More S'poreans going online to access govt services

The number of Singaporeans accessing e-government information and services is on the rise, despite online glitches.

SINGAPORE--More Singaporeans are accessing information and conducting transactions on government Web sites, a trend that is expected to continue regardless of potential online glitches along the way, says a top government official.

About 57 percent of the country's population transacted with the government in 2004, an increase from 49 percent the year before, according to a new survey released today by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) at a press conference.

Conducted by ACNielsen Research Singapore, the survey polled 1,204 respondents across the island-state. It is the third in a series of studies, conducted annually, by the country's IT regulator to understand the citizens' perception of the government's e-services.

Singaporeans can access a range of government information and services including income tax filing, checking of Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts, payment of road taxes and fines, and applying for a dog license. CPF is a nationwide social security savings program for Singaporeans.

The three most popular services accessed online in 2004 were income tax filing, checking of CPF account statements, and topping up and cashing in of Economic Restructuring Shares (ERS), the study found. The distribution of ERS was introduced in 2003 by the government to help its citizens cope with economic changes.

Wu Choy Peng, IDA's deputy CEO and government CIO, said the online user experience will continue to improve as the government gathers public feedback and resolves hiccups along the way.

Wu said hitches like the one experienced in April this year by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) will decrease over time, and are unlikely to deter users from accessing government services online. The IRAS received complaints from the public when several users faced problems while attempting to file their taxes online via the IRAS Web site. The glitch was attributed to a sudden peak in network traffic as tax payers rushed to submit their forms just before the April 15 deadline.

She added that the inability to anticipate user behavior, such as the last-minute rush to file the tax forms, and changes made to the tax form which resulted in a longer time spent online, could have been contributing factors to the April glitch.

However, she assured that the government has learnt from this experience, and will apply this knowledge to better pre-empt user behavior before launching new online services.

Wu added that such hiccups can be mitigated in future with better infrastructure designs and public education. These can then be established as standard operation procedures (SOP) and then shared across all government agencies, a process that is already practised, she said.

She added that Internet banking and payment continue to grow, despite people's reservations over security risks. Ultimately, she said, people go online because of the convenience and the value of the online services.

Although people may initially "back off" from using the service online, "they will come back", she said.

The IDA study found that of the 57 percent that transacted with the government, 88 percent had done so electronically at least once last year, said Tan Kar Joo, IDA's director of electronic services division, government chief information office. Tan added that these individuals are typically white-collar workers aged between 30 and 39.

One such user is Koh Boon Long, 35, a product manager with a Singapore-based IT company. He has accessed government services online to file his income tax, submit forms, check the balance in his CPF account and apply for a new passport.

"It's more convenient, and the turnaround time is shorter now that you can apply for a new passport online" he said. "I used to spend many hours in immigration settling issues related to my Permanent Residence here."

Establishing SOPs, he said, will improve the user experience and attract more users online.