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 of 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, or even Bluetooth and others; in this way the access to government services would really be anyhow, anywhere, anytime through mobile devices.
Governments should clearly take into account distribution and accessibility options which do not pose barriers which would result in a decrease the amount of information distribution or services provided. Consideration to socially disadvantaged users, users without high bandwidth and high cost devices, as well as devices, platforms and websites with smaller audiences should be taken into account.
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 both 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 multichannel initiative consisting in a website (www.060.es), a network of offices (more than 1.600 in March 2009), and a telephone number in Spain [Red060] and the Multi-channel Citizen Service Centers in Greece [EV-PAPA], with equivalent experiences to this one in other countries.
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. For instance, in order to renew the citizen´s ID card in Spain an appointment can be made through a web site, the citizen may receive a confirmation with an SMS message through the mobile and then the last step is made face to face in an office of the administration.
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.
W3C technical specifications: URI, XML technologies, WML, XHTML, CSS, XPATH, ...
Web Accessibility [W3C-WAI]. Using the guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) for the different components: Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG); User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG).
Mobile Web: including Device Description Repository Simple API, Device Description Repository Core Vocabulary
Using the Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 [W3C-MOBILE]: Design for One Web, rely on Web standards, stay away from known hazards, be cautious of device limitations, optimize navigation, check graphics & colors, keep it small, use the network sparingly, help & guide user input, think of users on the go. And verify the result [W3C-VALIDATOR].
Device Independence principles [W3C_DEVIN] set out some principles that can be used when evaluating current solutions or proposing new solutions, and can form the basis of more detailed requirements and recommendations.
What are the Main Issues and Limitations with Multi-Channel Delivery?
General requirements of the user and of the provider
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.
Limitation of mobile devices and adaptation of information and services provided
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
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.
Access to eGovernment services and information
In relation to the multi-channel access to eGovernment services and information there are several main issues to be considered:
Web for everyone: so that it may be available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability. It has to be considered that services should be satisfactory according to the context where they are used.
Accessibility: so that people with disabilities and others, including older people with changing abilities due to aging, can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web.
Digital divide: as explained by Wikipedia [WIKI-DD], it “refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills. The digital divide may be classified based on gender, income, and race groups, and by locations.”
This means that when deployment multi-channel delivery of services a certain knowledge of the environment is needed in terms of the availability of different devices and bandwidth, and of the target population, social preferences and user profiles including access by persons with disabilities.
Interesting information may be about the proportion between mobile phones to PCs or preferences of channel in relation to specific services. Depending on how simple or complex is the service, the user may prefer making a phone call, browsing with the mobile, receiving or exchanging information by e-mail or using a website with a computer.
Governments use different strategies to get this kind of information; for instance, studying user profiles, user groups and heuristics of navigation.
Other strategies include facilitating free Internet enabled computers at libraries and kiosks, widely available to citizens for free at public locations; targeting the lower cost devices and the lower cost access; providing some information in text form for mobile access; announcing multi-media information and making it searchable through text based services so that users who have limited access to multimedia enabled workstations can find out about resources they need and go to a kiosk or library with access available.
The MC-eGov Study on Multi-channel Delivery Strategies and Sustainable Business Models for Public Services addressing Socially Disadvantaged Groups [MC-GOV] includes a good number of good practice examples.
Conditions about the reuse of government information
Conditions about the reuse of government information by the public, as explained in [GSA-TRAN].
Multi-Channel Distribution Standards.
Standards, principles and best practices are needed to facilitate the provision of multi-channel services and to satisfy requirements such as efficiency, effectiveness, integration, quick response to policies, priorities and social needs and the delivery of services that offer a sustainable value to society.
Fair distribution refers to the issue if government distributed content through selected websites, platforms or devices creates an unfair advantage for a particular device, platform, distribution network, or website.
It may be interesting for governments and for the users of their services and information to consider, for instance wide, distribution environments such as social networks.
In relation to these questions, governments are considering and putting in practice the idea of being present in main social networks and similar instruments and thus reaching large communities, instead of just remaining outside and waiting for users to come to their websites.
Multi-media central feed.
Strategies in relation to the distribution of multi-media government content may include approaches to facilitate the access to content provided through social media channels, in a searchable way, in freely accessible, playable and downloadable formats, allowing tagging or preserving hyperlinks.
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
MC-eGov Study on Multi-channel Delivery Strategies and Sustainable Business Models for Public Services addressing Socially Disadvantaged Groups http://www.mcegov.eu/media/156/mcegov%20project_study%20report_good%20practice%20examples_edited.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/.
Red 060 (Network 060), http://www.epractice.eu/en/cases/red060
Device Independence Principles http://www.w3.org/TR/di-princ/
Web Accessibility Inituative http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php
Wikipedia, Mobile Web, Limitations, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Internet
Wikipedia, Digital Divide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide