By Stuart Lauchlan
The Digital Single Market is a priority for the European Commission, but national interests are taking precedence over pan-European idealism at the cost of e-government progress.
The UK is lagging behind its European competitors on digital government, according to management consultancy Capgemini, while national interests are slowing down progress towards the Digital Single Market.
CapGemini assessed 34 European governments’ progress towards digitising their services for its eGovernment 2016 Benchmark report, carried out on behalf of the European Commission – Future-proofing eGovernment for a Digital Single Market. The report, published earlier this month, uses metrics including the availability and usability of public services online, government transparency and how much control citizens have of their data.
With the Digital Single Market set down as a priority for the Juncker administration in Brussels, there’s also some bad news, as the report warns:
Today, however, there are still many barriers to maximising its potential and which confine digital services within national borders, leaving users unable to use cross-border online services efficiently and smoothly. The cross-border mobility indicator is not yet even half way to being fully achieved. The low rate of 48% indicates that online cross-border transactions are rare.
In large part this is because national interests take priority over pan-European ones:
The past years of benchmarking eGovernment show that cross-border services lag significantly behind national services. The gap currently is 24 percentage points, implying that the availability and quality of services on offer to non-residents is inadequate. Studying in another country in many cases still includes paper application processes and face-to-face encounters before being able to commence.
There has to be a paradigm shift here, argues the report:
If it works across borders, it will automatically work within a country. Interoperability is crucial here: if online services are put in place with other countries (electronic ID’s, sharing and re-using data in back offices etc.), it automatically means they are in place for national service providers. This would require countries to agree on and use the same interoperability standards for sharing and re-using data (perhaps through a central component for data exchange). It would be the source of different dynamics within national eGovernment operations but could provide the lever to really move forward, instead of progressing incrementally as we have seen over the past years.
The report cites the key challenge for governments as being to deliver the potential of the Digital Single Market by successfully collaborating and joining-up across domains and tiers and borders. This has some particular challenges:
Some countries are smaller in size and therefore can use a relatively direct governance model (e.g. Malta), or have adopted a centralised model, whereby one organisation owns a clear mandate to lead the implementation of its eGovernment strategy (e.g. Denmark, Estonia). This is not generally the case in Europe, nor easy to realise. Countries vary in size and in democratic traditions, are organised differently and are hence more dependent on cross-agency collaboration to get things done.
The UK is classed as a ‘moderate performer’ in the lowest grouping of countries in the report along with most of eastern and southern Europe. Countries in northern and western Europe are classed as either a ‘steady performer’ or ‘accelerator’. That results in what Capgemini describes as a Digital Diagonal across Europe – with the UK on the wrong side of it.
To be fair, the UK does do well in some areas. It comes in second for ‘mobile readiness’ of its e-government services, behind Iceland, and does well in ‘user centricity’ and ‘cross-border mobility’:
Most countries do not apply a consistent approach to design mobile-friendly public sector websites across domains and leave opportunities to make services and information available through mobiles unused. Most countries are much more advanced in the user centricity of their websites than mobile friendliness. Only the UK manages to provide mobile-friendly websites across domains, and is therefore also able to open up the online information and services to mobile internet users.
Many other countries do not provide their users with mobile-friendly interfaces, and so hinder users access to information ‘any time, any place’. This is information that is already online. It seems a missed opportunity that is definitely worth exploring – as the number of mobile internet users is increasing exponentially.
Where the UK struggles is with the limited rollout of the Verify authentication system for e-government services. Verify is intended to allow people to use online services with a single-sign on for services across government and providing secure access to personal data.
Overall, European governments are making progress with an average score of 73% in user-centricity, up by 3% on the previous year. But only one in four websites are sufficiently mobile friendly, and transparency is still unsatisfactory with a ranking of just 51%. The report states:
The results indicate year-on-year progress across all the European countries compared. There is, however, a big difference between the compound indicators, with much better performances for usability and online availability of services than for the ease and speed of using those services. This shows that many Member States are not focusing enough on the quality of the user’s experience.
Despite progress in general (low growth of 3 percentage points), public authorities in Europe still have some way to go to reach acceptable transparency standards. The transparency of public organisations’ data stands out by being 10 points above the average. It is also positive that users have gained better access to personal data that is handled on the governments’ websites, but they still face considerable barriers when it comes to the clarity of the service delivery process.
A very in-depth report from Capgemini that rewards some detailed attention. The conclusions are a combination of encouraging and discouraging, but present a frank and pragmatic assessment that is more useful than the self-promoting declarations of how great everything is that comes too often from the political class.Source: http://diginomica.com/2016/10/24/europes-e-government/