The Future of E-Government in Saskatchewan

Information Technology, Jan Pavel, Publications, Saskatchewan, Uncategorized

Introduction

Progressive public policies and long-term vision have brought Saskatchewan back to the forefront of economic development. News headlines depict the province as the land of opportunity. Saskatchewan is leading the country in economic and population growth, and it reports one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Saskatoon and Regina are among the fastest-growing cities in the country. The provincial debt is the second lowest in Canada at 11.9 per cent of GDP,1 and another annual budget surplus is expected in 2012. The provincial credit rating went from A+ 10 years ago to AAA, the highest rating, in 2011. Overall, the economic development is unprecedented. The situation is comparable to the early decades of the 20th century when Saskatchewan’s population rose quickly from a few hundred thousand people to one million inhabitants. Responsible fiscal policies, changes in mineral resource management, and support for the entrepreneurial spirit of the Saskatchewan people have helped to reignite the economy and create an enviable momentum that will likely last for years to come.

Progressive policies and long-term vision stand at the centre of this paper. The paper aims to initiate an important discussion about the future of e-government and its contribution to improving the efficiency of the public sector in Saskatchewan at the provincial and municipal levels. E-government or electronic government is a fast-growing practice in the public sector. It utilizes information technologies, particularly the Internet, to deliver and administer services for citizens. E-services save citizens’ time, reduce administrative costs and bring a new level of convenience into the citizen-government interaction. During the last two decades, information technologies have become an essential and mainstream part of government service delivery and administration in most developed countries around the world.

Governments enable citizens to access and complete requests for services online, which improve their availability and efficiency. If the potential of e-government is maximized, the efficiency gains can be remarkable. In addition, the quality of e-government has become a telltale sign of effective public administration, which is an important factor for investors when deciding where to spend their money. Governments realize more and more that by introducing a successful e-government practice, they will gain a competitive advantage in attracting foreign investment. In addition, the development and implementation of sophisticated e-government infrastructure often lead to the creation of new industries. Therefore, it is crucial that Saskatchewan and its municipalities continue to build e-government infrastructure in order to maximize cost savings and secure longterm competitiveness.

E-government in its earliest form was largely limited to the provision of information online. Currently, e-government is much more complex, as interactive Web applications permit citizens to complete entire tasks online. Ideally, individual government departments share and reuse available electronic information to avoid duplication in future transactions. Canada has been among the leaders in e-government. However, in recent years, all major e-government rankings show that it is increasingly falling behind countries such as Singapore, the United States, South Korea, Finland, Denmark and Sweden. E-government in Saskatchewan is not safe from criticism. According to a recent study by the Stratford Institute for Digital Media, the government of Saskatchewan is lagging in its online presence when compared with other provinces and the federal government. This suggests that Saskatchewan’s e-government strategy should be revisited and its goals updated.

To maximize the benefits of e-government, service delivery and administration must be integrated across all branches of government. This model of e-government is often referred to as the One-Stop-Shop Model. Its main features are that citizens can manage all their interactions with the government from one personal account on the Web, and the government reuses client’s existing information to accomplish future tasks. This saves time for the users and improves the efficiency of government operations. Changes appear in the Web interface but mainly they happen behind the scenes where new pathways are created to enable effective data sharing.

In this paper, we present Estonia as the country that pioneered the one-stopshop concept in practice. Similar in population size to Saskatchewan, this small European country has distinguished itself worldwide as an IT leader, and it has been lauded by experts and media for its e-government solutions. In Estonia, it is commonplace for people to go online to vote, pay taxes, establish businesses, apply for social benefits, register cars, apply for schools, receive prescriptions or apply for building permits. Citizens and permanent residents have access to a personal Internet account where they can choose from hundreds of e-services. Most of these services are accessible from one place on the Web, and when a user provides information, it is shared throughout the system. We argue that the sheer number of benefits makes integrated e-services and the One-Stop-Shop Model of e-government a smart and feasible option for Saskatchewan.

The structure of the paper is as follows: The first part explains in more detail what e-government means, how it originated and what the forms of e-government are. We review the state of e-services provided by the province of Saskatchewan and its major municipalities. We also present information about Saskatchewan’s relative standing in comparison with other provinces and countries. Subsequently, we discuss the main benefits of advanced e-government systems and the reasons Estonia is an excellent source of inspiration for e-government solutions. In the next part, we review Estonia’s e-services and the functioning of its e-government. In the final part, a section is dedicated to the potential challenges associated with the implementation of advanced e-government tools. The paper concludes by pondering and elaborating upon the opportunities that an e-government system similar to Estonia’s could bring to Saskatchewan.

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