The objectives of this issue are as follows:
Identify ways to facilitate the deployment, delivery and availability of multi-channel services by governments: Identify any gaps to be filled in creating a complete suite of standards to enable services that can be located, accessed and consumed by all potential users, through different networks, terminal devices or platforms and interfaces, satisfying quality and security conditions.
Gather information about best practices in multi-channel delivery of public services.
What is Multi-Channel Delivery?
Channels are different means used by service providers to interact with and deliver services to their user community. Multi-channel service delivery is the provision of services through different networks, terminal devices or platforms and interfaces, in an integrated and coordinated way, with comparable levels of user friendliness.
Governments, like other sectors, also interact with citizens through different channels, from the traditional ones such as the counter or face-to-face and postal delivery to the electronic channels such as Internet web-sites, e-mail, SMS-messaging, fixed phone, mobile phone, interactive voice response systems, digital television, fax, self-service terminals (ATMs), etc. Governments also have challenges in relation to the elimination of barriers in the access to their services and in relation to the provision of choices about how to access their information and services.
Mobile devices, digital TV and others are opening new ways of interaction between citizens and governments, so that electronic services are no longer limited to the PC. This is possible thanks to the evolution of terminal devices with better features in terms of processing capacity, memory, power autonomy, screen size and quality, on one side and to the improvement of networks, protocols and mark-up languages on the other side.
Industry and citizens are getting used to these new electronic channels taking advantage of their possibilities and new services and there is an expectation that governments may be able to do the same.
These new electronic channels require the adoption of new architectures and systems able to provide the top of their functionalities.
The Web is a main channel to access government services permanently available and it should be possible to offer the citizens such services through any device incorporating Internet access. This would allow a significant increase in the usage of government services by means of any kind of widespread channels such as PDA,s, smartphones, WAP, WebTV, and others; in this way the access to government services would be really anyhow, anywhere, anytime through mobile devices.
What Public Policy Outcomes are Related to Multi-Channel Delivery?
Multi-channel policies developed by governments generally address the following goals:
Facilitating e-Inclusion, avoiding digital divide and reaching the disadvantaged citizens. For instance, the Lisbon Ministerial Declaration [MD-LISBON] refers to multi-channel delivery in relation to inclusive eGovernment. Also, the ICT PSP work programme 2009 [EC-CIP] focus the multi-channel service delivery to the socially disadvantaged and opens this entry explaining that one third of the European population is currently considered socially disadvantaged, most of it suffering from multiple difficulties leading to social exclusion (economic, physical, cultural, geographical factors etc.).
A closer government to the citizens, providing transparency and openness and expanding citizen participation in public policy decision making. The Obama administration's memo on Transparency and Open Government [OB-MEMO] emphasizes these questions. Also it is an issue in the the Lisbon Ministerial Declaration [MD-LISBON].
Making available egovernment services to large part of the population. This is specially interesting in countries with low computer penetration as explained in the case of the “Multi-channel Citizen Service Centers in Greece” [EV-PAPA]. It has to be taken into account the world wide expansion of mobile networks and the forecast that by the end of 2010 there may be four billion people in the world with access to a mobile phone.
Expanding citizen´s choice, extending and providing citizen centric and personalized services; also referred in [EC-CIP].
Multi-channel delivery of government services in support to the process of combined service delivery across different administrations, also referred in [EC-CIP].
Reusing data and applications independently from the channel, reducing the costs of providing services, included in policies oriented to efficiency and effectiveness.
What are the Main Benefits of Multi-Channel Delivery?
Main benefits of multi-channel delivery may be for the user community and for the service provider:
An increase of flexibility in terms of anytime, anywhere, anyhow and accessibility for the user.
An increase of the choice according to the user´s preferences; access to the same information and services through different channels.
Wider usage and impact of government services; a higher population or user community reached by government services.
Cost savings along the delivery chain for the service provider.
Quicker deployment of services through new or additional channels which may provide easy, accurate and personalized content delivery.
Integration of government services in the front-office.
How Can Multi-Channel Delivery Be Achieved?
Developing a multi-channel strategy.
