Digital government needs more focus on adoption
Smart government services still face a challenge in getting users to adopt the service
There has been great progress made in the provision of smart government in the region in the past ten years, but across many different e-government services, agencies are discovering the same problem - lack of adoption. From the first generation of online services onwards, governments have found that just creating e-services does not mean that people will use them - if you build it, they might come - but it is not guaranteed.
Measuring lack of adoption or resistance to e-services is not straightforward, but a 2014 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that on average, less than half of individuals (45%) in OECD countries use e-government services to access information, and only one third (30%) use e-government to file documents. While adoption rates have generally improved since earlier generations of e-government, there is still a problem with users not taking to services.
Studies have shown a variety of reasons why people don't use e-government services, such as a preference for human interaction, lack of familiarity or hard-to-use services, lack of trust in online transactions, and lack of awareness that services exists. Non-human factors, such as poor internet connectivity, are less common reasons for resistance. Like cybersecurity, the human factor is the main stumbling block for success.
If a government agency cannot get enough people to use its new e-service, then it won't be able to gain the promised savings, or leverage more efficient use of staff, and any investment in new services is wasted.
Unlike the first attempts at e-government, however, there is a better understanding that the job isn't finished once the smart service goes live. Many organisations have learned from the change management that has become a regular part of large scale IT application projects, such as ERP deployments. Constant communication with users, to explain to them not just how to use the new service, but why it benefits them to do so, is a vital part of driving users to adopt new services, whether it is an internal business application or a public service.
Efforts for adoption have to go beyond the change management discipline however. The ultimate sanction of any corporate change management - ‘use it or lose it' - as in ‘use the system or lose your job' - doesn't apply to public services. Successful adoption initiatives require a mix of change management, marketing, education, customer experience and more. Attempts to switch users to digital services by simply removing non-digital channels create resentment and frustration, and drive people away from the system or interacting with government altogether. Attempts to force people into digital channels that are then revealed to be buggy or flawed just amplify the frustration and create a negative impression of all e-government efforts.
Users need to be guided through new services, and incentivised to use them if they are going to embrace them. There is a need for more thought and effort from government agencies to help people access new services, and to create lasting change and acceptance of the digital path for government.