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Study: Government sites "sophisticated"

A study by consulting firm Accenture finds that world goverments are "increasingly sophisticated" in their use of the Web. Tops are Canada, Singapore and the United States.

Treating citizens more like customers has helped governments around the world become "increasingly sophisticated" in their use of the Web, a new study has found.

Consulting firm Accenture, which issued its third annual global eGovernment report this week, found that customer relationship management was "a mere blip on the radar" a year ago. But researchers in the past year found "a growing tendency to treat citizens and businesses like customers and to introduce the techniques (of CRM) to government service delivery," according to the report.

The report ranked 23 countries in terms of overall "maturity," or the level at which a country has established an online presence. The top three countries were the same as a year ago, with Canada in first place, Singapore a close second and the United States third.

While the gap between countries at the top and bottom of the report has grown wider, the overall level of maturity has risen since last year, with 13 of the countries attaining a ranking of 40 percent or higher. Last year, only top-ranked Canada and Singapore had a rating of 50 percent.

The report also looked for innovative Web practices and found examples in a few areas of government, including:

• Online job banks. Sites in the United States, Australia, Norway and Japan let workers create and submit resumes and allow employers to search for candidates. A Canadian Web site allows citizens to register for unemployment insurance online.

• Revenue services, including tax agencies. Ireland's Revenue Online Service, for instance, lets citizens file and pay taxes online, make enquiries about their current and past tax positions, and obtain digital certificates when completed. Similar programs are in place in Spain, France and Canada; Belgium's InterVat service allows companies to declare their VAT (value-added tax) online using a PKI-enabled site.

• Postal Agencies, which the report said are experiencing "fundamental change." Canada Post updated and relaunched its Web site to feature separate portals for businesses and consumers. The Finnish postal agency has integrated bill-payment services for telephone, publishing and credit-card companies, while also offering Short Messaging Services and e-mail.

The Justice and Public Safety sectors of government received the lowest scores in the study, although the authors said they expected increased demand for updates after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A few countries have made strides in this area. Australia, for instance, allows citizens to file applications and lodge documents electronically at the Federal Court of Australia, whose site also provides a history of the court, current practices and reasons for judgments.