth Slowing Down

Overall, the study shows that progress has been made with regard to e-government services, albeit at a reduced speed. While more and more countries are providing a greater degree of availability for their services, growth at the end of 2002 was much more modest that in the first half of that year. While the development of online services improved by 10 percent between the first survey in October 2001 and the second in April 2002, the growth up to the third survey in October 2002 was just five percent. This indicates that growth is tending to slow down as online availability increases.
The survey also clearly showed that in almost all countries, online services for companies have made greater progress than services for citizens. Services for companies (Government-to-Business, G2B) are now 72 percent available, while services for citizens (Government-to-Citizen, G2C) are only 52 percent available. However, G2C and G2B are growing at the same speed, at four and five percent respectively.

Four Service Categories

The public services available electronically are extremely varied, and range from the simple availability of information online right through to complex case handling. They can be divided in four categories:

  • Income-generating services: services in which payment flows from citizens and companies to the government, mainly taxes and social security contributions
  • Registration services: services related to recording data as a result of administrative obligations, such as birth or marriage certificates or car registration
  • Services for citizens and companies: services provided to citizens and companies in return for taxes or contributions, such as public libraries, job placement and job-seeker services
  • Permits and licenses: documents that are issued by government bodies, such as the permission to build a house or run a business
Four service groups
Four service groups

Overall, it is hardly surprising that Internet services that secure state income – such as income tax, sales tax, or corporation tax – are the most well-developed and have shown the greatest progress. The European average for availability of these services is 82 percent. In fact, every individual service in this category is above the overall average of 60 percent. In Europe, the service with the highest degree of availability is the sales tax declaration, at 90 percent, with customs declaration coming last (71 percent), although this service shows greatest progress, with a rise of eight percent. Denmark, Italy, France, Finland, and Sweden have 100 percent coverage for every service in this category. This means that the processes concerned can be handled completely electronically.

Work to Do For Health Services

In contrast, with a value of 41 percent, services in the category “Permits and Licenses” still require substantial improvement in most countries. These services include university registration, which has an average value of 54 percent, and applications for building permits (33 percent).
The category “Services for Citizens and Companies” includes services that showed the best and the worst values in the survey: job seeker and job placement over the Internet is 91 percent available on average across the 18 countries. For “health-related” services (14 percent), in contrast, there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Key to Success is Centralized Services

The analysis of the progress of public services clearly shows that centrally coordinated public services with simple procedures – such as a job search or taxes – achieve the best values. Coordinated e-government solutions enable local authorities to utilize centralized online initiatives by offering citizens or companies a point of contact for all services.
In contrast, decentralized services with complex procedures, such as applications for building permits or environmental licenses, generally have the lowest values. They require a reorganization of the back office in order to create more straightforward processes, and are therefore developing at a slower rate.

Application For Planning Permission Over the Internet

The example of an online application for planning permission in Ireland shows how a highly decentralized service with a complex process can be successfully carried out over the Internet. The Irish government set up the “Reach Agency” e-government initiative in 2000 in order to develop a strategy for the integration of public services and to implement a framework for e-government. The outcome of this initiative is known as “Reachservices” and offers citizens centralized access to all online services in the public sector. In addition, registered users are able to send online applications to various authorities. However, the traditional channels are still open as well: if you do not want to register, you can print out a form and send it by post to the relevant office.

Willi Kaczorowski
Willi Kaczorowski