Tasks performed by state authorities are set to change substantially over the next few years. As part of this reorganization, local authorities must become round-the-clock online service providers. Martin Barnreiter, analyst at Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC), reckons on an average annual increase in all IT tasks of two to three percent up to 2008 for the public sector in Germany. “Not dramatic growth, but steady nonetheless,” he says. In the face of draining funds, he explains, the public sector is investing in new information technology primarily in order to save on costs. “But this can only be achieved with efficient, automated processes and improved service quality,” he adds. Future e-government offerings must be expanded “based on e-business principles”, as a White House policy paper directs US administrative bodies.
Differentiation is essential
The apparently homogeneous term “e-government” is in fact multi-layered and resists any uniform definition. It covers the various processes between the public sector (government/administration) and private citizens (Government to Citizen, G2C), between administrative bodies (Government to Government, G2G) and between the public and commercial sectors (Government to Business, G2B). The individual areas of application range from the online information service to various communication options (e-mail or forum) and form-based transactions (Internet application forms etc.).
For Horst Müller, author of the “E-Government2004“ study, a standardized definition is therefore not required. The most important thing is to understand “the changes the ongoing increase in public sector IT usage will bring about.” US e-government expert Jim Carroll warns against equating e-government with exclusively Internet-based communication. He states that, like the private sector, administrative bodies need to follow a multi-channel strategy offering telephone and personal contact alongside Internet and e-mail. Companies should not be forced to “communicate with administrative bodies exclusively via online channels. Particularly when help and advice is sought, personal or telephone contact is often preferable,” according to a G2B study by ibi Research. If several channels are offered or multiple administrative institutions involved, it is important to collate information from the different sources/contact channels.
Efficient administration in the portal
As the first point of contact, online portals guide visitors to the required information and services provided by local authorities and administrative bodies. This includes statistics, planning data for infrastructure, town planning, finances, tax information, processes, regulations and the latest changes to laws and directives. For companies, they are a useful source of important comparative data for strategic decisions such as site location. A comparative study by the Bertelsmann Foundation in cooperation with consultants Booz, Allen, Hamilton (BAH) concluded that the quality and quantity of public-sector services offered through online portals was generally good. However, the report added that “the integration of different IT systems posed a serious problem. All the institutions investigated used a whole range of different, non-compatible platforms and technologies.” However the report stated the overall trend was towards standardization and increasing interoperability of applications and systems. PAC analyst Martin Barnreiter therefore sees the key to successful e-government as a process of “consolidating different portals within one local authority and placing them on a standardized platform so that the processes from the portals to the individual back-end applications are 100% electronic.” Successful e-government also requires the reorganization of processes and structures, the introduction of customer loyalty concepts and the successful use of concept management systems and effective personnel management systems.
However, the Bertelsmann study also found very different approaches to the implementation of e-government at all levels of the public sector worldwide. System landscapes therefore need to flexible and versatile to ensure smooth contact and data exchange with other systems. SAP for Public Sector is an e-government solution based on the future-proof SAP NetWeaver integration and application platform covering the whole process from setting up an Internet portal to IT-supported processing and back-office systems.
Tapping into potential savings
Experts see potential public-sector savings primarily in the Government-to-Business (G2B) sector, because companies need to register data or obtain authorizations on a regular basis. Local authorities not only produce administrative documents, they also procure products and services in the same way as businesses. The objectives of G2B initiatives are to reduce conditions imposed on companies, create standardized access to information and enable exchange of data and information using e-business methods. Electronic handling of administrative processes brings immediate benefits for both the business and the public sector and is therefore the method most widely used.
“Electronic procurement is an area where administrative bodies can make large savings, as ordering goods together is quite simply cheaper than ordering them separately,” Martin Barnreiter explains. In Germany alone, public, federal, regional and municipal authorities spend some Euro 250 billion a year on goods and services covering a broad range of requirements. They range from straightforward office supplies, to consulting, research, development and training, and vehicles such as patrol boats and helicopters. The German federal authorities aim to convert all their procurement of goods and services to electronic order award processes by the end of 2005. According to a report in the computer magazine c’t, experts estimate this will save the state between five and ten percent of its outgoings. In general, this form of awarding public orders is also characterized by more wide-ranging competition and increased transparency and reliability. It is probably also the reason why administrative bodies provide a “significantly better” service for companies than for private individuals, according to a Europe-wide survey by Capgemini.
Companies can also save time and money by using the administrative bodies’ electronic transaction services. These include, for example, authorization and permit procedures for freight transport or information for the Register of Companies. Around 58 percent of companies in Germany already take advantage of these services, as shown in a survey by Bearingpoint consultants. 18 percent use these services over the scale “regularly” to “intensively”. The authors of the study also anticipate that the “usage intensity of transaction services by businesses will increase” over the next few years.
Jim Carroll therefore thinks the decision by local authorities to invest in e-government is a strategic one. According to Martin Barnreiter, both companies and regional and local public procurement offices profit from IT-supported standardization of business processes with e-awarding and e-procurement. Continuous availability, direct access to decision-related documents and information, greater flexibility in registering, processing and submitting bids and improved process speed all save time. Moreover, the use of electronic documents simplifies integration into existing backend systems (ERP, materials management, management of contract award process). “This significantly cuts down on bureaucracy and helps decisions to be made faster. The introduction of the electronic signature also represents an important step towards simplifying processes and ensuring that they comply with legal requirements,” he concludes. However, as he freely admits, “e-government is still in its infancy, so there’s still a lot of work to be done convincing people.”
For further information:
General: http://europa.eu.int/information_society/activities/egovernment_research/index_en.htm (EU e-government initiatives), www.egov-zentrum.fraunhofer.de (E-Government Center of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft), www.jimcarroll.com, www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/2003egov_strat.pdf (US e-government strategy)
Studies: http://www.bearingpoint.com, www.begix.de/en(E-government study by Bertelsmann Foundation and BAH), http://www.capgemini.com/, www.forrester.com, www.pac-online.de,