An interstate truck driver crosses 30 states and needs to be licensed in each state. Now he has to apply 30 times to 30 different states, filling out the same or similar forms each time. Why can't the driver go to a Web site on a trucking industry portal and call up one form? There, he fills out his personal information and types in a credit card number and expiration date. Then he simply checks the states he wants to obtain a license from. Six weeks later the licenses arrive in the mail.
The truck driver scenario will happen one day because citizens and corporations will demand it. "People don't choose to interact with the government. They have to," says Andrew Jones, the partner responsible for the e-government practice at Arthur Andersen.
Jones, who is based in the Washington, D.C. office, says the Internet is reshaping local, state and federal governments in two ways. The bureaucrats are trying to:
- Make life easier for their citizens and businesses who must deal with the government.
- Make internal processes more efficient so they cost less money while being more effective.
Currently, Jones says most e-commerce initiatives center around the first goal. For example, corporations can pay their excise taxes online; citizens can pay their parking tickets.
Automating the Process Behind the Scenes
Government entities are also trying to aggregate tasks, so citizens only have to visit one agency instead of dozens to get one task done. These solutions still require the citizen or business to go to the government to complete the job because the government is still responsible for the process.
Jones says the true value of e-government will be when consumers "no longer have to go to the government to do business with the government." For example, a consumer purchases a car. The purchasing process creates a file to allow the new owner to pay the appropriate property taxes and license plate fees. They can make all payments online if they choose, never stepping foot in a government office.
Another example would be vacation sites creating an internal link with the state's Park Department. A vacationer who books a week at resort in the Florida Keys can have a fishing license waiting during the spiny lobster harvest.
In Maryland residents can renew their license plates online by filling out a form that is emailed to the appropriate state agency. But the Bureau of Motor Vehicles still has to process this email the old way - by hand. Instead of having a program that autopopulates or automatically fills in the data into the Bureau's computer system, a clerk has to reenter the data manually. Governments will need to automate these processes, too, so data is only handled once, in Jones' view.
Today, Jones says most e-government is informational or transactional and has yet to be integrated into the computer system. But he believes this integration will happen because automating and integrating these consumer actions is a good way for government to save money. "It will become a budgetary issue," he says.
Corporations Pushing for a Business-to-Government Solution
Jones sees major corporations playing a different role in pressuring governments to change the way they conduct business. All automakers, for example, have to pay personal property taxes on the hundreds of thousands of vehicles they lease. They would like to do this online. These companies can put pressure on Detroit, encouraging the city to create a business-to-government (B2G) solution to accomplish this. The Arthur Andersen executive believes these affinity groups - groups of companies that have pooled their interests - will play a role in driving governments to a B2G solution.
But B2G solutions may be as long as four years away. Today, governments are experimenting with e-government by creating information portals; they are outsourcing this work. For example, the U.S. government sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for its federal portal. GRC and AT&T became the two suppliers.
The current efforts are just putting government's front end activities online. Jones likens this to the clerks at the post office. Once you pay for your Priority Mail parcel, a lot goes on behind the scenes to ensure the packet gets delivered properly. Jones says e-government will become really effective when these back-end activities are integrated, too.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Corporations will put pressure on government agencies to make doing business with them easier. That will include amalgamating tasks.
- Currently, governments are building information portals and creating transaction opportunities.
- Governments are going to have to automate and integrate the process as well as the transaction.
- True e-government will arrive when the consumer does not have to go to the government to do business with the government.