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eGovernment all the same? Starting with municipalities

Welcome everybody,

The coming time I will be writing about topics concerning amongst others eGovernment. I want to start this first time with a general post about eGovernement in municipalities. Because municipalities seem to have a lot of trouble arranging their online activities. Of course these organizations cope with a lot of challenges that other organizations don’t encounter. While I’m saying that, I immediately wonder what exactly these differences are. What makes online activities for municipalities so challenging?

  • First of all I believe that municipalities lack (the feeling of) direct competition. Municipalities do in fact compete but on the longer term. Therefore competition is perceived as being less direct. On the longer term indeed there is competition; you need to be an attractive place for civilians to live in and for entrepreneurs to develop economic activities. The government aims to increase this feeling of competition by introducing e.g. public websites like the “Governmental Monitor“. By introducing public listings, the feeling of comptetion increases. As performance is now publicly measured against other municipalities.
  • Broad target market. Municipalities lack a clearly distinguishable market. A webshop or website mostly focuses on a market with clear demographical demarcations like e.g. “women within the age category of 25-45, living in the west of the country who adore pets“. What exactly is the target market for a municipality? All residents between 18 and 85 living with the region of that municipality? So, this includes all men, women living within this region. Oh, and then we also have entrepreneurs and organizations who develop economic activities within the municipality but who don’t necessarily need to live within the boundaries of the municipalty. So the only ‘real’ demarcation for this target market definition seems to be ‘living and/or developing economic activities within the boundaries of the municipality‘. This broadly defined definition makes it incredible hard to develop clearly optimized online activities.
  • Increasing need for information provisioning. From the level of national governments municipalities receive more and more demands for information provisioning to their civilians. What this means is that municipalities have to develop clear structures on their website. Generally this is something that should happen before developing the online activities. But in this case the demands mostly came after the development of these online activities, leaving municipalities with the question of redeveloping or adjusting their online activities to meet these demands. In most cases it seems best to choose the latter as new demands will follow. A nice list of these information provisioning demands can be found in the aforementioned “Governmental Monitor” criteria.
  • Being the webshop. Websites of municipalities now also have the function of a Webshop. This is a difficult one. Because this means that the organization needs to be ready to be a webshop. What does this mean? Well, we have products that can be sold over the web, but this means that e.g. identification needs to happen in other ways. Forms need to be filled in electronically and sent electronically. This also means that some kind of ‘customer support’ needs to be present. How do you fulfill your customer needs? And are they really customers? Reflecting on the lack of competition we just discussed there is little pressure to take ‘customer’ needs into account. And most importantly: what does it mean to be a webshop as opposed to an offline service provider? Is this webshop a substitute or is it complementary to your offline activities? this poses whole new challenges to being a ‘municipality’.

I believe these are the most fundamental challenges that municipalities encounter in their online activities. These challenges form the basis of many troubles these organizations encounter. These will form the basis of many of the problems that will be discussed in future posts. What do you think? Do you recognize them?

Comments (2)

Thanks for your analysis. On my side, I believe that municipalities do not have a strategic approach for on-line services. When you look at their websites, it is mainly an institutional organisation of information instead of a service-oriented to citizens approach. They do not figure out yet how to get a return on investment: cost effectiveness, reduction of process, reduction of queuing, better and faster income… the benefits are potentially enormous. We at CTM try to help the municipalities with this strategic approach of the Web first, then in assisting them to the deployment of tangible, cost effective and efficient e-solutions.
Second reason I may notice is their lack of internal IT organisation, mainly at project management level. There is definitely room for SaaS applications when speaking about local eGov applications.

Hi Marc,

Thanks for your contribution. I totally agree with you that municipalities can benefit from the development of online activities. I believe that the lack of strategic orientation that you describe can be attributed to the lack of perceived competition that I described.

In the Netherlands most municipalities don’t know what is actually expected from them on the web. Are they a webshop? Are they an information provider? Being both makes the online activities of these municipalities rather challenging.

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