Local councils slow to net

Earlier this week I delivered a keynote address to a Queensland conference which focused on online communities.

The conference organisers asked me to make specific reference to a national survey of local

governments and their readiness for e-commerce, which has just been undertaken by Dow Digital.

All local authorities in Australia were included in the survey and 326 responded.

The news is anything but encouraging and tends to reinforce the view that e-commerce is very much being driven by large departments of State and Federal Government and large corporations.

Perhaps the clearest conclusion of all is that the adoption of the Internet by LGAs in general is low end, ad hoc, tactical and undirected. There seems to be very little evidence of strategic intent.

There is a low uptake of electronic service delivery. There is little evidence that policy, planning or leadership supports ESD.

There also seems to be little evidence of interest by councils in taking a leadership position at community level. The level of access to the net for local government staff is very low as is the level of financial and human resources available for Internet initiatives.

In terms of specific findings the survey revealed that:

• 97 per cent of councils do not accept financial

payments over the net

• 10 per cent of councils indicated that they have no intention at all of developing Internet capability

• 52 per cent of councils have their own web site and the vast majority of these are fairly rudimentary

• 56 per cent of councils are budgeting to spend less than $10,000 per annum on web site development and maintenance

• In 79 per cent of councils, less than half the staff have desktop access to the Internet

• 77 per cent of councils are not involved in any State or Federal Government programs to deliver online services

• 70 per cent of councils expressed an interest in working with a regional group to develop an

e-commerce plan

• In those councils where a start has been made on Electronic Service Delivery, the most popular immediate services for delivery are building approvals (16 per cent), community information and notices (19 per cent), library catalogues (6 per cent) and hall and venue hire (41 per cent)

• Whilst 59 per cent of councils connected to the net were relying on dial-up access, 21 per cent had graduated to ISDN. 17 per cent of councils had developed their own firewalls.

It is clear that, in respect of the Internet, substantial investment in awareness raising, skill development and serious education is necessary for Australia’s vital third sphere of government.

The net is changing the fabric of our communities but it seems that the policy makers have yet to

recognise this phenomenon as a reality or a priority.

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