As a starting point governments develop strategies so that the access to their Web sites may be available through mobile devices offering more choice to citizens. More global approaches design strategies which combine face to face offices, call centers and web sites, as in the case of the Multi-channel Citizen Service Centers in Greece [EV-PAPA], with equivalent experiences to this one in other countries like Spain.
The study about “Multi-channel delivery of government services” elaborated by the Program IDA of the European Commission [EC-MCD] elaborates on how to develop a multi-channel strategy; this study includes a list of possible channels with their main features, proposes a channel selection framework and provides implementation guidelines of the multi-channel strategy. This implementation may require a number of steps such like the following:
Identify candidate services for multi-channel delivery.
Investigate whether the service can be divided into distinct steps. Given one service, sometimes one specific channel can satisfy the full transaction; in other cases the full transaction could take several steps which might involve different channels.
Carry out research and segmentation of the target user community.
Analyze organizational changes including business processes, back end and front end applications, staffing.
Analyze technical solutions.
Determine the channels to be implemented.
Quantification and evaluation. Statistics of access through the different channels enabled.
What are the Main Issues and Limitations with Multi-Channel Delivery?
There is a number of issues to be considered:
General requirements of the user, as pointed out in [EC-MCD]: flexibility, accessibility, usability (easy to use), quality, security.
Some of them are specially relevant like security providing trust, and simplicity so that the content may have a similar appearance from any device, providing transparency from the point of view of the user.
Many people uses the mobile phone only for phone calls and are not aware of the rest of possibilities of the device, because its operation may result difficult for them. This inhibiting factor decreases the usage of the offered services. For instance, trying to write an URL in a mobile may be a difficult task because certain characters (“@”, “/”, “?”, “&”, “:”, …) are hard to find and the writing task is generally troublesome. The user usually has to remember a crowd of short numbers, key words, URLs, while using impulsively a mobile device with low help capabilities and requiring a quick answer to solve an specific problem.
General requirements of the service provider, as pointed out in [EC-MCD]: efficiency, effectiveness, security.
Adaptation to the access to the Web through mobile devices, which may require, between others, the reduction of download traffic and the processing consume, because of the need to keep the battery, reduce the cost by traffic and the time response perceived by the user when used intensively or when downloading contents.
The ideal scenario is that introduction of new electronic channels would be as non-intrusive as possible; for instance without having to modify content managers used for the production of information for the Web.
This may require the deployment of intermediate elements which adapt or format the content taken out from the web appropriately according to the kind of device involved in the transaction.
Management of contents that can not be showed in a mobile device, have a large size very costly to download and memory consuming (images, PDF documents).
Coordination and integration of different channels is necessary to provide a focus on the user, a consistent approach to data and databases available or shared by all channels and consistent look and feel.
Interoperability, discussed above in this note.
Facilitate the deployment of services through new channels.
Conditions about the reuse of government information by the public, as explained in [GSA-TRAN].
European Commission, COMPETITIVENESS AND INNOVATION FRAMEWORK PROGRAMME (CIP) ICT POLICY SUPPORT PROGRAMME ICT PSP WORK PROGRAMME 2009, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/ict_psp/index_en.htm
European Commission – Program IDA, Multi-channel delivery of government services, June 2004, http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/3119
European Commission, 'MC-eGov: Study on Multi-channel Delivery Strategies and Sustainable Business Models for Public Services Addressing Socially Disadvantaged Groups', http://www.epractice.eu/community/InclusiveeGovernment
Evangelos Papanikolaou (Ministry of the Interior, Public Administration & Decentralization) Multi-channel Citizen Service Centers in Greece, http://www.epractice.eu/en/cases/csckep
GSA Office of Citizen Services and Communications, Intergovernmental Solutions Newsletter, Transparency and Open Government, Transparency in Government,http://www.usaservices.gov/events_news/documents/Transparency.pdf
Ministerial Declaration, approved unanimously in Lisbon, Portugal, on 19 September 2007, http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/egovernment/docs/lisbon_2007/ministerial_declaration_180907.pdf
Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Transparency and Open Government, B. Obama, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/.
Wikipedia, Mobile Web, Limitations, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Internet