Can Australia lead the world in e-government?
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Can Australia lead the world in e-government?

Second is good. But we're still far from our potential.

The United Nations released its biennial e-government survey in August. It ranks the "e-government" (the adequacy of telecommunication infrastructure and availability of online services and content) and "e-participation" (the quality of government information online, ability to organise public consultations online and ability to involve citizens directly in decisions) of all member nations. In both measures, Australia is ranked second in the world – a testament to the progress made in updating public services to keep pace with digital demand.

That said, Australia is ranked behind Britain in both categories and the nation's e-government ranking has remained the same since the 2014 results were released – demonstrating that Australia still has a way to go to reach its digital public service potential.

About 55 per cent of Australians who try to look up government information hit a problem.

About 55 per cent of Australians who try to look up government information hit a problem.Credit:Eddie Jim

The Australian government revealed recently that, in any given month, one in eight Australians aged 14 and over look up government information and services online, which equates to about 324 million searches a year. Currently, of these people, about 55 per cent experience a problem.

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Taking these factors into consideration, Australia has the opportunity to improve its e-government services and surpass Britain. In Britain, most citizens expect at least the same level of digital service from government agencies they receive from private organisations, and Australia is well placed to strive for this level as well. There are several strategies Australian public service agencies can use to improve their interactions with users.

To become global leaders in e-government services, government agencies need to embrace user-experience techniques – by using personas to segment users into categories, and analysing user journeys to determine their behaviour when they interact with services. Several British public service agencies already do this well, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, which gathers data from user feedback and uses user-experience research to design services to meet customer needs.

Building on this, part of designing dynamic, personalised solutions is knowing what people want and how they will behave in certain situations. Australian public service agencies have the opportunity to make greater use of ethnographic techniques, by researching how people take part in society, and how they interact with systems and people around them. In Denmark, for instance, the National Board of Industrial Injuries has developed an employment initiative to understand the needs of those injured at work, partly by interviewing those who suffer injuries themselves.

Exploring further use of "no-touch processing" could help to offer ease of access for Australian citizens. Using integrated, rules-based solutions, no-touch processing handles administrative tasks and eligibility testing without human involvement.

Beyond this, customisable no-touch offerings enable different solutions for specific channels and platforms, and can be expanded to other programs. For instance, the Office of Health Transformation in Ohio, US, provides self-service tools that allow citizens to check their eligibility for social healthcare program Medicaid with very limited human involvement. Similarly in Norway, welfare agency NAV's trailblazing digital pensions system has established an end-to-end automated process that gathers information about users, calculates benefits and enables payments without human intervention. As a result, about 17,000 Norwegians log on for help and advice each week.

Additionally, improving Australia's cross-agency collaboration and integration will provide efficient, dynamic systems with greater personalisation and support Australia on its journey to become an e-government leader. Britain, for instance, introduced a Chief Information Officers Council to operate alongside the e-government unit of the Cabinet Office and the Office of Government Commerce. This team was formed to transform online service delivery and focus on making it citizens-centred, as well as enable greater self-service and ease of access.

Providing dynamic, personalised services ensures demands are both met and are relatively straightforward to achieve. The most effective transformations don't happen overnight but effective, seamless transitions are possible if agencies consider the appropriate steps to take. By embracing digital strategies, Australian public service agencies will be well placed to lead the way in online public service delivery.

Catherine Garner is the managing director of Accenture's health and public service operating group in Australia.

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