E-government services and products

Using a framework for the integral approach to the adoption phase of e-government services and products Matching the service, technical, organizational, financial and institutional domains

ABSTRACT

E-government services and products are usually developed using either a supply or demand design. Result from this single sided approach is that many services and products turn out to not be very successful. For this reason a framework has been constructed which focuses on the matching of supply and demand whilst also focusing on service, technology, organizational, financial and institutional domains during the adoption phase. The framework uses an integral approach and should therefore be useful for future development of e-government services and products. Future steps would be to provide more detail to the other phases of dissemination and uses real life development situations to validate the proposed framework.

Keywords: e-government, adoption framework, integral approach, adoption, dissemination, implementation

Introduction

Since the late 1990s, governments worldwide at all levels have launched electronic government projects, albeit at different speeds, aimed at providing electronic information and services to citizens, businesses and other (semi) governmental organizations [1]. By using mostly the internet as a channel, governments can offer more efficient and effective means than traditional physical channels to better serve their citizens [2]. Services that a government provides can be divided as following: provisioning of public information and services, making policy, taking decisions and more internally focused management of the government [3]. Combined with e-government tools, these technologies present themselves in day to day life through the following examples. Supply of tax information through a website, to more complex services such as handling transactions, e-voting or participation in policy development through a municipal directed online-forum [4].

Difficulty arises as how to implement and disseminate the ICT services within the organization(s) and thus focus on adoption, implementation, use and effects [3]. Much has been questioned and critiqued on the various e-government process approaches to providing e-government services and products [5-10]. Supply side strategies were used in earlier days and focused on what was technically possible [11]. Trend now is to have a user centered (demand) like approach and understand what users desire and expect and tailor in line with this knowledge [12-14].

Striking however is the lack of strategies that take on an integral approach. By this is meant that not only should attention be paid to what a government technically can do and what is desired. But more so on the matching of these, taking into account the organizational, financial and institutional limitations, possibilities and effects. Using this approach will most likely result in a better dissemination of any e-government service or product. Focus is on the adoption phase since other phases have their origin in this stage of the dissemination.

The goal of this paper therefore is to provide a framework that focuses on the adoption using an integral approach by executing a literature study. Readers should after reading, understand that there is more to e-government services and its adoption than just merely supply and demand. To do so, the following structure is used. First the concepts of e-government, supply side and user centric development strategies will be discussed. Next step is to show what adoption entails and how this affects the current approach to develop and implement e-government services and products. These steps result in the presentation of a framework that should provide greater insight in the complicated matter of the integral adoption and implementation of successful e-government services and products. Next, attention is paid to the reflection of the paper, what to focus on in further research and conclusions are drawn.

Concepts and definitions

Many definitions of e-government have been provided in literature. What they have in common is that e-government involves using information technology, and especially internet, to improve the delivery of government services to citizens, businesses[15], and other government agencies. E-government enables citizens to interact and receive services from the federal, state or local governments twenty four hours a day, seven days a week [15]. This has great impact on the relationship between the government, citizens, business and other government agencies [16]. How these services and products are delivered depends on the chosen business models[1]. Janssen carried out research into the various business models governments use and found that they only use models with little functionality and complexity [17].

Reason for constructing e-government services and products depends on either a supply driven context or when market pulls and thus creates a sufficient demand. Supply driven technology push is usually created when technology innovation creates the possibility for new services and products. Decision makers decide, without accurately knowing its demand that these new services and products must be put on the market, or are forced by regulation to do so. They therefore face the risk of the product failing, but on the other hand it could save time and funds. Other reason is the so called bandwagon phenomenon or fad-like behavior as discussed by Walden and Browne [18]. Decision makers tend to look at what others do and copy this system or adapt their own processes. Adapting an organizations own processes is however more a demand driven change. When one organization changes its technology it might be interesting to change as well due to network externalities and economical benefits. Applying this to an e-government context could look as following: A large enterprise or a group of SMEs decide to change their tax form outlay, the Tax and Custom Agency therefore could change their processes, such as using XML or EDI[2], to make tax registration easier.

Using a user-centric approach to implement e-government services and products requires a different approach. Key in this process is to acquire user demands and then construct and tailor make the services and products. This is a far more complex process and consists of many interdependent processes which have a great effect on the successfulness of the provided e-government service or product. Rose and Grant [19] carried out a study on the critical issues that face the planning and implementation of e-government initiatives. They list a set of very valuable items but miss out on the (chronological) steps that need to be taken in the adoption phase. This adoption phase in my eyes is the foundation creating successful e-government services. By now it should be clear what e-government is and how innovations are introduced to the market, either by pulling or pushing. What remains, is to see how these combine and what steps need to be taken for of the adoption of a new e-government service.

