SCMP Tuesday, April 3, 2001
Online service slow to find favour with public
An ambitious official scheme to promote online government and commercial services has been slow to catch on with the public despite offering wide-ranging services.
The Electronic Services Delivery (ESD) scheme, launched in mid-December, offers a Web site for services from 28 government departments and commercial sectors.
But since the system's launch on December 9, only 170,000 transactions - or 2,500 deals a day - have been made, according to the scheme's contractor Hutchison Global Crossing.
The popular Hang Seng e-banking service registers a daily transaction rate of 60,000.
On average, the bilingual ESD portal is visited 50,000 times a day by the public, which translates into a hit rate of about 600,000 for Web page viewing. The South China Morning Post's daily hit rate stands at about three million.
"The low usage is to be expected - it takes getting used to before the public embraces such an online service," said Democrat Sin Chung-kai, who represents the information technology sector.
With an investment of $123 million from the Government, the scheme allows public access via personal computers and interactive telephones for services ranging from booking wedding venues, vehicle licensing, voter registration and bill payments.
The round-the-clock services, designed to boost public confidence in e-commerce, are also available at more than 80 kiosks in MTR stations and supermarkets.
The machines, each costing $1 million, are invested in and run by Hutchison Global Crossing, which is entitled to a commission for each successful transaction.
But Alan Siu Yu-bun, Deputy Secretary for the Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau, said the current usage rate was satisfactory given that the scheme was in its infancy.
"The hit rate compares well with that of the government information centre Web site. As the portal is relatively new, it will take time for the public to familiarise themselves with it," he said.
Mr Siu said it would be premature to make a judgment on the cost-effectiveness of the ESD kiosks.
A spokeswoman for Hutchison Global Crossing said the ESD services most frequently used by the public included job searches, tourist information, and payment of government bills.
The least popular services were applications for business registration certificates, appointments for driving tests, and reservation of registration marks for government auctions. The spokeswoman said usage rates for such services were unavailable, but admitted they were very low.
Another type of service that has received a lukewarm response is one that requires users to apply for electronic security signatures before conducting transactions. These include driving-licence renewal and voter registration.
To date, only 1,500 transactions have been made, and only 12,000 people have obtained "e-cert" security signatures from the Post Office.
"For many people, e-cert involves a very complicated procedure and it's normal that people don't use it. There's a long way to go before it is widely accepted," Mr Sin said.
A bureau spokeswoman said: "It just takes time to promote e-cert, which is not that complicated once you get the hang of it. We have made much headway in promoting it - the number of e-certs issued has increased by 140 per cent since it was launched."
Mr Siu said a new round of the promotion campaign would be launched soon to promote the ESD scheme further.