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SPEECH/01/637

Mr Erkki Liikanen

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society

"The European Commission's Vision on eGovernment""

Forum on e-government issues, Antwerp Digital Mainport (ADM)

Antwerp, 17 December 2001

1. Introduction

It is a special honour to be here tonight in this forum, which is bringing a tribute to the achievements of Antwerp in setting a world standard for a "smart" city. This city is well known in the Commission. It has contributed under the 4th and 5th Framework Programmes to the development of cutting edge tools that are now available to all candidate digital communities in Europe.

Antwerp also played a major role in the design of the Global Cities Dialogue. This Dialogue is an invitation to cities around the world to work together, to share and to learn for the purpose of building a sustainable and socially inclusive information society.

Two years ago, when the Global Cities Dialogue was officially launched in Helsinki, only eleven cities were present. Today almost one hundred cities world-wide are a member of the Global Cities Dialogue! This gives a measure of the success, and behind it of the effort produced by the founding cities.

You will therefore understand that I am honoured to be here with you tonight and to share some thoughts on eGovernment!

My speech will address what we see as the key ingredients of successful eGovernment initiatives. I will also briefly inform you of the first results of our recent survey into public online services in Europe.

2. Pathway to eGovernment

Making eGovernment a reality for all in Europe is both an opportunity and an obligation. It is a key factor in achieving the goals of last year's Lisbon Summit. As you know, at that Summit the European political leaders formulated the goal for Europe to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy within ten years.

An ambitious objective, no doubt. But one that is taken very seriously. A range of concrete actions have been defined in the eEurope 2002 action plan.

Just last week we achieved a major milestone in the eEurope plan. The European Parliament voted with overwhelming majority in favour of the new regulatory package for the communications sector. Political commitment was essential to arrive at an agreement on this package.

eGovernment is also a major element of the eEurope action plan. Here too political commitment is essential. Not in the least because eGovernment can only become a success if it is implemented in the back-office as well as in the front-office.

This often implies breaking down barriers between departments in administrations and engaging in government process redesign. A necessary but sometimes painful process, that can only be sustained by commitment from the top.

There are hardly any off-the-shelf solutions in eGovernment. Successful approaches combine vision with a readiness to start small and to grow by learning from the users. Such customer orientation is also the way to build involvement and credibility. Again, sustaining such an approach needs commitment throughout.

3. Lessons from the eGovernment Conference

Commitment, gaining momentum through concrete results even if they are small, and back-office reorganisation… these are also amongst the lessons we learned from the conference "eGovernment: From policy to practice" which took place in Brussels three weeks ago.

We organised this international conference jointly with the Belgian Presidency. I also want to acknowledge the constructive role that was played in the run up to this conference by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions.

At the conference we brought together from all over Europe interactive eGovernment applications, that were demonstrated at an exhibition and discussed in depth during the meetings of the delegates.

For the first time it was possible to get an impression at European level of practical public online services as citizens and businesses use them in real life today. Most of the applications were very recent developments, being less than one year in use.

The applications were chosen for their good performance and strong growth potential. They were encouraging signs of the progress that is happening all over Europe. At the same time they allowed us to better understand the challenges that I mentioned before.

Ministers and Secretaries of State representing nearly thirty countries also attended the conference. They unanimously agreed a "Ministerial Declaration". This lists political priorities and challenges for the development and implementation of eGovernment in Europe.

An important priority is inclusiveness. Governments cannot choose their customers, they have to equally serve every citizen. Special attention is therefore needed to give access to all, and certainly to avoid creating a digital divide in eGovernment.

Ministers also prioritised organisational change on the part of the administration as well as reinforced co-ordination across Europe to ensure trust and security.

Finally, they emphasised that eGovernment is a powerful way to implement good governance, by which they mean public services that meet the five principles of openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness, and coherence.

An "eEurope Award for Innovation in e-Government" was announced at the end of the conference. Antwerp may wish to apply next year as a way to highlight its experience and to promote its efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of its public services.

4. Survey of eGovernment in Europe

eGovernment poses a strategic challenge to all public sector organisations to innovate. Local administrations have been amongst the first to take eGovernment initiatives. Most Member State governments have now also accelerated their involvement of the Internet over the past two years.

So where do we stand today in eGovernment in Europe?

In order to assess this, the European Commission has requested a survey into Electronic Public Services. This kind of benchmarking is an integral part of the eEurope Action Plan. We do the same in other areas, for example measuring the level of access to the Internet or the perception of network security.

In the field of eGovernment our benchmarking focused on twenty public services, of which twelve are directed to citizens and eight to companies. The question was: Are these public services available on the Internet and to what extent do they go beyond passive online information provision into interactivity and, where relevant, transaction support ?

The first results of the survey were released at the conference. It appears that across Europe somewhat less than half of the full extent of electronic case handling has been realised by these eGovernment services.

The web-based survey also resulted in the identification of four clusters of public services. These are income-generating services, registration, returns, and the so-called permits and licenses.

Income-generating services deal with financial flows from citizens and businesses to the government such as taxes and social contributions. Perhaps not surprisingly they form the best performing cluster. These services are the most likely to be available online.

Registration concerns the recording of object- or person-related data in official registers for example car registration, registration of a new company, marriage and birth certificates. The online services in this cluster score average. The exception is new company registration: if you like to register a new company in a European country it is quite likely that is it possible to do that online.

Returns is the technical term for the public services given to citizens and businesses in return for taxes and contributions. The cluster as a whole is below average in terms of online availability. Especially health-related services are not likely to be online. On the other hand job search services are scoring very high in Europe.

Finally, the term Permits and Licenses refers to the documents delivered by governmental bodies, which allow you to drive, to travel, to build a house, etc. It is the least performing group of services.

The results are encouraging but still rather moderate mainly because the services often lack real interactivity. This can only be realised through a major reform of public services.

eGovernment projects have more to do with organisational change than with technology. The challenge to be able to meet clients' expectations is to change organisational structures and cultures accordingly. The back-offices need to be reorganised to provide consistent customer interaction at the front-office.

5. Conclusion

Let me conclude, using some additional observations from the eGovernment conference.

eGovernment teams need to Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast. In other words: Have a vision, identify the right customers and services, start small, and be prepared to learn and adjust as you go, then roll out further services to ever larger user groups.

Go into eGovernment projects with a sound business case, coupled with realistic expectations and underpinned by milestones, metrics, benchmarking and progress reporting.

The same mantra holds as in business: know your customer. Take a customer service orientation, focussing on life events as guideline. Customer Relationship Management needs to be at the heart of the solution.

Invest in encouraging usage. It does not come automatically if you build a system today. Usage is low, in particular among citizens.

It is essential to focus on connection across governments. Only in this way can a consistent interaction and single credible image be presented to citizens and business.

And, finally as said before, top-level commitment is required. There is much opposition to change, therefore senior sponsorship and leadership is critical.

I thank you for your attention.


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