Service New Brunswick: Drive for efficiency can backfire

FREDERICTON — Behind the scenes efficiencies shouldn’t be the priority as e-government systems are built, according to the vice-president of development for Service New Brunswick.

“”The focus should be providing more and more services

to your customers,”” said Mary Ogilvie, speaking at the e-Gov Texpo 2002 this week. “”Efficiencies for your back end services can come later, but if you make them an important part of what you’re doing, right off the bat you will just squander your money and make your back ends look efficient and your citizens and businesses will have nothing.””

Service New Brunswick’s (SNB) mandate is to provide government service and act as a data source for things like personal property and land registry. Since it began in 1990, the crown corporation has added online services to nine of 19 provincial departments and dozens of municipalities.

Over the course of these projects, none proved as painful as the personal property system project. The registry is used, for example, by banks to log information about someone who takes a loan to buy a car. Ogilvie said when proposals were submitted it had to accept the lowest offer unless it could prove it was being low-balled. SNB got low-balled nonetheless, she said.

Judging by the price, Ogilvie said she expected the vendor would find deficiencies in the proposal to raise the cost of the project.

“”All through this period we were fighting with them,”” she said “”all the intellectual resources that we had were spent fighting instead of thinking up stuff to do.”” Despite the issues, the project was deemed a success and was subsequently sold to six jurisdictions.

SNB also learned an important lesson: never give up all your bargaining chips. When it came time to bid on the next system, the project was broken into several small parts. Ogilvie said when it sent out for a request for proposal, the winning firm would be considered for the next piece if it performed well. Switching vendors mid-project could be a dangerous move, but SNB had this base covered.

“”We set the design specs and described the technical environment so we could bring in another vendor if we needed to,”” Ogilvie said. “”We defined what development tools they were going to use and what platforms they were going to use and insisted on documentation so that if we needed to go to this stage we couldn’t be held hostage.””

While Ogilvie is pleased with what SNB has accomplished in terms of services for citizens, there is still work to be done. She said it is slightly behind schedule in providing services for businesses and she would like to see the remaining provincial departments have at least one service online within a year.

New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord for one is pleased with what SNB has accomplished thus far. He cited the fact that 40 per cent of all SNB transactions are done online as proof of the province’s e-government success.

“”We can never lose sight that the real objective is to provide services to people,”” Lord said during his keynote address. “”Our goal is to get citizens online rather than have citizens in line.””

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