New Brunswick e-services wait for legislation to catch up

The importance of New Brunswick’s e-government strategy came as a pleasant surprise to IDC Canada analysts who recently put the province under a microscope.

The research firm recently completed a study called From Vision to Benefit: eGovernment

Solution Study: The New Brunswick Case, commissioned by IT services firm and Microsoft Corp.

New Brunswick, which was chosen for the study due to the maturity of its e-government offerings (it has more than a decade of e-government experience), outsources about 55 per cent of its e-government services to Service New Brunswick, a self-funding entity with an independent board of directors which is expected to operate as a business.

Dennis Vance, group vice-president, consulting, at IDC Canada, said until now, there has been much discussion of the impact of e-government but nothing that conclusively backs up those claims with facts.

“It was all good, or most of it was,” says Vance. “But no one had a way to measure the benefits of e-government on a jurisdiction, and to our own surprise, we ended up reporting on the transformation of a society.”

For example, New Brunswick used to be a mostly manufacturing-based economy. According to the study, 15,500 jobs were created in the technology and communications sector between 1998 and 2002; T&C accounts for 12 per cent of the provincial workforce. Job growth in the sector was 13.7 per cent in 2002.

Based on the survey of citizens, businesses and provincial and municipal government officials, IDC estimates the net economic benefit to the province in 2002 was $141 million.

Citizens saved $58 million in productivity time by using e-government services, such as renewing licences or paying taxes, IDC says, while businesses saved $71 million, and municipalities reaped an aggregated processing and labour savings of more than $5 million.

“What’s really important was the analysis of the impacts,” says Vance. “This is not a political statement when I say we took a very conservative view. We wanted to make sure the case we built was substantiated.”

The citizen productivity savings were derived by multiplying the 18 per cent of citizens who said they had saved at least two hours in 2002 by completing electronic transactions rather than taking the traditional route of going into a government office. That $58 million savings is based on the average New Brunswick salary, adds Vance.

More important to the province, however, is the increase in customer or citizen satisfaction that has come as a result of its e-government efforts, says Vance. (The province listed increase satisfaction with services as the No.1 driver for e-government; cost reduction was last on the list.)

In the late 1980s, citizen satisfaction with government services as hovering around the 50 per cent mark. In 2002, that number had grown to 92 per cent.

“So not only is the citizen getting what he or she wants but it’s good for the politicians as well,” says Vance.

But the process of becoming an e-government leader hasn’t been without its challenges.

Brain Freeman, vice-president, single-window government initiatives at CGI, says e-government is not about delivering new services, but about reinventing all the old ones to become service-oriented, not process-oriented.

To do that, governments need strong political leadership, but they also have to spend as much on training as on technology.

“When you’re bringing together a one-stop shop for services there is a great deal of training for staff to do 150 types of services from 11 or 12 different departments,” he says. “There is quite a bit of process and requirements training, and beyond that there’s a great deal of customer service training required.”

Staff also need to be taught about service level agreements. “That’s a new concept in government sometimes,” he says, and technology training is necessary as well.

And inevitably, governments are going to find that legislative changes become necessary as they convert their services to the electronic world.

In New Brunswick, for example, when an application was built to allow new car dealers to register online new cars sold, the legislation had to be changed: until then, only motor vehicle department agents were allowed to perform registrations.

“That stopped everything up,” says Freeman. “I don’t think that has been done yet although the capability has been built in.”

The point, he says, is that “you have to be aware that in the public administration there are legal requirements and you can’t attack this thing with a private sector attitude of, let’s just go in and change this thing, because legislation is designed to be difficult to change … You’ve got to be cognizant of the fact this is a government you’re dealing with, not a corporation.”

Mary Ogilvie, vice-president of development at SNB, agrees that the legislative changes that occur as a result of e-enabling services can throw a bit of a wrench into the whole process.

“If you have to make a legislative change there’s nothing you can do to avoid it,” she says. “I guess it depends on the climate in your own province as to how best to get that to happen.”

If you remember one thing, though, she says, it’s this: “The time it takes to get your legislation changed is longer than you think so it will have to be built into your schedule.”

The other biggest lesson the study has to offer other jurisdictions, says Ogilvie, is that e-government works best when the focus is on increased access to citizens and business rather than on integrating the back ends.

“When we look at a lot of other provincial and federal strategies, a lot of other jurisdictions are focused first on knitting together the back ends, so they don’t have a lot of metrics to show,” says Ogilvie. “This study confirms the path we’re on at the moment is the right one.”

SNB has completed e-enabling about 60 per cent of its services so far, she says.

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