Consulting firm Accenture Inc. this week released a report on how e-government initiatives stack up around the world. Its scorecard-style evaluation covers the 22 most active countries online.
Entitled "eGovernment Leadership, Rhetoric vs. Reality - Closing the Gap," the report bequeaths the highest marks on Canada, Singapore and the U.S., in that order, for efforts each country has taken to provide online services and information to citizens and businesses.
Accenture's report calls the three countries "Innovative Leaders" in e-government because Accenture's researchers found they do the most to deliver interactive or transactional services online in addition to simply publishing large volumes of government information.
According to Accenture, there is also a group of countries that are close behind the leaders with their own national efforts. These counties earned the second-tier ranking of "Visionary Followers." Norway, Australia, Finland, The Netherlands and the U.K. fall in this category, Accenture says.
Steve Rohleder, managing partner at Accenture's USA government division, explained the methodology the consulting firm undertook for the global evaluation.
"In January we had 100 researchers in 22 countries and gave them 10 days to act like citizens and businesses using e-government online," Rohleder said. "We had them evaluate 165 separate services segmented to include things such as tax collection, human services or postal. The question was, how many services did a particular government support online?"
While Accenture's scorecard ratings gave eight countries out of the 22 surveyed pretty high marks, the remainder appeared to be putting less energy into their e-government efforts at present.
Rohleder said most are still simply publishing government information on the Web, but don't conduct transactions or interact with citizenry and business in any broad way. These countries - which Accenture dubbed "Steady Achievers" - are New Zealand, Hong Kong, France, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Germany and Belgium.
In its final category - blandly labeled "Platform Builders" - Accenture lists countries that have so far shown limited progress in publishing or managing transactions via the Web. In Accenture's report, these are: Japan, Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa, Italy and Mexico.
Rohleder emphasized that there are many impediments to creating an e-government presence online. "There are ongoing challenges, such as regulatory issues, the digital divide, privacy and security concerns, and of course, budget," he noted.
But to have any progress, it's critical that top management in government - such as a country's president as well as its CIO in charge of technology deployment - set goals and make it a priority. Otherwise, government agencies are not likely to move forward in the hard job of going online.
Top government support drove e-gov in Canada, Singapore and the U.S., Rohleder said, adding that the U.S. ranking has actually slipped a bit since Accenture first did this e-government study last year. Rohleder said industry and government agencies are eager to hear from the Bush Administration on how it will proceed with e-government now that the Clinton Administration, which had Vice President Al Gore as its e-gov enthusiast, has departed.
All around the world, e-government is a rapidly changing phenomenon, Rohleder pointed out. "Norway, the Netherlands and Ireland have made significant gains in our e-government leadership ranking," Rohleder added. "And Norway wasn't even on the list last year."
A challenge is the need to adopt practices and technologies to provide customer relationship management as citizens and businesses turn to the Web more frequently to gain government services. "This is certainly one of the main areas that needs to be addressed," Rohleder concluded.