Adoption phase

This paper focuses on the first step, the adoption phase. Reason is that adoption is the foundation on whether or not to implement a new e-government service or product. All other steps are based on the outcome of this process. Whether the users will accept and use the service or product as designed is discussed in the effect phase, but earns its roots in the adoption stage. Further definition takes place in the units of adoption as described by Rogers [20]. Distinction here is made between the adoption of the organization as a whole and on the individual deciding whether or not to conform to the organizational decision. In case of e-government one could also make the distinction between the above described internal users, and external ones, the citizens and businesses. The adoption phase itself consists of three phases, namely; intelligence: identifying and defining the problem, design: finding possible solutions and choice: assessing the various possibilities and selecting one of the available alternatives [21].

Towards an integral framework

After the presentation of the concepts in the previous paragraphs, focus will now be on the relations between them to create a framework. To construct a framework for the adoption of e-government services it is useful to compare it to the strategies a regular business has. A framework that takes many aspects of developing an (ICT) business model into account is the STOF method [22], which focuses on the service, technology, organizational and financial domains. The method comprehends the complexity of developing ICT related services and drives the user to develop a business model. What makes the STOF method very useful is that it can be used within the adoption phase of developing an e-government service. There are however some differences from business to government [22].

First, a business needs to create added value a customer wants to pay for and is thus depended on making profit. A government can design a service that fails and then have no threat of going bankrupt. Second difference is that a government is bound politically and regulative to what they can or must do. Institutional law and regulation sometimes even dictates the way a service is developed [22]. Another difference is that a government is at the same time referee and player in the area of government, policy and provision of services. To prevent conflict situation third party monitoring must be in place which brings extra complications. Fourth difference is that the user of e-government service and products are not only customers but also consumers. Government organizations in other words are very much entangled and involved with the users of their product compared to a business. Last difference is that governments do not consist of single business entities. They are part of numerous organizations which brings great complexity for service development. Trend with service development is to create services that make use of data and processes from more than one organization. The more organizations involved, the more already existing standards, processes, work methods, culture etc. are present. The above discussed differences show that developing e-government services is situated in a different environment than development of e-services for businesses. The development of e-government services is dictated by its boundaries and complexity on the service, technical, organizational, financial and institutional domains, and takes place, where technology supply and market demand meet.

Framework discussion

From the above discussed concepts, figure 1 has been created which is based on the model by Frambach (lower part), which focuses on matching innovations to buyer needs, [23] and the STOF method (upper part) [22].

The remaining part of the paper will discuss the domains and matching in more depth. First discussed is the service domain, which in business terms defines the added value or value proposition to its users. This is closely related to the expected and perceived value of the delivered service. Which is supported by defining the intention towards using the technology by two means; the perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use [24]. Through understanding these perceptions and expectations one can understand what users demand and thus what the market pull is. By identifying them, a government can easier understand what the needs are, match the supply and assess whether there is added value to the (unique) users. User perceptions are strongly related to user distinctive properties such as, previous experience with (e-government) services or technology, gender, race, level of education, business type etc. Identifying for who the service is designed is therefore essential to comprehend. Quantifying these items is however a more complicated matter. General methods are doing surveys, lab studies, prototyping, desk research, interviews, design workshops, etc. Verdegem and Verleye [5] carried out a very interesting study which used a combination of quantitative and qualitative study exposing user satisfaction indicators. Equally important to the justification of the roll out of a service is what the added value for the government is. Businesses usually justify investments by assessing the added value in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and innovation which have an impact on time, place, distance, relationships [25], product, interactions and procedures [26]. Montagna [27] developed a framework using the first four items for the assessment of an e-government service or product. Its focus is on the benefits along these axes, which would be a very useful addition for the use of this framework. It however lacks insight to the entire adoption phase and its environment. Other reason for not incorporating is that assessing the added value is also part of the service and financial domain of the STOF method.

The technological domains focal point is on what technically is required by the service domain, what is possible and usually result in the design of the technical architecture. What also comes into play is whether the needs of users can be aligned with technical possibilities and whether these needs match the business goals of the government organization. As shown before government is limited in a different way compared to a business and must prevent to create services that are not their core business but belong to another organization. More complexity is created by having technical solutions that have an impact on the individual, organizational and environment levels [3]. These different levels of impact apply to both the customers as the organizations that implement the service or product. Even though this belongs more to the effect level of the dissemination phase (as seen in table 1), it is important to recognize this. Whether a new product or service is created and implemented also depends on the effectiveness and efficiency later on in the dissemination phase. It can also turn out that technological developments are beyond the expectations, perceptions or knowledge of its users. This can make it difficult for the service domain to show the actual needs and therefore future use of a new e-government service. In other words, a technical solution must match or fit in the organizations, to external users, processes and skills [28]. In business fields the IT-alignment model, is a good framework for comparing, analyzing the IT department goals, objectives and activities to the goals, objectives and activities of the firm [24]. E-government should apply this to both the internal and the external users of the service or product. If not, one should consider whether to change this environment, by education, use publicity to make users aware or even hire or fire employees.

