Govts must add value to citizen e-mail accounts

With lukewarm reception to Malaysia's myemail initiative, analyst says Singapore's upcoming OneInbox needs to include common government interactions and go beyond "just another inbox to maintain".

Singapore's OneInbox, slated for launch in the second half of 2012, needs to be compelling in terms of the range of government interactions, as well as offer a great user experience for sustained interest. These two factors, according to an analyst, were missing in a similar initiative by its neighbor Malaysia.

Frank Levering, research manager at IDC Asia-Pacific's Government Insights department, said in an e-mail interview that a compelling proposition and an experience that meets or exceeds user expectations are critical in any implementation of a dedicated e-mail for governments to communicate--and transact--with citizens and businesses.

One challenge Singapore faces as it looks to introduce such an initiative, is that in an IT-savvy nation, an inbox for government correspondence will add to the e-mail accounts owned by users, he noted.

"It is critical to avoid the trap of 'just another inbox to maintain'," Levering explained. "This type of project won't see the needed active usage unless it is an immediate and significant improvement over its traditional alternative."

To that end, common government interactions from various agencies need to be included from launch, he pointed out, adding that the system must "work really smoothly" when the messages trigger action by recipients. Only then will there will user satisfaction which, in turn, drives the adoption up and makes the project successful and sustainable.

First announced in May 2010, OneInbox will offer SingPass users the option of receiving electronic correspondences from government agencies. At that time, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), which drives the government's ICT initiatives, said all government agencies are expected to participate in the initiative.

In an e-mail update, an IDA spokesperson told ZDNet Asia the service will reach an estimated 250,000 individuals within one year of its launch and subsequently be extended to businesses. OneInbox will be developed and maintained by CrimsonLogic, she said, adding that more details are currently being developed and will be shared publicly when ready.

Lessons from Malaysia
Across the Straits of Johor, Malaysia in April appointed homegrown IT company Tricubes to roll out a free e-mail service based on Microsoft's Windows Live platform. According to news site The Malaysian Insider, the project was touted to facilitate secure communication between the Malaysian government and citizens.

The myemail.my inbox, however, is struggling to gain traction. Earlier this month, local newspaper The Sun Daily reported that Tricubes has only managed to sign up 3,000 users, with only half having completed the registration process. The service requires sign-ups to authenticate their accounts using MyKad, a smartcard that the government issued in 2001.

Tricubes CEO Khairun Zainal Mokhtar admitted to The Sun Daily that the target of signing up 5.4 million users in the country was "very, very stretched". He also revealed plans to monetize the venture by billing government organizations that make use of the inbox service to issue billing statements, notices and summons.

Khairun told ZDNet Asia that the company is working to improve adoption of myemail. For one, it is looking to improve and simplify myemail's activation process. Tricubes, he noted in an e-mail, has streamlined its registration entry requirement and provides on-the-spot activation for the e-mail account during events such as roadshows.

It also wants to add value to the initiative through product differentiation, he added, without elaborating on how the company intends to achieve this.

Tricubes is "satisfied" with the project progress, taking into consideration "platform security and service sophistication", Khairun said.

IDC's Levering pointed out that Tricubes needs to secure "a high-level government sponsor that dictates the usage" of the service.

"Without central government guidance though, it would be very difficult to get all the most common government-to-citizen or business communication scenarios covered across the many government agencies," he explained.

"In turn, it will then be a massive challenge to maintain active usage and new sign-ups while the scenario portfolio is being established."

As for whether public sector agencies will be willing to pay to use the platform, Levering said government bodies are aware that technology innovations enable improved communications with citizens and businesses. "If and when they are convinced it is time to budget for such improvements, there is no reason why they wouldn't allocate that budget to Tricubes as long as the solution offered allows them to achieve those improvements."

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