In 1996, there were 50 official government websites among members of the United Nations. Today there are more than 50,000 with more coming online daily (Ronaghan 2002). Given this record of growth, it is no surprise that a Canadian survey of both federal and provincial governments found that 75 percent of provincial officials and 89 percent of federal officials saw their Internet initiatives as being "very important" or "critical" in the next two years (Sharp 2001).
A confluence of factors is driving interest in and adoption of e-government. Chief among these is the mass adoption of both personal computers (PCs) and Internet access service. Recent estimates suggest there are more than 500 million people worldwide with access to the Internet (Ronaghan 2002); this makes it much easier for citizens to communicate with their governments electronically. Assisting these demand drivers is the pull of e-government benefits envisioned by policy makers and citizens. Schoeniger (2000) asserted that "People now know how easy it is to do business over the Internet and they are demanding the same level of service from government that they have come to expect from the private sector" (as referenced in Stamoulis et al 2001). The potential benefits have prompted countries around the world to embrace the e-government concept as evidenced by a recent United Nations study that found 169 out of 190 member states (88 percent) offered some degree of information or transaction services online (Ronaghan 2002).
The purpose of this paper is to explore how a marketing perspective can improve e-government service delivery. In order to achieve this goal, the paper will first provide an overview of e-government initiatives worldwide, and then move to a discussion of e-government in Canada. The next section will focus on the potential to improve both the strategy and implementation of e-government initiatives by suggesting key principles for effective e-government service delivery. Finally, some conclusions and implications for public sector managers are presented.
Overview of e-government
E-government can be defined as "the delivery of government information and services online through the Internet or other digital means" (West 2001a). Some of the important notions in this definition are that e-government: 1) involves the delivery of either government information or government services; 2) the delivery is "online", implying both digitized information and an element of self-service; and 3) the Internet is the most important of several digital delivery channels that may be utilized. Other e-channels are the traditional telephone, cellular telephone and public kiosks.
The number of possible e-government services is extensive, but they all tend to satisfy one of three basic objectives: accessing information, communicating between or among parties, or completing a transaction. In satisfying these needs, four types of exchanges are possible: government-to-citizen, government-to-business, government-to-supplier (where a business is a vendor to the government) and government-to-government. Typical e-government applications include renewing a registration or license, searching for information to complete a research project, filing personal or business income tax returns through the Internet, downloading government forms instead of visiting a government office, and searching and applying for a job through a government-sponsored website.