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Over the last three decades, advancement in information and communication technologies significantly changed the way we interact and conduct business. The introduction of the World Wide Web in the mid-90s began the new era of exchanging information on an online platform that prompted government organizations worldwide to harness the use of this new technology to share information, collect public feedback, and improve customer engagement. Ever since then, public administration has been tasked with making information and services accessible electronically, making e-governance an integral part of public sector transformation. Anyone who has access to the computer and internet could avail government services from the comfort of their homes such as applying for a passport, submitting tax forms, renewing vehicle registration, and requesting business permits without standing in a line or filling paper forms.
The ultimate goal of e-governance is to create a foundation for transparent government, improve citizen engagement, and build public trust by simplifying the exchange of information using information and communication technologies. Delivering services over the internet have proven to be less expensive than providing them in-person. The Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 2003 required federal agencies to provide options to use electronic forms, electronic filing, and electronic signatures to conduct business with the public. This initiative set the foundation for electronic government and made services available around the clock reducing paperwork and printing costs by adopting electronic forms and digitized documents. The electronic routing algorithms with approved use of electronic signatures streamlined business processes and reduce overall processing time. The reduction in paper and printing supplies not only added to the savings but also helped sustain the environment and natural resources. Many of the US states also require local transportation authorities to adopt Sustainable Communities Strategy to reduce Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT). Providing access to government services over the internet is potentially saving citizens and businesses millions of miles of travel every year with reduced use of petroleum, decreased traffic congestion, decreased toxic emission, and an increase in road safety.
The overall adoption of e-governance shows significant improvement in efficiency delivering government services and cost benefits to the government as well as citizens and businesses. However, expansion of civic engagement has been challenging because of the “digital divide” where many citizens and businesses either did not or could not have access to the technologies or simply lacked the skills or interest to use the services. A recent study by Microsoft researchers revealed that approximately 50% of Americans do not use broadband internet. These statistics make it difficult to measure the success of e-governance deployment. The technology landscape is changing faster than ever. There are more smartphone users than home broadband users today. Pew Research estimates that 95% of adult Americans owned a cellphone in 2018 in contrast to the 50% home broadband users reported by the Microsoft research team. The use of smartphones and smart wireless devices is helping bridge the digital divide by bringing information to the users’ fingertips.
Texting and social media have become a mainstream form of communication and consumers are subscribing to the web contents of their interest. The broadband internet is expected to continue to play the role of the mother ship when it comes to government services. The use of smart devices will expand the service reach and increase the speed of government communication. Many of the leading technology products and communication companies are making significant investments in developing new communication tools to provide state-of-the-art services to their customers. The evolution of smart technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, intelligent assistant, and Artificial Intelligence will help automate the service delivery and expand the e-governance platform further by promoting self-service capabilities. The use of IOT technology to deliver citizen-centric services such as air quality assessment, smart traffic routing, and smart street lights has the potential to improve the quality of life. The data it collects in return will help government organizations to review public policies and make adjustments to build a sustainable future. Government adoption of these technologies is slow and will rely heavily on public-private partnership. It will also require prioritization of innovation and e-governance program on the strategic roadmap along with a sustainable funding model.