Putting Technology to Work for Governments and Citizens

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 22, 2008 – The Internet has brought a new-found convenience to many ways the world communicates and conducts business. But for some local and regional governments (LRG), making the transition has proven challenging. A recent Government Insights study suggests that though myriad opportunities exist to use technology to bring information and services to citizens more efficiently and effectively, LRGs are often understaffed and don’t have the expertise to develop the solutions needed to serve their citizens effectively online. The same study also shows how decreases in tax revenue, caused by shrinking work forces worldwide, are pinching the ability of many governments to meet the needs of the public – especially at the local and regional level.

Ralph Young, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector

For over 20 years, Microsoft has helped governments address technology challenges to increase effectiveness, decrease costs and enhance interaction between government entities and citizens. Today at the Government Leadership Forum in Berlin, Microsoft announced the Citizen Service Platform (CSP), a new vision for the future of e-government based on the company’s experience working with the public sector. CSP is intended to help LRGs improve internal processes and delivery of citizen services. The technology that makes up the CSP vision is based on strong partner relationships, a firm understanding of market conditions and extensive work with each government. PressPass spoke with Ralph Young, vice president of Worldwide Public Sector, about the CSP and how it can help local and regional governments harness technology to their benefit.

PressPass: What did you announce today?

Young: Today, Microsoft is announcing a new strategy to serve local and regional governments: the Citizen Service Platform (CSP). As an always-growing set of new technology solutions tailored to match needs, CSP will make it easier for LRGs to modernize processes, increase critical efficiencies and augment online interaction with citizens and businesses. We envision applying CSP to help governments identify their own e-government needs and find solutions to solve them, while ensuring that their technology solutions are scalable for future growth.

To help ensure we had an accurate understanding of the challenges faced by most LRGs, and the solutions that could address those most effectively, we commissioned IDC’s Government Insights to conduct a survey of government officials and experts on the public sector. What we found is that more than 40 percent of LRGs* are acquiring, piloting or considering new investment in technologies such as search, intranet portals and Web spaces. More than half of those same governments already have some type of e-government solution in place, so these findings – and direct feedback – suggest that many governments are actively pursuing more advanced forms of collaboration between internal groups, as well as with citizens and other external stakeholders.

PressPass: What are some of the biggest issues facing the public sector and how do Microsoft’s past efforts in this space fit with the CSP vision?

Young: Currently, the biggest challenge is in improving customer service delivery. From large cities such as London to small municipalities like Aalter, Belgium, governments are communicating with citizens in a variety of new and innovative ways. Part of the problem is redundancy – often, numerous agencies in a municipality all have their own dedicated resources for storing virtually the same information.

We’ve worked with individual governments to find solutions to problems such as these. A great example of this is in Porto, Portugal, the second largest city in the country. Previously, Porto had 34 separate databases to track the addresses of its citizens, but Porto’s municipal government now uses a single database for citizen information. All the government’s agencies can access this database, which means the end of those 34 separate address databases. Consequently, people who have moved or passed away will no longer receive mail, and citizens who correct or update their address in one of the databases won’t need to do so in the 33 others as well. That’s just one simple example of the types of changes the CSP can enact for LRGs. And, though the change is small, it makes an important difference in the lives of residents.

PressPass: Where do you see the strongest market for the CSP? Do you have any examples of how government has benefited?

Young: The CSP is particularly useful for small-to-mid sized governments because so many of their current e-government solutions are partial and fractured. A key part of Microsoft’s CSP vision is to help governments develop a sustainable IT infrastructure through a variety of componentized solutions that are easily customized to meet the public’s evolving needs.

A recent Microsoft-sponsored report by Capgemini found that 80 percent of services supplied by governments to the public happen at the local level. Our feedback has found that the problem is often the agencies responsible for delivering those services have a hard time keeping up with expectations in developing technology that will increase their efficiency and make the most of their data. The goal of CSP is to close that gap.

To help make online services more effective at the local level worldwide, the CSP allows agencies to develop custom, adaptable applications based on local needs. Going back to the city of Porto, for instance, the city council needed an efficient solution to internally manage the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that city council meetings generated each year. Using the Executive Portal project, an element of CSP based on Microsoft SharePoint Portal 2007 technologies, the city council computerized the meeting documentation and streamlined the entire preparation process. The result was a simplification of meeting logistics and bureaucracy, better integration with the Porto City Council’s document management system, and a reduction in paper equivalent to 300 reams, or 11 trees a year – not to mention that the portal also allows for future scalability.

CSP also includes tools designed around Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) that allow small and medium-sized governments to create and manage their own online services and content. The municipality of Aalter, Belgium is using MOSS to develop productivity tools for case management and a set of online services that deliver content to citizens, tourists and political interest groups. Aalter has since shared its tools with four other governments across Europe, and those tools have also been translated into French, German and Italian.

PressPass: How will CSP change the way citizens receive services?

Young: There’s no telling what governments, partners and Microsoft can come up with in the midst of solving a problem. Initially, we hope to increase efficiency, so that will likely mean starting with simple interactions like applying for building permits, pet licenses or property taxes are strong candidates for becoming Internet-based which would save time, energy and effort.

Other custom changes to government interaction can be seen in the solution enacted by St. Mary, Jamaica. The town leadership wanted to deliver basic services – like an alert system for storm warnings – via SMS messaging, without the need for onsite information and communication technologies (ICT) hardware that can be cost prohibitive. In 2007, Microsoft worked with partner Spenta Consulting to develop a solution based on SMS, Office Live and Virtual Earth to warn St. Mary citizens of storms and hurricanes.

PressPass: What’s your vision for CSP over the next two to three years?

Young: The goal of CSP is to help local governments improve citizen services and obtain greater operational efficiency through collaboration and innovation, so we want to provide a platform upon which governments can run customized solutions to meet their needs and those of their constituents. Over the next two to three years, CSP will offer a variety of solutions and programs, such as performance management and contact tools, which we expect our partners and the public sector technical community to customize, addressing the ever-evolving needs of the public. Specifically, we see Performance Management and Identity solutions as being of importance. And, since our initial approach is to make CSP available initially in Europe and the USA, we will provide CSP to the rest of the world as additional languages come on line.

* Local and regional government with 200 to 250 installed PCs, the largest size cluster within small LRG.

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