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e-Government and the European Union and Local eGovernment
Average reader rating: 10  
by Erkki Liikanen 07 the future of Countries & Democracies

Mr Erkki Liikanen Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society "e-Government and the European Union" The Internet and the City Conference "Local eGovernment in the Information Society" Barcelona, 21 March 2003

e-Government and the European Union and Local eGovernment in the Information Society


Ladies & Gentlemen,
eGovernment is now a central theme in information society policy at all levels: local, regional, national, European and even globally.

eGovernment is a tool not a goal in itself. It should help to deliver better government in at least three ways:
Firstly, eGovernment should make it possible for citizens to follow what their governments, central, regional and local, do, to be able to participate in decision-making from the early phases onwards, and to verify that public money is being spent well. eGovernment is a means to realise open government.

Secondly, eGovernment should help to provide citizens personalised public services that meet their specific needs.

This should hold for anything from personalised online tax forms to meeting the special needs of people with a disability. eGovernment should enable inclusive government, that provides individually relevant and usable services for all.

Thirdly, eGovernment should help public administrations to deliver more value for taxpayers' money by increasing efficiency and productivity.

The public sector, as an information-intensive sector, can be made more efficient by digitizing information and processes. Examples are eliminating re-entry of data, reducing the effort to find back information, and case-oriented workflow. eGovernment should enable more productive government.

Let me now address these three aspects in some more detail.

Open Government
eGovernment should help to make democracy function better. This is about increasing democratic participation and involvement. This can begin already in the early stage of preparation of law-making through wide online consultation.

Decision-making steps should be made visible and transparent. This is part of the EU's Better Regulation approach.

As another example, the Greek Presidency has launched a specific website where a public debate is held and opinions are being polled on all kind of matters, from Iraq to drugs policy to the future of the EU.

'Open government' also means increased transparency and accountability. Transparency and openness matter, not only because of the democratic control mechanism of accountability. It is also an economic necessity, to fight corruption and fraud and thus to make investment more attractive.

ICT is particularly suited to increase transparency. For example in public procurement all tender information can be made available online at equal conditions for any party that is interested to bid.

Inclusive and personalised eGovernment
eGovernment should aim to deliver public services in such a way that they are accessible and relevant for each individual citizens and company.

This means that eGovernment should provide equity, that is, equal rights and opportunity for participation for all. In other words, realising inclusion.

Equity matters for social justice. It is about what we consider to be fair and just in our society.

But inclusion also matters economically: there is a cost to exclusion in terms of under-use of human potential, damages because of drop-out behaviour, and under-exploitation of the entrepreneurial potential that immigrants often bring.

We should aim for all citizens to be able to use electronic government, whether they have less digital skills, are living in remote regions, have less income, or have special physical or mental needs.

Governments have a much more difficult task to fulfil than businesses. They cannot choose their clients, they have to serve every one. Where business can focus on efficiency, public administrations need to pursue both efficiency and equity.

In terms of technology this means that it would be insufficient to offer online services only on PCs. Even though PC Internet access has rapidly rising and is now around 43%, television reaches almost all households.

This is also likely to be the case with the emerging interactive digital TV, which can become a major means for widespread participation in the information society.

In addition, kiosks in public areas already today are a success in terms of reach-out. In some countries ATMs are becoming a well-accepted way to deliver use certain public services such as handling tax receipts and returns.

And let's not forget about mobile phones that are already more pervasive than PCs - why not make more use of them? In short, we need a multi-platform approach.

However, managing in a consistent and efficient way public service delivery on multiple online platforms as well as offline will be a considerable challenge. Some lessons may be learned from multi-channel marketing in business in this respect.

Providing services that are accessible for all should be taken still one step further: services should be personalised.

One approach in the public sector could be to organise services around important life events of individual citizens such as marriage or moving house, or in the EU single market relocating to a new job in another country.

A related approach is the one-stop shop, which brings all individually relevant information and services together on the basis of a personal profile.

Taxation has been organised according to this approach in some countries, where based on such a profile a personalised tax proposal is made.

Two capabilities are needed for such personalised approaches. One is the capability to produce and deliver personalised services. The internal organisation, or the back-office, will have to re-organise itself by putting the client information central.

This often implies technological change, for example, connecting the information systems that all hold parts of the information, or introducing smart cards that carry a secure personal profile.

The EU supports projects based on such cards for example for online health insurance across borders.

Second, it means communication capability, namely to be able to engage in a profound interaction with the citizen or company and thus find out about the individual needs.

Such communication capability can take many different forms. One straightforward, but certainly not trivial example is multi-language support. Another is personalised online guidance for filling out a tax form.

eGovernment and productivity
The third objective of eGovernment is to increase productivity through higher efficiency and to offer better quality services and innovation based on ICT. This will contribute to productivity growth throughout the economy.

Productivity matters as it is the key source to increase real incomes and welfare.

Productivity, quality and innovation in the public sector will lead to the following:

a) For citizens it means lower costs for public services and better quality of life;

b) For companies productivity can increase if they can get public services at a lower cost by cutting red tape and reducing waiting time;

c) For the public sector itself, increased efficiency will mean that less time needs to be spent on routine administrative tasks amd more time is available for skilled face-to-face interaction in the front-office. By liberating resources, priorities can be financed such as increased inclusion.

d) Moreover, in some countries efficiency improvement in the public sector is a necessity because of demographic trends. With an aging population there will be fewer people available in the public service. They have to be enabled work more efficiently.

e) Finally, as productivity increases throughout the economy, a larger tax base is created from which to finance essential public services.

