GOL disatisfaction prompts call for shared approach

OTTAWA — Getting ‘horizontal’ and delivering seamless government online services is crucial to ensuring the public looks to the Web for services, say public sector experts from around the world who gathered this week in Ottawa.

More than a dozen speakers and 30 federal government

delegates have come to the Government Online 2002 International Congress. The two-day conference aimed at providing global strategies and solutions to help the federal government meet its goal of having all of its essential services online by 2005, while making them user-friendly at the same time.

“Canadians are looking for services and transactions on the Internet – that, we know,” said Donna Wood, director of citizen information programs and services for Communication Canada, and conference chairperson. “Multi-channeling is the key to providing a better user experience.”

Numbers released by Communication Canada reveal GOL user dissatisfaction with the experience, however. Since January 2002, 51 per cent of Canadian Internet users visited a federal government Web site. Yet 27 per cent of Canadians using government Internet-based information or services weren’t happy with the overall quality.

“We’re now working horizontally,” Wood said, referring to the need for IT managers to break down the departmental and silo approaches to online service.

Wood’s views were echoed by other speakers at Tuesday’s sessions, including Dan Danagher, director of the government online project office at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), and a key contributor to Canada International, a single Web site aimed at providing Government of Canada information and services.

“That means sharing information between departments and agencies, not just providing links to other Web sites,”” Danagher said.

Danagher suggested a ‘horizontal scan’ is necessary for IT managers to maximize Web site usefulness and productivity – a process that involves testing the need for sharing of information and identifying potential partners, whether inside or outside of their immediate department. “If you want to be a true horizontal site, you have to take the time and resources to manage it with potential partners,” he said. “But if you don’t have a common vision or audience, then you shouldn’t partner with them, period.”

Once appropriate partners are found, he says it’s necessary to cluster the information because each partner’s content will be easier to access and promote if done together, adding that fewer, bigger sites are keys to an efficient and effective management structure. Danagher also said it’s important for IT managers to involve their partners in decision making so there are no surprises to anyone, suggesting half or whole day meetings to jointly outline the team’s vision.

The need for seamless services and partnerships was also highlighted by Sandra Lynn, manager of community information for Brisbane, Australia city council. Via a speakerphone from Australia, Lynn told conference delegates that community and business partnerships are required if governments expect citizens to use GOL.

“In the past we’ve missed some opportunities to cross-sell some services on our Web site, and that’s absolutely necessary today,” Lynn said. “Citizens don’t really care who does the job, as long as it’s done for them, so simplify the user experience. The novelty of the Internet will wear off, so citizens need a ‘real’ reason to continue using GOL.”

Lynn said different groups of citizens have differing reasons to use GOL, so it’s important for IT departments to work with the community and businesses to help them navigate through the piles of information and find their ‘real’ reasons for using GOL. To do so, the city of Brisbane has offered free one-day sessions to the public on how to use GOL, and included free Internet access in city libraries, while also partnering with large, retail chain stores to offer discounts on PCs to city residents so they can get online.

“It’s not that businesses and citizens aren’t online, but that people don’t know how to use GOL services,” Lynn said.

The Government Online 2002 International Congress continues Wednesday.

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