Feds ready to add services to GOL plate

Canada is building on its Government On-Line project by creating tools to help citizens get past bureaucratic jargon and improve communication between federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions.

Public Works and Government Services Canada

(PWGSC) released the 2005 annual report for the Government On-Line (GOL) initiative late last week. It showed Web-based interactions with the government quadrupled over the last three years. GOL was launched six years ago to provide online access to the 130 most commonly used federal services.

According to the report, “From Vision to Reality . . . And Beyond,” the Internet accounts for 30 per cent of all government transactions, which has led to a push for service integration and partnership among all departments.

Projects under development include eContact, a Web-based software tool that will interpret citizen queries written in informal language by linking it to specific government service or programs. Christine Desloges, director-general for GOL Initiative in the Information Technology Services branch in PWGSC, said eContact is being piloted by the province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg and the Canada Service Business Centre in Manitoba. The goal, said Desloges, is to address the 30 per cent of Canadians who say they don’t know where to find information about the different levels of government, and to do so in a way that doesn’t leave them confused.

“Citizens don’t talk in ‘bureaucrat-ese,’” she said. “Often the programs are described in language that is much different from what they use.”

Although eContact could reduce some service delivery costs, Desloges said it will be important that the tool doesn’t force various government departments and agencies to significantly change their current IT systems.

“We’ve checked with service providers at various levels, and one of the things they saw is that it has value in that it improves the quality of service and helps to eliminate the duplication between various levels.”

Another project, the National Routing System, will link provincial and territorial registrars that have to send information to organizations such as Statistics Canada, Canada Revenue Agency, Foreign Affairs Canada and PWGSC. Currently in pilot with British Columbia and Alberta, Desloges described the system as an online brokerage.

“If you’re born in the province of Quebec and you die in the province of British Columbia, there has to be an exchange between those two, so that we can ascertain the status of the individual,” she said.  “We need to find a common solution, because right now those stats are handled at the provincial level.”

Canada has consistently earned high marks for its GOL experts, holding on to the top spot of consulting firm Accenture’s annual study of e-government initiatives around the globe.  Alden Cuddihey, a partner in Accenture’s government practice in Ottawa, said the government is taking the appropriate next steps to improve access and service by fine-tuning the way citizens conduct transactions.

“Citizens want government to remember who they are – they do not want to have to repeat themselves all the time,” he said. “I think the Government of Canada has been really been leading in trying to create that kind of capability, but we’re seeing other governments trying as well. So it’s a pretty tight race.”

Desloges said GOL’s progress has created a change in mindset about service delivery at all levels of government that is continuing to evolve as new modules are added.

“What it facilitates is some alignment, because it’s very much same client, the same taxpayer,” she said. “GOL’s approach has been to do things in a small way to test new ideas.”

The annual report highlights survey data from the government’s Internet research panel, 81 per cent of whom said they found it easy or very easy to access the federal Web site they most recently visited. Cuddihey, however, said Canada needs to remember those who don’t rely on their Internet connection to reach government servicess.

“It’s about being able to provide services in an integrated and seamless fashion across all the channels – through the Web, through the call centres, the in-person outlets,” he said.

Although GOL is scheduled to end its current mandate in the 2005-2006 fiscal year, Desloges said many projects would be ongoing.

“Basically you have is a community of 34 departments and agencies that really want to improve services for clients,” she said.

Recent GOL site launches include Science and Technology for Canadians, Canada Revenue Agency’s My Account service and a Campground Reservation Service.

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