Audit at a Glance—Chapter 2—Access to Online Services—Online services not meeting Canadians’ expectations

Chapter 2—Access to Online Services

Online services not meeting Canadians’ expectations

Comments from the Auditor General

Government online services are not focused on the needs of Canadians and accessing them is complex, and the government has no strategy to improve the situation, says Michael Ferguson, Auditor General of Canada, in his Fall 2013 Report.

“Since 2005, the government has not significantly expanded the services it offers online to its citizens. As Canadians rely more on the Internet in their day-to-day lives, they expect the government to provide them with online information and services that address their needs.”

“The government has estimated that savings can be realized in providing better online services for Canadians, but there needs to be an overall client-focused strategy, and departments need to work together to make this happen.”

What we examined

Our audit examined whether selected government entities offer client-focused online services.

The sub-objectives were to determine whether

We also used specific life events to determine how Canadians obtain services online from the government. We did not examine the processes used to establish and monitor service delivery standards.

What we found

There is limited integrated service delivery among departments (see 2.17–2.35)

We found that that the transaction services Canadians can use online have not progressed since the end of the Government On-Line initiative in 2005 for three of four departments.

This finding is important because over a third of Canadians who use online services also have to use another channel to complete their enquiry or transaction.

We found that CRA and HRSDC have worked with each other and eight provinces to share information through the Newborn Registration Service.

This finding is important because this results in better service delivery.

We found that for activities that are common across government, such as current address information, this is neither centrally managed nor shared among departments.

This finding is important because Canadians must know every department they deal with and advise each of changes. Not doing so could result in not receiving a benefit or important program information.

We found that the instructions provided on the Service Canada website about what to do for certain life events is not complete.

This finding is important because Canadians following the instructions provided by Service Canada on its website may not do everything they are required to do.

There is no government-wide strategy to guide service delivery (see 2.36–2.40)

We found that there is no government-wide service delivery strategy and that there has been no overall assessment of client needs and satisfaction since 2005.

This finding is important because the government has little information about what Canadians want and how they wish to be served across the departments.

We recommended that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in consultation with departments, should develop a government-wide service delivery strategy to improve services to individuals and businesses and facilitate the cost-effective delivery of services across the government.

The absence of an overall service delivery strategy is compounded by the lack of departmental strategies (see 2.41–2.45)

We found that only the CRA has developed integrated plans and strategies for delivering services. Service Canada does not have an overall service delivery strategy, although it has been working on developing one since 2009. Veterans Affairs Canada is halfway through its Transformation Agenda and has not yet developed a service delivery strategy. Industry Canada does not have an overall service delivery strategy. Each program within Industry Canada has its own strategies and plans.

This finding is important because service deliverystrategies that are client focused and cost-effective can lead to improved services that better meet the needs of Canadians.

We recommended that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Industry Canada should each develop their own integrated strategies and plans for the online delivery of services to Canadians that are cost-effective and client focused.

Departments are implementing government website standards (see 2.46–2.47)

We found that that departments are working to fully implement the updated Standard on Web Accessibility by the end of the 2013–14 fiscal year, as required.

This finding is important because the policy and the related guidance are important for departments to implement to ensure that online information and services are accessible to all Canadians and that there is consistency across government websites.

New authentication services are secure and less expensive (see 2.48–2.55)

We found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) had taken steps to ensure that the mandated authentication services are secure and also less expensive than prior service offerings.

We also found that this process was aligned with government security standards and Secretariat officials were satisfied that security risks were acceptable prior to implementation of these authentication services.

This finding is important because the total annual fixed cost for these services is expected to average $13 million for 2012–15. This is significantly less than the annual cost of Secure Channel, which was $51 million per year in the last two years of the contract.

Secure access to online services is frustrating for users to navigate (see 2.56–2.61)

We found that there are a number of steps in the process by which an individual or business must authenticate and enrol themselves with the government.

We also found that there are other authentication options available to individuals and businesses. The CRA developed its own authentication service for individuals, businesses, and tax representatives and Industry Canada offers at least two other authentication options depending on the service being accessed.

This finding is important because Canadians indicated they wanted ease of access and convenience. They wanted to navigate between online government services without re-enrolling or remembering multiple passwords.

We recommended that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat should work with government departments to provide a simple enrolment process for individuals and businesses to transact online securely and cost-effectively with the government.

Departments do not consistently measure costs and benefits of online service (see 2.62–2.65)

We found that while the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), and Veterans Affairs Canada have information on the overall costs of delivering services in their annual departmental performance reports.

We also found that there is no standard methodology in producing costing information.

This finding is important because the information is calculated differently by each department and is not comparable or usable across government.

We recommended that taking into consideration the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Guide to Costing, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Canada Revenue Agency, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Industry Canada should develop and use a standard methodology to identify and report on the costs of their delivery channels to support decision making.

Why we did this audit

Use of the Internet by Canadians has increased steadily over the last decade. In 2012, a Statistics Canada survey reported that 83 percent of households had Internet access, compared to 61 percent in 2005. Advances in technology have made it easier for people to go online to find information or purchase goods and services. Canadians rely more on the Internet to conduct business, and they expect the government to keep pace and provide them with online information and services that meet their needs.

An independent assessment in 2005 ranked Canada first as a world leader in bringing online government to its citizens. However, United Nations studies on the development of e-government show that Canada is dropping in worldwide rankings, most notably from 3rd in 2010 to 11th in 2012 among 190 countries included in these studies.

Response

The Departments accept our recommendations, and have responded.

Details of the audit

Report of the

Auditor General of Canada

Type of product

Performance audit

Topics

  • Information management
  • Public Administration
  • Science and Technology

Audited entities

  • Canada Revenue Agency
  • Human Resources and Skills Development Canada
  • Industry Canada
  • Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
  • Veterans Affairs

Completion date

24 September 2013

Tabling date

26 November 2013

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