I had two client calls today that brought me back to my controversial line about the questionable future of government portals.
The first conversation was with the team responsible for the service portal in a European city. What they have observed is that professionals and enterprises use some of the services quite regularly, whereas citizens use them only sporadically and considerably below their initial estimates and expectations. This is not really surprising, as citizens interact with government primarily for information, and what they expect is to find what they need through a search rather than through a cumbersome and rarely citizen-centric life event model.
I challenged the value of pursuing greater web site integration (although the client seemed willing to take that route). I stated that, while some level of harmonization is desirable, e.g. in the page layout and content searchability, more effort on integration may soon hit the law of diminishing returns, especially when it comes to the coordination effort across different, independent departments. Ironically, the city has two different portals already, one for information and one for transactional service: when I asked why I was told that this was because they are owned by two different departments, which kind of proved my point.
The second conversation concerned the social media strategy for a tax and revenue agency. The presence on social media is seen primarily as an additional communication channel, practically a complement or an extension to the more traditional web sites. My answer to this is always the same: mimicking a government web site or portal on Facebook won’t make it any more successful than its traditional counterpart. On the contrary, it may create more embarrassment, as the usually abysmal number of friends and followers is there for everybody to see.
While there are encouraging signs in these and other recent client conversations that people start understanding the need for a different and somewhat simpler approach to government portals as well as to social media, I am pretty sure that supporters of life events, transactional citizen portals and institutional Facebook pages will still be very vocal. I also believe is that the IT industry has a collective responsibility to provide the right advice in this space, something that I am not entirely sure is going to happen any time soon.