20.03.2013

What Users Want From E-Government Services

VENKATESH, Viswanath | CHAN, Frank K Y | THONG, James Y L

One of the great consumer benefits of the Internet has been the development of technology-based self-service, which enables individuals to access services electronically, anytime and anywhere. Governments around the world have appreciated this phenomenon and many of them have started to offer e-government services, i.e., government services that can be accessed electronically by citizens without the need to interact with a human agent. However, there is still much to learn in designing e-service operations, including improving the e-service design and user experience with these technology-based self-services. 

While 98 per cent of countries have developed government websites, less than one-third provide transactional e-government services. It can be difficult to establish online services in the first place, but until recently there has been little research to address the particular needs of the e-government environment. A study by Viswanath Venkatesh, Frank K. Y. Chan, and James Y. L. Thong helps to fill that gap by focusing on what users want. 

They consider user preferences, including the attributes that influence whether a person will use e-government services and which attributes they prefer in different scenarios (i.e., online appointment booking and online tax filing). 

"The design of technology-based self-service is particularly important because it determines the key features of the services and consequently affects customers’ service experiences," they said. 

"But in practice many of these services have been designed without paying attention to quality as defined by the customer, resulting in poor design and user dissatisfaction. As a result, a majority fail to realise operating cost reductions and meet customer needs." 

The authors draw on previous research to construct a model for user preferences. They consider four attributes - usability (the number of steps required to use the service), security, technical support, and computer resource requirement - and how these attributes affect people’s intention to use an e-government service, their actual use, and their satisfaction with the service. 

The model was tested on 2,465 Hong Kong citizens who had just signed up for the government’s new SmartID card service. They were initially asked about their preferred attributes for an e-government service and intention to use this service. Four months later they were asked about actual use and satisfaction with the service. 

The authors found that Hong Kong citizens  considered usability to be the most important attribute, followed by security, technical support, and computer resource requirement. These attributes predicted both use and satisfaction with the e-government service. 

The survey also looked at their preferences for both online appointment booking and online tax filing, and found the results to be fairly consistent for both services. While it was initially assumed that people would rank security higher for tax filing, it turned out that they preferred the same levels of service attributes, regardless of the service type. 

The authors also identified four major population segments with different patterns of attribute preferences. While some citizens preferred higher security and others do not want the inconvenience of installing additional computer resource (such as downloading necessary software to access a service), all of them considered usability and technical support to be critical. Interestingly, there were few significant differences in the demographics of individuals across the segments, although this might have been due to the high Internet penetration in Hong Kong and required further study. 

The authors recommended guidelines for designers of e-government websites that could incorporate the preferences of different groups of citizens. For example, an online appointment system could consist of a maximum three steps, provide user instructions, use passwords for security, and require users to install specific software only to extend the functionality of their existing computer equipment. 

Another option might be to build flexibility into the websites so those who do not want to install additional software could access a text-only version, while those who are not concerned about this could access a fully-animated version. 

"The results highlight the need to consider the tradeoffs among service attributes, and to understand the preferences and characteristics of different population segments, in designing and promoting transactional e-government services," they added.

THONG, James Y L

Michael Jebsen Professor of Business, Chair Professor
Information Systems, Business Statistics & Operations Management