Third item to be discussed is the organizational domain which focuses on the different parties involved to create the service or product. As mentioned before, the government consists of many different organizations which each have unique resources, data, processes, skills and culture. Any form of cooperation brings complexity in matching these. As e-governments start to design more complex e-government services such as one stop shops it creates a lot more complexity and need for cooperation. What therefore should be considered in the adoption phase is to what extent you wish to work together even though it would create a very good service. More actors results in more decisions, regarding to whom is responsible for the safety, security, data, processes, reliability and investment and operational costs. It is the trade-off between what is technically possible, the extra value added, demand and how this complexity changes user attitudes. If a service proves to be unreliable, incomprehensible and unsecure etc. due to the complexity, the actual use will be low and thus the added value will be slim for government and user. It also important to understand what organization or individuals decide to implement an e-government service or product, and which organization has to use it. High level decisions usually have their effect on lower levels and do not necessarily match causing great adaptation issues.

Fourth item to be discussed are the financial aspects considering the adoption. Where a business focuses on pricing, division of investments, costs, revenues and contribution to the process, a government has a different mindset. As said before a government does not fear the fact of going bankrupt. There is no real competition besides control and monitoring by other governmental agencies or political leaders. What however remains true is that every euro can only be spent once, and that the budget is finite. This budget is controlled by political games which face competition. Therefore it is important to produce successful services considering the political and institutional constraints and pressure. Selection or justification procedures on the decision making for a investing in a new service or product are mostly based on what is the best option considering the rate of return. E-government development however also depends on the political pressure, which sometimes do not need justification or are obliged by law to create a service or product. Strongly connected to the organizational domain is the decision making on who is going to fund the initial investments and operational costs. Strict decision making should also be in place to prevent any discussion on who is responsible for what and to what extent. Many e-government projects resulted in cost overruns which creates extra friction and time delays to the implementation.

Discussion on the institutional aspects are not discussed separately since these are strongly intertwined with the STOF domains and thus already mentioned often. I did however decide to have the institutional domain separated from the others. Even though it is mostly incorporated in other domains it remains a domain which is very important and not to be forgotten. Integrating the institutional domain would not do it justice and could result in forgetting it. It can be seen as a downside of the framework and point of discussion.

There are some general notes of the model that need to be enlightened. Some arrows are visible in figure 1, which show that there is a relationship between the items that are connected to it. Unfortunately not all can be explained but most important are the ones between development of innovation, suppliers need, matching technology and need and the domain block on top. It should be clear that matching the market push and pull is very much influenced by the different domains. When not taking these into account it is very unlikely that a good service or product can be constructed. The framework is lacking the incorporation of the units of adoption and the three phases of adoption as mentioned earlier. While this could be done, it would result the framework from becoming unclear. These items must however be remembered in the matching of the supply and demand. Another downside of the model is the lack of detailed information it provides. It remains high level and applicable for many different services and products which is both its strength and weakness. Its effectiveness depends on the user applying the different items in detail. This detail is not presented due to constraints of length of this paper.

Conclusions & further research

This paper has presented a framework for the adoption phase of an e-government service or product. Previous studies have not had this type of approach to development and mostly focused on a single or select amount of items from this framework. Whilst this is not incorrect, they lack the integral overview necessary to understand the environment wherein a new product or service has to be adopted.

What has become clear is that the different domains in the framework are strongly related to each other and create complexity through these connections. It is no simple task to take an integral view on whether or not to adopt a new e-government service. The user of the framework will need to adapt the domains to their specific situation and assess whether the total picture favors the adoption. Literature that has been discussed in this paper has provided examples and show in detail to what a decision maker must pay attention. What should be prevented is to have a single focused approach for the development of the e-government services and products. It has proved that this creates issues for the successfulness which present themselves later on in the dissemination phase.

With the framework I hope to achieve that decision makers take an integral view on the development of e-government. E-government has the possibility to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and innovation of government, citizens and businesses. What however must be noted is that more research needs to be commended on other parts of the dissemination phase and the various domains. On top of that, it is useful compare the framework with the development approaches of existing e-government services and products to use this as a validation.

References

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[1] A business model can be viewed as a collection of organizational roles, the system functionalities, detailed description of a mechanism and relationships among parties [17].

[2] XML and EDI are examples of structured and standardized means of data exchange

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