A Regional Perspective of E-governance

© 2014 Khaled A.B. Aly, Technopsis.com®

Electronic governance is the application of ICTs for government services delivery to citizens and businesses. The term originally proliferated as the narrower-scope e-government, which is about making a basic feasible subset of government services accessible over the Web. Services are classified into four categories: G2C (Government-to-Citizen), G2B (Government-to-Business), G2E (Government-to-Employees), and G2G (Government-to-Government). E-governance is the broad concept that accounts for governing the enabling technology (ICT) as well; so as to look forward overall to corruption-free governments, possibly operating round-the-clock, where governance works for the benefit of the governed.

A complete e-government realization is yet far from realistic due to logistic and bureaucratic challenges. In government service delivery portals, we typically see a set of “not-necessarily-related” services listed. This may be attributed, in addition to the fore mentioned factors, to the challenge of process modeling complex relationships among and across services. A full-fledged e-government portal would require an information theoretic taxonomy (hierarchical classification) and ontology (associations) of all possible services. Applying these principles, even when only some of all services can be practically delivered, strongly aids the portal users’ perspective and help them efficiently navigate through offerings to relate and prioritize the order of requesting possibly related or inter-dependent services.

A 2013 ITU report on regulatory reform evolution in the Arab region provides extensive coverage of issues like spectrum and bandwidth management, infrastructure access, service access strategies, green ICT, cybercrime and cyber security, financial services offering, education, and healthcare. Automating e-governance, in its broad sense that includes regulatory, is a more complex matter since the regulations as such are evolving as the technology evolves, as opposed to well-known governmental services. Several regulatory aspects may be realized in the G2B and G2G contexts, so that eventually the e-governance portal emerges per its inclusive definition.

The United Nations “E-Government Survey 2012” advised there was no state that had a single sign-on integrated port, and cited ten countries that came closest to a clear one-stop shop portal with information and participation services, among which there were three GCC states: Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE. The same report has published rankings based on an “E-government development index,” whereby among the leaders Korea topped with a score of 0.92, US ranked 5th scoring 0.86, and Japan 18th scoring 0.80; while among the emerging leaders UAE ranked 28th scoring 0.73 and Saudi Arabia 41st scoring 0.66. Scoping at the Asian continent, grouped into seven regions, Western Asia ranked second next to Eastern area. Ranking of e-government leaders in Asia showed UAE as 5th, Bahrain 6th, and Saudi Arabia 9th. The report starred UAE for having advanced 21 positions up compared to the 2010 rank: “With double the population and three quarters of the GDP per capita, the United Arab Emirates has achieved around the same level of online services as those offered in Norway, a global leader at the 8th position.”

Both feasibility and effectiveness of e-government portals relies on the state of ICT infrastructure and the Internet coverage and literacy among the population. With reference to a 2012 publication at the “European Journal of ePractice,” authored by Dr. Ali M. Al-Khouri, Director General, Emirates Identity Authority, GCC states far exceeded the world overall Internet penetration of 33%, as well as the total middle east penetration of 36%. Here are the numbers: UAE (80%), Qatar (78%), Bahrain (52%), Oman (49%), KSA and Kuwait (equally 42%).These high percentages make GCC states among the worldwide readiest for e-governance.

Multi-channel service delivery considers four channels: Web, public-private partnership (PPP), kiosks, and mobile. 100% of high income countries offer direct web access, 68% offer services through PPP, 46% offer services in kiosks, and 66% offer mobile-based services. This diversification is meant to facilitate access depending on time and place, and on Internet usage literacy. However, all of these at the end rely at web technologies regardless of who actually requests the service (on behalf of whom) and whether that takes place from a PC or a smartphone.

The IT for e-government implementations isn’t much different from that often present in the large enterprise. In the fundamental sense, SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and Web Services are key technologies for the overall information architecture. SOA is a software architecture design pattern that comprises software application components, whose function aims at providing services to other applications. Web Services implement SOA by providing XML-based specifications for communication protocols, messaging constructs, and service registration.

In a more commercial sense, expect to see the usual enterprise platforms: database, customer relation management, enterprise resource planning, document and record management, business process management, and an API library for third party services access application development. Consequently, software products and solution vendors may have offerings that are tuned and optimised for government works. Oracle iGovernment features a complete framework for advancing e-government IT infrastructure beyond the conventional. IBM “Institute for Electronic Government” and Microsoft “Citizen Service Solutions for Government” feature vast resources to reach out for related solutions and product offerings.

Idenity management is a key prior requirement for a trustful e-government operation. It’s a techno-organizational framework that essentially adopts a highly dependable PKI infrastructure and a well-planned smart (digital) ID card ownership by every citizen. This framework is applied in most EU and GCC countries, as well as others around the world; to affect digital signing, identity validation and verification. In addition, biometrics is used in the US and the UK. Tokens may be used in conjunction to involve a time stamp. The user must hold and present information for authenticating identity and for authorizing access to services. Remote authentication takes place via a hardware Secure Access Module (SAM), which is either a slot for SIM or a chip that receives card information and credentials via RF. Further to identity management, which is a very complex topic in its own right, establishing trust between governments and service consumers requires strict information security and privacy measures.