To fully realise the potential for productivity growth it is not sufficient to introduce new technology. It is also not enough to modernise the front-office by offering public services over the Internet. Back-office re-organisation of public administrations will be needed as well.

This requires strong political leadership. There will be resistance to redesign government processes as often means breaking down barriers between departments. Therefore eGovernment cannot be led by the IT-department, even though a good Chief Information Officer is important.

Vision needs to be combined with the willingness to start small, to grow by learning from the users, and then to scale fast. Such customer orientation is also the best way to build involvement and credibility.

Taking this effort means investing in organisations and staff. The combined investment in ICT, organisation and skills does pay off, even though it may not come overnight.

Better infrastructure, in particular broadband, holds much potential to further improve efficiency and equity. It will enrich the interaction with citizens and business, make access much easier and enable new services.

Telecom Ministers have agreed to aim for broadband connections for relevant public administrations by 2005. We also think that by 2005 half of Internet connections throughout Europe should be broadband. We believe that today's Summit of European leaders will support a similar target.

Measuring eGovernment
Do we have evidence that ICT leads to increased productivity?

Economists have indeed found confirmation that ICT investment contributes significantly to productivity growth overall. But there are large differences between sectors in the economy.

Another striking finding is that the EU has hardly caught up with the US over the past 25 years in GDP per capita.

Moreover, the year 1995 has been a turning point for productivity growth. Since then the US has seen an acceleration of productivity whereas Europe has not further improved.

In Europe we seem not to have benefited as much as the US from ICT investment. This notably holds in the services sector.

How does productivity growth work out at the level of the company? It is found that while investment in ICT has normal returns in the short term, it can pay off far above average in the longer run, that is, some 5-7 years. It takes a number of years but then ICT can deliver above-average returns.

It is also found that ICT only delivers such high returns if it is accompanied by change in the internal organisation, in business network and customer relationships and by improvement of skills. In other words, investing in organisational capital.

The suggested link is that the long-run above-average returns of ICT come about precisely because there has been substantial and sustained investment in organisational capital.

Can we apply these results also to the public sector?

It is indeed very likely that in public administrations too, ICT will only deliver its full potential if accompanied by organisational change and upgrading of skills.

An eGovernment Website is only a first step to provide easier access to information. The full benefits of personalised services, one-stop shopping, self-service, increased transparency and efficiency only come about by re-thinking the very process of public service delivery.

It is still difficult to accurately measure productivity growth in the public sector. But it is clear for everyone that by cutting red tape a doctor will be able to treat more patients. And when the same data do not need to be re-typed again and again, civil servants can spent more time on personal contact with citizens.

Action at European level
At European level eGovernment is a clear priority. It figures prominently in our recently adopted strategy for restoring confidence in the electronic communication sector. It plays a central role in the eEurope 2005 Action Plan which sets out to stimulate effective use of the Internet.

The approach of eEurope 2005 is to create a positive feedback loop by stimulating demand for content, applications, and services while at the same time removing barriers and creating investment incentives for a secure, multi-platform and broadband infrastructure.

In terms of content, services and applications the public sector can play a key role in eGovernment, eHealth and elearning. To free up much useful content we have proposed a Directive on the re-use of public sector information.

With the Italian Presidency we organise in July this year an eGovernment conference. Real-life successful examples of productivity and competitiveness, benefits for citizens, and cooperation amongst administrations will be exhibited and discussed.

The idea is to stimulate fast learning from each other by exchange of such good practice. The best will receive a prestigious eEurope Award for eGovernment. Applications for the Award can still be submitted until 4 April.

We also emphasise with the Member States the importance of eGovernment for development in the joint preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society in December. Again the same themes of openness, inclusion, and productivity come back.

eGovernment is part of the EU's R&D programme. Research topics include back-office re-organisation in networks of administrations and new forms of interactivity at the front-office based on multiple devices.

Technical and standardization challenges are also being dealt with at European level. Interoperable public services can help for the single market in Europe. eGovernment should aim to improve the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people.

The level of interoperability is often subject to debate. Should it be Europe-wide, national, local? This also relates to the extent of subsidiarity that is desired and desirable. Some argue that certain critical functions, especially those related to security, have to be managed commonly at the highest level.

The program for Interchange of Data between Administrations, IDA, is supporting interoperability pilots and studies into the closely related topic of open source.

As part of the eEurope Action Plan a framework for interoperable pan-European eGovernment services will be proposed by the end of this year.

Socio-economic research, surveys, benchmarks and the exchange of best practice are part of eEurope 2005 and of the EU's R&D programme.

Finally, the Commission is trying to take eGovernment to heart. Our eCommission initiative addresses themes such as a 'culture of service', better human and financial resource management across departments, interaction with the public through Interactive Policy Making. We thus also have some first hand experience with the challenges of openness, transparency, personalisation, inclusion, and efficiency.

In conclusion:
We should aim to show that eGovernment provides the technical and organisational means and liberates the resources to reinforce our policy priorities in areas such as local development, entrepreneurship, social cohesion, cultural identity, integration of immigrants, fighting digital divide, openness, etc.

When we achieve that goal, decision-makers at all levels in public administrations will be convinced.

eGovernment should enable an open, inclusive and productive public sector. It should increase efficiency and equity in public services and put the user central. If this is shown, citizens and companies will be convinced as well and become committed eGovernment users.

Please also take a look at the:
Articles, Links, the Club of Amsterdam Forum
and the Club of Amsterdam event about 'Re-Inventing Democracies for the Future'

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