E-gov experts emphasize problem-solving skills over IT

TORONTO — The success of an e-government project hinges on solving a problem rather than throwing technology at it, according to professionals working in Ontario.

There are 445 municipalities in the province and only seven per cent of them have populations over 100,000. “”The municipalities

are not a monolithic group with the same needs and challenges,”” said Craig Wellington, manager of communications and marketing, Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO).

Wellington, who spoke at the Showcase Ontario e-government conference Tuesday, pointed to the importance of identifying the specific needs of a given constituency before attempting another step. His organization, AMCTO, is the largest voluntary professional association in the municipal sector in Ontario with more than 2,200 members.

Municipalities across the province do share common issues like delivering solutions with fixed restraints like budgetary requirements, he said.

“”The key is to start with the problem in mind, then you drill down to the range of methodologies, including e-government,”” he said. “”People don’t buy coal, they buy heat.””

E-government is one possible solution to a problem, but it shouldn’t replace existing services, he said. Any portal venture should complement them and be one option among several for citizens to pursue government-based services.

“”Portals are windows to information. The technology that enables it isn’t that important,”” added Steve Desrocher, president of ASi Technologies Inc. based in Brampton, Ont.

Desrocher’s company supplies tools to government bodies across North America, including AMCTO. The e-Gov portal, run by AMCTO, provides links to various municipal projects around the world and how local governments developed them.

“”There’s no single best practice. You’ve got to go out and search what you need. E-government is a good resource to start that process,”” said Desrocher.

Users should be involved in every step of an e-government project, said Wellington — both the government staff that use and maintain it and the citizens that benefit from the services.

“”It’s important to keep people engaged all the way along the process,”” said Wellington. “”You can’t just built it and say, ‘Well, what do you think now?'””

If there’s a problem then, it’s too late to fix it or it becomes an expense to make changes.

Wellington also recommended that services be kept user-friendly. If they aren’t, then it doesn’t matter how much functionality they have, no one will use them. Government can’t assume that all citizens have high-speed access, so e-government services must be developed with all levels of technical sophistication in mind.

The Town of Markham, Ont., is an example of a municipality that’s getting it right, said Wellington.

In its municipal elections last year, Markham allows its constituents to register to vote online (17 per cent of people used this service) or to vote online with advanced ballots (seven per cent).

The project won the AMCTO’s EA Danby Award for innovative solutions.

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