Racing to E-Government: Using the Internet for Citizen Service Delivery

By Sprecher, Milford H. | Government Finance Review, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Racing to E-Government: Using the Internet for Citizen Service Delivery


Sprecher, Milford H., Government Finance Review


This article provides a short history of electronic government, a snapshot of current efforts in e-government, and an approach for moving government services onto the Internet.

As has been amply documented, the Y2K bug was mostly a non-event to the general public. To public managers, Information Technology (IT) staff, finance and budget officials, and the elected officials with oversight of these activities, the non-event was possible only because of the hard work and planning that went into ensuring that there were no problems.

In addition to the significant benefit of the quiet change from 1999 to 2000, the Y2K process provided many other benefits to governments. For the first time, most state and local governments took a comprehensive, enterprise-wide view of their information systems. This allowed many governments to develop a map of systems and their interrelationships for the first time.

Concurrently, Y2K fears in 1999 caused a virtual shutdown of new projects while remediation efforts were underway. In this environment, a large pent-up demand for new projects developed while the private sector was caught up in dot.com mania. The result was that government managers had dot.gov dreams accelerated as a result of continuing demands from citizens and businesses to streamline and improve government services and interactions.

e-Government Is Not New

As we begin the discussion of electronic government, it is best to provide a working definition of what electronic government is. After looking at a number of definitions, the following simple definition of electronic government seems the most appropriate:

Electronic Government is any way technology is used to help simplify and automate transactions between governments and constituents, businesses, or other governments.

With all of the talk about e-government, one could be excused for thinking that e-government is new, but it certainly is not. E-government has taken many forms over the past 10 years. The earliest e-government efforts revolved around electronic data interchange (EDI) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) or voice mail. While use of EDI was not widespread in government, electronic tax filing, wire transfers, and automated payments were commonplace.

Early access to government data and information was led by projects of IBM and Public Technology, Inc. and the California Health and Welfare Data Center to provide government information kiosks for citizen and constituent use. The development of the World Wide Web was the technology that provided a platform for what we now know as electronic government and e-business of all kinds. As the Model T Ford provided transportation to the masses, the Web provided mass access to the Internet.

A Journey, Not a Destination

While most governments and government agencies have a Web presence, the questions now are how can governments use the power of the Web to remake the way in which agencies provide services? Every government working on an electronic government project is a pioneer, so a few guidelines are in order. First, there is so much innovation occurring, that it is important to realize that e-government is a journey, not a destination. Along with continuing improvements, early e-government efforts will be characterized by false starts and initial missteps. All governments can learn from the early efforts of other jurisdictions. It is important to trade stories and ideas with colleagues in other agencies and other governments as well as the private sector. There is much talk about whether e-bookseller and retailer Amazon.com will survive. Whether or not Amazon survives as a business or not, all businesses have learned much about how to, or how not to, conduct an e-business effort from the example set by Amazon and other e -businesses. The same will be true of governments' electronic ventures.

As businesses use electronic commerce to provide another method for reaching the customer and expanding business, governments need to establish some goals for e-government. …

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