Reflecting on 200 issues of the medium, Intermedium’s Head of Research Tim Conway concludes that government itself probably still doesn’t recognise how central ICT has become to the delivery of government services.
There’s the (now old) metaphor that internet years are like dog years, moving at seven to eight times that of an earth year. If that’s so, then the medium has spanned more than thirty such ‘years’.
Clearly lifecycles have accelerated as the ‘Net’ has become more pervasive with no evidence this will slow down. AGIMO’s 2008 study, Interacting with Government, shows four in five Australians now use the internet, comprising most people under the age of 44 and an increasing proportion of older Australians; broadband access is now 70 per cent; and now nearly two-thirds of people surveyed had contacted government at least once via the internet in the last twelve months.
Since 1 July this year, the Tax Office has processed 563,000 original returns for the 2008/09 year; 488,000 of these (or 87 per cent) were lodged electronically. Centrelink now reports the majority of its transactions are occurring via its on-line channel, despite somewhat archaic policies that often require clients to make a physical appearance or submit a written form.
Consider the performance of both these agencies in delivering the Government’s two rounds of stimulus payments just weeks after announcement. It is quite outstanding when you think about it. Previously, delivering economic relief of such scale, let alone in such a short timeframe, was impossible. There is no better illustration of ICT’s contribution to efficiency and productivity.
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner often cites the CEO of the ANZ Bank as flippantly remarking “he runs an IT company that occasionally delivers banking services.” Yet, the scale and performance of Centrelink and the ATO, along, with Medicare, Customs, Immigration, Child Support, Veterans Affairs and other Federal Government service delivery agencies shows the differences between delivering banking and finance, and government services are narrowing. Remove the ICT components and neither is effective nor viable.
Contrast that with the Federal Government’s focus just over 10 years ago. “Outsourcing” was a central activity, ostensibly on the rationale that elements of information technology investment are not considered “core” to the business of government. Today, ICT supports all government agencies and the decision to outsource is about relative costs and resources, not about the role of ICT in the business of government. Modern government cannot function without ICT.
The one certainty is the pace of change will continue. Following the election of US President Barack Obama, “government 2.0” is the current focus, using Web collaboration tools to further develop service delivery and government responsiveness, information sharing, transparency and accountability.
More than anything else, ICT collapses time, increases communication and reduces geography. However, concerns remain about the ‘digital divide’ – those who do not have access to, or ability to use, the technology. This will be largely overcome in the next few years, as the cost of ICT falls, more and more services and applications are provided by the cloud, and above all, simplicity rules. Delivery of government services will improve further and faster as this happens.