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Why eGovernment is not enough

Governments everywhere are recognizing that they need to improve the way they provide service. Customers of public services, be they citizens or businesses, increasingly have expectations of round-the-clock accessibility. In response, public bodies of all kinds are making progress towards electronic delivery.

Securing and providing government services by electronic means (i.e. e-Government) promises numerous quality and cost benefits for government. Examples include increased levels of service delivery, reduced costs for interactions and transactions, reduced paper and document storage costs, better management of funds, more accurate information capture, etc. Furthermore, citizens and businesses look to benefit from more efficient and convenient contact with government, anytime access to information and services and improved service response.

These benefits are good and are beginning to be realized on some fronts. In many instances, however, the introduction of Internet-enabled solutions has instead led to increased costs and additional islands of operations within government. Customers, too, are less than fully satisfied. What goes wrong?

First, not everyone has access to the Internet. And not all that do will immediately use the Internet to access government information and services. Even in business today's buyers use the Internet more selectively than today's sellers would like. It's no different for government. It takes time and money to raise awareness and increase use of this new channel for information, interactions and transactions with government.

Second, one must move beyond simply publishing information on the Internet and provide truly transactional online service options in order to realize the most significant rewards. However, one must deliver e-Government intelligently. Many portals are formatted around the organization's existing structure rather than customer needs and the natural train of their thoughts. This frustrates users who cannot navigate the system and then abandon this channel of interaction and support.

Third, customers cannot realize the benefits of any new channels if the services offered are not fully tailored to take advantage of these new channels. Some government organizations focus on developing new channels without similar attention to tailoring service and improving the customer experience.

Furthermore, too much emphasis on captivating front-end services raises expectations unrealistically if these initiatives are not fully supported and integrated with back-office systems and departmental processes. Improved access mechanisms without back-office integration makes matters worse, not better.

Finally, citizens and businesses dealing with government organizations via more than one channel find it frustrating when personnel do not have their contact history. This requires them to further explain background each time they make contact. Government organizations have multiple methods of collecting customer data but have difficulty sharing data across all channels of interaction and delivery. Customers find it frustrating when service is not seamless.

The lesson here is that the real value of e-Government does not come from simply placing service on-line. Rather, it comes from rethinking and reorganizing the delivery of services around the needs of citizens and businesses, i.e. by applying Customer Relationship Management (CRM) principles and approaches. CRM takes an outside in approach to reorganize services around customer intentions and to create an integrated view of customers and citizens for use in coordinating services across multiple delivery channels. As such, it is beginning to be accepted as necessary thinking that leads to an explicit strategy for relationships with customers and a necessary complement to e-Government initiatives.