Benchmarks not fair: CIOs

OTTAWA — Benchmarking e-government success on an international basis is a little like ranking beauty pageant contestants from around the world on their blonde-haired, blue-eyed-ness, said a group of international government CIOs at GTEC last month.

“”Existing e-government benchmarks mainly show

organizations measuring different things,”” said Finnish CIO Olavi Kôngas — and most use the U.S. as the standard. “”Usually in Europe, you will see the Nordic block of countries along with the U.K. leading the indicators showing how close countries are to the U.S.,”” Kôngas said.

Instead, he said, governments should concentrate on using technology to improve their competitiveness and make sure that the e-services they are working so hard to provide are actually the ones they need. In one study of Finland’s e-services, he noted, 47 per cent of respondents said government offices were their preferred channel of conducting government business. That number has stayed the same for three years.

“”We still think we have to have all these services on the Net, but people couldn’t care less,”” he said.

Colm Butler, head of Ireland’s information policy office, agreed. Butler, who says he takes “”a jaundiced view”” of benchmarking e-government, said the problem with such measurements is that they concentrate on the delivery of services, rather than on the priority of service delivery, which may vary greatly from country to country.

For example, some studies that rank countries’ e-government capabilities use criteria that are not relevant to all, such as the ability to apply for hospital appointments online. Since Irish citizens don’t book their own hospital appointments, the question is meaningless, he said.

“”There’s a need to qualify what’s being measured,”” said Butler. “”They have considerable potency to beat you up.””

That doesn’t mean benchmarking has no place in government, however, the panel said. In Canada, where the government has committed to putting its services on line by 2005, it’s becoming increasingly important to get a grip on the success of what it has done so far, said CIO Michelle D’Auray.

“”We know that at some point in time, as the national audit office in the U.K. has done, our own wonderful auditors will come to us. But the question often is, ‘How do you measure? What does it mean to benchmark in this area? One of the places we want to start is how do we define GOL in Canada.””

To answer those questions, government departments are being asked to perform self-assessments of their online initiatives, according to 11 indicators of success, among which figure client-centredness, convenience, accessibility and credibility.

“”We asked them to benchmark where they are today and where they will be in 2005,”” said D’Auray. “”That will be published, so once you make your original determination, you will at least have the ability in 2005 to measure (how you met that goal). Our goal is not just to measure what’s available but to focus on the outcome — what has changed. If people aren’t using the service, it defeats the purpose.””

But for some countries, benchmarking e-government services serves a purpose beyond merely improving services provided to citizens.

Mark Forman, CIO for the U.S. government, said replacing an aging workforce and simplifying government for citizens are two major drivers behind the need for benchmarking in his country. Forman said the U.S. is trying to apply a more market-based approach to e-government that focuses on finances as well as citizens: erroneous payments alone are costing the U.S. government more than US$100 billion a year.

As well, he said, the U.S. has to look more at outsourcing IT projects. “”I can tell you we have very serious IT performance problems in the U.S. government,”” said Forman. “”For some reason in the U.S. federal government we seem to pay 10 times as much as the private sector does.””

In another session, Lyne Bouchard, director of executive programs at Gartner in Montreal, said Canada should be measuring itself against appropriate peers. “”Benchmarking is critical and while countries like Singapore are not a good example, others, such as Finland and Australia, are ones we can look at as to how we are doing. However, we have to look at what they study and make sure the information is good.””

— With files from Jennifer Brown

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