Government crafts strategies beyond e-service delivery

Electronic service delivery, for years the most important issue for the federal public sector, is not the priority it once was, according to a recent joint IDC/Technology In Government study of public sector IT spending in 2005, which also indicates subtle shifts in the way government sees the role

of IT.

The study, titled Predictions on the Canadian Government Sector in 2005, reveals that electronic service delivery was cited as a pressing policy issue for only 25 per cent of respondents in this survey, conducted in September 2004, as compared to 42 per cent in 2003.

“It’s still important for government to modernize the external channels … but there is an understanding that for the overall transformation that’s not enough,” explained Massimiliano Claps, senior research analyst with IDC Canada. “It’s still their first priority, but I would say they were more preoccupied with it one year ago and they’re taking it one step further.”

Acting federal CIO Helen McDonald agreed, explaining most of the services identified as good candidates for e-enabling are already online.

“With Government On-Line, we’re in our final year,” she said. “Therefore I think a lot of the services or all that were identified as good candidates for electronic service delivery are up, at least to some extent, and I think we’re just trying to deepen the functionality over this year, so I would suspect that’s part of it.”

As well, she added, across government there’s an increasing emphasis on improving service delivery across all channels, not just electronic ones. “It may be people are saying it’s not that ESD is not important. It’s just that it’s one channel for delivery.”

That explains the increased interest in key performance indicators over last year’s survey. In the most recent survey, KPIs were cited as a pressing policy priority for 15 per cent of respondents, as compared to only 10 per cent in 2003.

“We’ve been talking a lot across the federal government about KPIs,” said McDonald. “What we’re trying to get at is better information about the results we’re achieving, not just the inputs we’re putting into it and what we’re spending. That’s an area we’re really looking at in many domains, not just on the IT front, but on the service delivery, financial management and human resource management fronts. If we can articulate the clear outcomes we’re looking for and set up our information systems so we can measure the relationship between productivity and cost, that’s where we’re trying to get to.”

Case management growing

But the issue that saw the biggest gain in terms of importance in this study was case management — cited by 11 per cent of respondents as a policy priority in this study, as compared to only three per cent in the previous study.

By implementing record and document management that can support a seamless case management approach, the government can achieve a major increase in efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness, Claps said.

“That’s the key message for us, that governments are going a step forward. Government Online was important — it still is important — but the next step will be having a holistic view of e-government.”

Tom de Rosa, solutions specialist for the public sector at Oracle Canada, said case management means managing all information about an issue, which could range from all the interactions a citizen has had with a department on a particular topic, such as social services, to managing an incident, such as an environmental spill. Not only can information from different channels be accessed, but various types of data, such as geospatial and biometrics, can be integrated into the database as well.

“They’re using that kind of technology within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, terrorist screening and immigration and customs enforcement,” de Rosa said.

At this point, though, most public sector organizations are implementing case management tools within their own departments to better manage information coming from different channels, he said. “Because of privacy issues we’re not going to solve the silo problem,” he noted.

But in order to score more than six out of 10 on using IT to improve service delivery — that’s what Andrew Wishart, senior manager in Deloitte’s public sector and technology integration practice, gives the feds — the government will have to find ways to do better integrate technologies across typical program and jurisdictional boundaries. “Traditionally systems have been developed in siloed fashion, which restricts some of that visibility and transparency of interactions, so the idea of case management is to improve the knowledge about the customer and facilitate that ineraction through multiple channels,” he said.

According to McDonald, case management at the federal level is mostly implemented by individual departments to make sure they can better manage clients through whichever channel they decide to use. However, she added, International Trade Canada has a project related to assisting exporters. “That cuts across a number of programs sharing that common client,” she said.

Deloitte is promoting the idea of “networked government,” in which the government uses a broad array of private sector partners to deliver services, which would seemingly only increase the complexity of sharing citizen information.

“We’ve done some thinking about that,” Wishart said. “You can use the integration model, which is really creating a virtual case about a client, gathering data, bringing it together in a meaningful way depending on your role in provision of service through multiple partners, and presenting a view to that service provider that is appropriate to the interaction to the customer. It requires a lot of integration layers to pull information from various repositories and services, and typically we’d also look at service-oriented architecture to support that. Very few public sector organizations are there today — they’re starting to look at portal technology to integrate some of those views, but very few have thought through an enterprise-wide, service-oriented architecture to support that.”

One of the ways to achieve data intergration, he adds, is through the use of data standards such as XML and data layer integration, as is being used with the electronic patient records effort spearheaded by Canada Health Infoway. Using a data standard allows information to flow easily from one case management tool to another, since there is never likely to be complete standardization of tool sets, especially in health care, he said. “Then certainly you need to look at interoperability between the various tool sets. Some of that could be operating system-level interoperability or it could be done through a messaging layer, which again requires some adherence to messaging standards.”

Security top of mind

Although the most recent auditor general’s report might indicate otherwise, security was cited as a top concern by 46 per cent of respondents in this year’s study. The report criticized the Treasury Board for failing to complete standards related to intrusion detection and incident response, as well as for failing to consistently apply standards and adhere to security policies among many government departments. But, said McDonald, “I think it’s important to understand the context when you look at the whole of the Government of Canada, the diversity and the number of programs we’re offering through many channels. We agree with the auditor general that we need to do more to conform to the security standards, but we also felt she was not looking at some of the other activities taking place across the GoC that help on the security front.”

Fraser was really looking at department conformance with standards, McDonald added, but the government was also pointing to her attention the “much greater co-operation happening across government, in threat and risk assessment, sharing of that information and best practices and response, and investments in things like Secure Channel and other arrangements that help all departments.”

For example, she said, intrusion detection can be done once at the whole-of-government level.

“That probably ensures a better quality of security because it helps those smaller departments that may lack the skill sets and sophisticated technologies that would best protect them. Those are also things we’re putting a significant stress on.”

More coverage from the IDC/TIG study in the April issue of Technology In Government.

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