A major evolutionary step for e-government in Malta
E-Government services have gone through a fundamental shift in recent months, thanks to a new platform based on so-called ‘eForms’ that streamlined e-services and did away with the need of a website for each service. In the coming months a further 300 new e-government services are expected to be launched.
Juan Borg Manduca, the chief officer for information systems and transformation at the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) explained to i-Tech the evolution of e-government services which consistently increase in popularity in terms of the value of the transactions handled.
“The main shift in the platform is one from technology to process. The platform we had for the first 90 electronic services depended on implementation of a website for each service, or group of them. This meant relatively long lead-times and a different user experience for every service which created a silo approach. The new platform turns this on its head, a ‘one-government’ approach, with a consistent and personalised experience delivered through the user’s channel of choice.
“The new platform means e-government is delivered in a customer-centred approach ensuring more services cost less, whilst still keeping a very high quality. The approach will also engage people to talk to the government with the aim of understanding how to make services better, and measuring success which will translate into Malta retaining its place at the top of the European ranks,” explained Mr Borg Manduca.
EForms is the kingpin of the new platform both from a technological and process perspective. A user is able to find and use all public service forms from one place, monitor progress during processing and communicate from one electronic mailbox.
“E-Government is also not just about electronic channels but also about bringing services closer to the community, through agents: professionals, businesses and NGOs trusted by the government and users and who can apply for services on the user’s behalf. The most common live example we have of agents already at work is the way insurance companies obtain the road license disc for car owners instead of having car owners interact directly with Transport Malta. Agents do not only bridge digital divide but also reduce the administrative burden.”
The main components of the platform include a common user experience powered by an implementation of one brand, one domain, and one look-and-feel across the whole of government’s electronic presence. There are also eForms, which provides for the implementation of electronic form-based processes powered by automated workflows; myBills, which provides for a central billing portal; myAlerts, which provides centralised and personalised notification services through e-mail and SMS; secure electronic payment certified to the standards issue by the payment card industry; and secure electronic authentication and signing based on a nation-wide deployment of electronic ID cards.
MyBills today hosts only a few fully integrated services, but the top six billing systems will be fully hooked by the end of 2012. This includes CVA and traffic contraventions (Local Enforcement System), which are complete; and others on the way including commercial licenses and utility billing.
Some of the most interesting new e-government services include the application for a grant paid on expenses connected with a wedding or a funeral, applications for a licence to work as an electrician or act as a host family for foreigners or open a catering establishment, and the expression of interest to serve on government boards and committees.
These have been built with the “one-stop-shop” concept, where all government services are delivered from one place, with one user experience that users can get used to and feel comfortable to draw expectations from. The point of service can be electronic as well as physical and includes the “agents”.
“It may be too early to conduct surveys to understand and gauge the end-user perspective, however the initial informal feedback was very positive,” revealed Mr Borg Manduca, who mentioned the call for expression of interest in sitting on government boards and committees and the application for Microsoft Student Software Offer as the first services to test the new system.
“The initial high usage especially of high volume forms such as the gives a clear indication of the potential of the solution. There are several other high usage forms related to the starting up of a new business operation and the refunds issued by the VAT Department. We expect that once these are marketed, they will too become very popular.
“Our users already acknowledge that a familiar and consistent user interface, irrespective of the service being consumed, is a step-change in quality of the experience. So is the ability to monitor progress when waiting for an application to be processed, and the ability to manage payments to government from a central place.”
However the citizen is not the only beneficiary of the new digital platform. The public service is also poised to work more efficiently.
“We have senior public servants acknowledging the importance of rolling out services rapidly. Let’s not forget that it took years to build a portfolio of 90 services, and now only months to implement over 50 eForms-based services. So goes for billing – integration can be implemented within a few weeks, allowing their customers to settle bills electronically. E-Government is also giving them the ability to organise workload, optimise business processes, and subsequently measure how more efficient their staff have become. And all this with cost savings,” insisted MITA’s chief officer for information systems and transformation.
MITA will be working with the local software industry to make another 300 government services available online. The myriad of services to be implemented will include different areas of interest, targeted at both citizens and businesses from various entities, including the Public Registry, Passport Office, Licensing and Testing, traffic management, merchant shipping and the Malta Communications Authority. There will also be an implementation of electronic services targeted at local councils, enabling them to operate more efficiently within their localities, concluded Mr Borg Manduca.