E-government in Australia: Is it working or not?

Key Australian government agencies are failing to properly measure whether their delivery of services through online channels is "efficient and effective," according to a newly-released federal audit report.

Key Australian government agencies are failing to properly measure whether their delivery of services through online channels is "efficient and effective," according to a newly-released federal audit report.

In a report entitled Measuring the Efficiency and Effectiveness of E-Government, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) said an audit of six agencies, including Austrade, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency (CSA), the Department of Health and Ageing, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) and the National Archives of Australia, found methods "were inadequate to assess whether their delivery of government services and programs through the Internet was efficient and effective".

Specific online services looked at in compiling the audit report -- the fieldwork for which was done during December 2003 and February-May 2004 -- were Austrade's online eligibility questionnaire, Centrelink's Update Families Income Estimate Service, CSA's When Parents Change Address form, Health and Ageing's Health Insite, DVA's World War Two Nominal Roll and National Archives' eShop. The auditors also looked at the agency Web sites themselves.

The report is embarrassing for the government, which rates efficiency and cost reduction as key elements of its online service delivery program.. A response to the ANAO's report, prepared by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), notes that "evaluation is a key component of the strategic management of any initiative and e-government is no exception".

The ANAO said while monitoring of agencies' Web sites was adequate and data was used to continually improve their sites and online services, the picture in areas like costing, cost-benefit analysis, return on investment, efficiency benefits and evaluation was less pretty.

"...Agencies had difficulty in obtaining sound activity or management costing of their Web sites and the costs provided varied for similar services.

"Few had used cost-benefit analysis nor determined productivity gains or returns on investment.

"Agencies were unable to report any efficiency savings through use of the Internet as they had not evaluated their services.

"ANAO concluded therefore, that most agencies had not developed adequate measures to determine whether the Web site is an efficient form of service delivery".

Their delivery of other online services was better, with all agencies using a range of methods to collect performance data and many using some performance indicators to measure their service delivery. "However," the ANAO said, "very few had collected information that enabled comparison of the efficiency of online service delivery against other service delivery channels.

"Agencies could demonstrate their achievements against the government's aims for e-government by providing improved services to their clients, business and the broader community," the ANAO said. "However, they were generally unable to determine whether their investments in e-government were delivering tangible returns, such as cost reduction or increased efficiency and productivity".

The report met with general acceptance from the agencies concerned, several of whom indicated they were devising or improving ways of measuring their delivery of e-government services using the Internet. It was the second audit conducted since the ANAO in 2001 prepared a Better Practice Guide, designed to help program managers use the Internet more efficiently and effectively.

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