Most government agency online strategies are in their "infancy", failing to provide competitive, comprehensive and personalised Internet services, according to Deloitte Consulting.
"Fragmentation [in service] is the case in generally all government departments," Mike Lisle-Williams, Deloitte Consulting's principal spokesperson, public sector group, said last week.
His warning comes with the release of an e-government report from Deloitte, announcing that Government agencies expect 34 per cent of citizens to perform all transactions with the Government online by 2002.
However, Lisle-Williams disagreed with the figure, saying it was an "understatement" and closer to 50 per cent.
The research was based on responses from senior officials from 25 government agencies - three Federal and 22 State departments.
Lisle-Williams believes the "real concern" for governments is "how much voice and choice people have" when dealing with them. "The technology is not the obstacle," he stressed. "Customer relations management is not just an IT or business issue," but a PR issue.
"If [governments] don't know their local community, councillors will get thrown off," he joked.
Lisle-Williams believes that as PC and mobile use "go through the roof", agencies will need to achieve a combination of professional, speedy, round-the-clock service with "certainty of fulfilment and a strong personalised touch".
He said the ATO and Centrelink provide a yardstick for quality service. "They connect channels directly to the consumer," he said, citing "routine" transactions like licence approvals and welfare payments to collection agents as the most efficient, high-demand online services.
Deloitte's research has consistently shown that consumers "don't expect any less from government than they do the private sector", according to Lisle-Williams.
Government agencies are pushing for Mysap.com-style portals with a "highly personalised, clustered" approach to service provision, he said, opening the door to similar government and industry association services.
The public sector's online overhaul will cost "tens of billions", according to Lisle-Williams, who said it was too early to provide an accurate figure. The overhaul will focus heavily on implementing e-procurement and electronic cataloguing solutions across all agencies over the next two years.
Vendors backing the Government's e-procurement plans include SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Siebel, Areba and Vantive. Their business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) contracts with respective departments rank in the "hundreds of millions", Lisle-Williams estimated.
Moreover, the Tasmanian Government appears to have taken the online lead by devising the Intelligent Island Program, worth $200 million, under which the Government and private sector will collaborate to offer wireless, broadband customer services targeting rural users.
Lisle-Williams predicted most departments will need to drop call centres eventually to achieve a cost-effective online arm. The cost of an online licence is a quarter of a call-centre licence, he said. "The economic imperative is there." However, call centres would remain critical to employment and welfare departments due to the "complicated, judgment-based" nature of their service.
While Lisle-Williams believes that government departments are "10 per cent ahead" of the US and Europe in providing quality online service, he conceded that Australia is "only seeing the dots in the e-business picture, not the whole picture".