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The term “e-government” is extensive and applicable to any government entity, not only nationally but globally, but just what is e-government (where “e” represents “electronic)?
The New York State Office for Technology’s Local Government Advisory Committee has created this practical definition of e-government:
“E-government is the use of information technology to support government operations, engage citizens, and provide government services.”
E-government incorporates four key elements that, when combined, create a unified process: e-services, e-commerce, e-democracy and e-management. This article provides a high-level breakdown of each separate process, to include the definition and the usage, and how these elements come together to create a unified e-government.
E-services is defined as the electronic delivery of government information, programs and services, often (but not exclusively) over the Internet as well as the provision of services via the Internet. The term “service” implies the meeting of some public need and/or the system or operation by which people are provided with something they need. The electronic version of service includes functions such as Web conferencing, video conferencing, secure instant messaging software, etc. A good example of an e-service program is Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Microsoft states that the purpose of Live Meeting is to “give you the power to work together with colleagues, customers, and suppliers no matter where you are.” Common usage of Live Meeting includes the scheduling of meetings, online presentations and demonstrations during the meetings, and creation of digital notebooks for these meetings. Microsoft boasts that Live Meeting provides the ability to meet instantly with ease, and Microsoft also provides extensive menus on the Live Meeting pages to guide users to the answers of any questions they have regarding an online meeting. Microsoft Live Meeting is a perfect example of an e-services program via the Internet.
E-services often include e-commerce, and e-commerce is the second element of the e-government process. It is defined as the electronic exchange of money for goods and services. Examples include citizens paying taxes and utility bills, renewing vehicle registrations and paying for recreation programs, as well as the government buying supplies and auctioning surplus equipment online. In Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) uses e-commerce to provide their customers with the convenience of online transactions. These services include, but are not limited to, change of address, renewing or replacing a driver’s license or identification card, changing organ donation status and updating vehicle registration. The vehicle registration services on the Virginia DMV Web page are divided into other sub-services such as registration and plate renewal, registration card replacement or reporting the sale or trade of a vehicle currently registered in Virginia. These are great examples of how e-services enable Virginia residents to accomplish tasks of this type with the hassle of having to physically visit a DMV office and wait in long lines.
E-democracy, the third component of e-government, is defined as the use of electronic communications to increase citizen participation in the public decision-making process. It is also used to enhance the democratic processes within a democratic republic or representative democracy. An example of this process is electronic voting. Voting via the Internet, over secure servers, is intended to increase not only the amount of participation, but also to involve more citizens in the entire democratic process, from nomination through election. Another example of how e-democracy is used to give citizens a voice via the Internet is online petitioning. These petitions are created for citizens to be able to digitally sign a document that has been written either in support of or against an act or policy. When an online petition is signed, information such as first and last name, home address, e-mail address and home phone is collected. This information is kept to catalog how many people have signed the petition. Online petitioning is one way for citizens to voice their opinions and is a significant part of the e-democracy process.
The final key in the e-government process is e-management. E-management is the use of information technology to improve the management of government; it is used for everything from streamlining business processes to improving the flow and integration of information. A very integral part of the e-management process is e-records management. This is defined as maintenance, use and disposition of records to receive proper documentation of an organization’s policies and transactions. Federal agencies are implementing an e-records policy and a program that gives users the opportunity to save documents and e-mails as records. The users can choose whether to keep the e-mails and documents as files or make them records, which will then be given a destruction date. These records will allow the agencies to track status and progress, and also to document lessons learned. Effective leadership and governance will also be important to the successes of e-management in the e-government solution. Consequently, communication within and between the different government agencies is crucial. There need to be “across the board” policies implemented by the managers, directed downward to those who support them. An example of such a policy is the DOD 5015.2-STD version of Electronic Information Management Standards.
There is, however, one main downside that is occurring within each process under e-government: security. Even with the practice of using secure servers, security over the Internet will always be at risk. Technology will continue to improve, and so will the functions to make practices over the Internet more secure. Security processes must be as secure as technology will allow, and the users must follow the policies set to make their own actions safe.
In order for implementation of the e-government process to occur, certain criteria must be met. These criteria will be based on questions that each company needs to answer and will determine if the process is mission appropriate. Following are some basic questions that need to be answered:
- Is public access needed to information?
- Is the information suitable for online delivery?
- Will the implementation improve delivery of both existing and future services?
- Is there a need to upgrade measurable processes? (Measurable processes include timesaving for
current personnel and waiting time for customers, as well as user satisfaction.)
- Will the e-government process provide better, cheaper and faster services?
- Will time be saved for the customer?
- Does it support fundamental functions?
- After identifying users’ needs and your objectives, will the e-government process be an
improvement to current process?
- Do top officials support the to-be process?
After these questions are answered and prove that e-government would be mission appropriate, the following steps would be taken to implement the process: initialization, strategy, analysis, concept, realization, test and implementation. While all of these steps should be followed, there is some flexibility as to the time needed and whether the steps need to be repeated. For example, after testing is completed, there may be some necessary changes. Therefore, it would be necessary to return to the realization step before proceeding to implementation. Successful implementations require time, organization and expertise in the areas outlined in this article. The steps to be taken for implementation should be well-documented, systematic and aligned with the goals of the agency. Without proper adherence to best practices and methodologies, there is opportunity for critical errors within each step of the process. These steps will be discussed in detail in my next article, Steps to Ensure Successful E-Government Implementations.