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Governments get clued in to 'customer' care

Governments are stealing a page from private enterprise and are viewing citizens as customers. A new survey found the results are stronger e-government initiatives worldwide.

A new report from Accenture Ltd. indicates a global shift in e-government strategies, as countries move from viewing online services merely as cost-reduction tools and regard them more as a way to improve relationships with citizens.

According to the fourth annual report published by Bermuda-based consultancy Accenture, 93% of the e-government officials polled ranked improving citizen satisfaction a top priority. Eighty-three percent of respondents cited customer demands for new and better services as a driver, and 77% are attempting to meet government performance targets. Whereas in the past, cost reduction was a primary driver of many e-government projects, this year slightly more than half listed savings as a major motivation.

Accenture surveyed 140 e-government project managers from 22 different countries in North America, Europe and Asia. Overall, Accenture said that e-government efforts improved by 8% this year in terms of performance, adoption and vision. Accenture researchers rate e-government success after posing as citizens in each country.

One of the major trends tracked by Vivienne Jupp, managing partner in Accenture's global e-government services group, was a shift toward treating citizens more like customers. In fact, Jupp said, government agencies are referring to users as "customers" nearly twice as often as they did one year ago. Many projects also have more of a CRM look and feel, she said.

"Much as with CRM, governments need to identify the right services for the right customers to have projects succeed," Jupp said. "This means understanding customers by using the information you already have about them to define what to deliver in terms of services."

Other key findings in the report include:

--E-government projects mature through a series of plateaus. Many start with simple plans and get bogged down until managers take a closer look at executing them. Projects often take a number of years to move forward.

--Increasing user adoption must become a priority for governments. It takes a number of years to break through a barrier of roughly 10% usage, typically three to four years. Governments need to do more to improve uptake, including adopting non-traditional government practices, like marketing or reaching out to try to better understand customers, Accenture found.

--Governments need new goals to drive different behavior in providing e-government services. Current targets have centered on the availability of information online, and success had been measured by the number of services available. Long-term strategy should focus increasingly on customer satisfaction and usage.

Accenture also ranked each of the 22 countries in the survey on the sophistication of their online services. The researchers used methodology that tracked how individual governments leveraged CRM practices, and they measured the level of "maturity" of e-government services based on performance and ease-of-use.

For the third year in a row, Canada claimed the title for overall e-government maturity based on a forward-thinking customer service vision, internal measurement of program success, and integration across government agencies. Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, the U.K, the U.S. and Singapore all ranked just one level below Canada.


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