Increased Budget Constraints Heighten Expectations of European eGovernment as Improved Take-up of Services Becomes Priority

London - 19 November 2009

Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services, the research institute Rand Europe, the analyst group IDC and the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), today released the 8th Benchmark Measurement of European eGovernment services. This Benchmark, prepared since 2001 for the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate General for Information Society and Media on the progress of eGovernment across the EU overall, shows Europe’s steady progress in terms of online availability, with 71 percent of the EU27+[1] offering transactional services in 2009, up from 59 percent since the last Benchmark in 2007. In addition, sophistication of services as measured in the benchmark has also increased to 83 percent from 76 percent in 2007. The Benchmark, which covers more than 14,000 Government web sites of 31 European countries, shows the leading six nations in terms of full online availability are: Austria, Malta, Portugal, the UK, Sweden and Slovenia. However, despite continued improvement in the availability and sophistication of eGovernment services, the report illustrates a significant gap between the availability and take-up of services, particularly for citizen services.

The Benchmark is shaped by the EU’s i2010 strategy, and provides a detailed insight into the landscape for eGovernment services across Europe, investigating the current state of online services for businesses and citizens, with a first review of eProcurement and user experience. It reveals that while some countries have had continued high performance in eGovernment services, other countries, such as Latvia and Poland, have made significant improvements. Characteristics shared by the countries that are rated highest in terms of eGovernment performance include: top level sponsorship, clear priorities and increasing collaboration across public bodies. The report also highlights a shift in the focus from availability of online public services to take-up and impact in the examples of countries with particularly successful eGoverment strategies.

Improving user experience key to citizen engagement
User experience is now recognized as being an essential factor in the take-up of online services. The quality of access via portals, ease-of-use of services, accessibility to ‘groups at risk’, and the capability for users to give online feedback or to rate services are all important indicators of user experience. Engaging with citizens to improve the experience is therefore key. Personalization, providing information in meaningful ways, access via multiple connected channels and citizen participation are all examples of engagement tactics. Incorporating Web 2.0 technologies, including social networking, in online public services offers an opportunity to address the currently low level of end-user participation, to develop increased trust and to establish a two-way dialogue. Several countries (Austria, Denmark, Estonia, The Netherlands) offer particularly good examples of best practice, having developed national portals that can be personalised by the citizen.

eProcurement – improving the management of public expenditure
Europe’s public sector spends about €1500 billion annually[2]. Providing visibility of public tenders to the multiple suppliers across Europe is vital. eProcurement is evolving to a networked, more controlled process, cutting across the silos of Governments and making public procurements more visible to suppliers, both within countries and across borders, with the potential to deliver substantial savings. As such, eProcurement has become a key focus for governments across Europe. However, the 2010 target of 100 percent availability[3] is severely at risk, having reached only 55 percent to date. This does represent rapid growth across all government tiers but highlights a need to shift focus from the availability of online public services to the take-up and impact of them, which risk being neglected if continued investment is not made.

eGovernment as a means of addressing budget constraints
The economic downturn already has resulted in budget constraints and high levels of public debt, placing potentially severe limitations on eGovernment investment plans and resulting in increased pressure on public service providers to improve service performance. So achieving cost savings at the same time as securing service levels is vital. Past investments countries have made in eGovernment should therefore be maximised for the highest returns. Indeed, ambitious 2012 targets of reducing the administrative burden across Europe by 25 percent[4] have been set, with several member states such as Greece, Slovenia and Belgium showing, through recent pilot programs, the financial benefit of moving administration online.

Countries are placing greater emphasis on the consolidation and sharing of infrastructure and collaborative (service) delivery models as a means to use funds wisely. However, the goal set by some countries to implement shared services, often with mixed public/private sector delivery models in mind, has failed to materialize at the intended pace. But impending budget constraints offer an opportunity for a renewed focus on this which could make these ambitions a reality. Cloud computing, as a collaborative IT delivery model, may also provide an additional means of cost savings and efficiency gains and will help with the implementation of shared services. Some early initiatives in this area are already in place in some countries.

“The short-term economic crisis will result in long-term budget challenges. Aspirations of ‘better for less’ are just not good enough. It would not be impossible to deliver services that are twice as good, in half the time, for half as much. Global trends tell us that is what citizens are demanding, even as the pressure of budgetary constraints continues to be felt, but technology can play a major role in achieving this,” said Graham Colclough, Vice President, Global Public Sector, Capgemini. “EU countries are at risk of not hitting important targets, like the Manchester eProcurement Declaration and EU Services Directive, and should not risk falling behind some of the leading nations around the world in terms of how they interact with their citizens. Financial constraints need not restrict the delivery of eGovernment. These technologies are more important than ever for delivering efficient public services across Europe.”

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