Government vs. Technology: Trustworthiness and E-Government

Shirish Srivastava, Professeur of Operations Management and Information Technology - December 15th, 2009
Srivastava - e-government

Key Ideas

• Trust in e-government depends more on trust in the government, than on trust in technology. Similarly, trust in e-business depends more on trust in the vendor than in its website technology.

• Website information quality is the most critical factor for fostering trust in and continued use of an e-system.

• E-government offers many business advantages, including transparency, and quick and easy means to fulfill administrative obligations.

Shirish Srivastava ©HEC Paris

Shirish Srivastava joined HEC Paris in 2008, where he currently teaches managing information systems. He obtained his Ph.D. from the National University of Singapore in 2008 and, (...)

See CV

While the issue of trust has often been consider­ed with regard to online commerce, Shirish Srivastava points out that it has rarely been studied in the context of e-government1. Yet the government context is highly significant, because people (and businesses) have no alternative but to deal with governments; they cannot simply take their business to a competitor! What does trust in e-government depend on? How do observ­ations about e-government translate to e-business? Srivastava and his research partners hypothesiz­ed that trust in both government and technology are critical to e-government success. But they discovered that the former is the most important factor. 

E-System Use: a Matter of Trust

Srivastava says the biggest surprise of the study was to find that trust in technology is not as important to e-government users as trust in the government. 57% of information-seeking (“passive” e-government users) study participants reported that their trust in the government’s e-system stemmed directly from their trust in their government. Furthermore, while trust in technology was important to the 43% of “active” users (those with greater stakes and involvement in e-government transactions—e.g. online tax declarations, payments, etc.), it did not outrank their fundamental need to first trust the government2. High trust in the national government is a main reason Singapore has successfully built up a strong e-government system. This suggests that companies not worry about constantly upgrading their technological systems, but rather focus on creat­ing trusting relationships with their customers. In Singapore, there is a government-run feedback unit where any citizen (person or organization) can voice opinions or make suggestions about national policies. The effectiveness of the system was demonstrated when the issue of casino legal­ization was presented to the public. Citizens were able to voice their opinions on the government website for a full year. As a result, they felt they had been heard, and their leaders were able to make a more informed decision. Microsoft makes use of a similar system, a “user’s forum” where people can report bugs and offer solutions. Both user and company benefit from this problem-solving system that reinforces customer/vendor trust and loyalty. 

Information Quality: the Cornerstone of E-Government Use Srivastava and his colleagues examined the relative significance of information, service, and system quality on and the continued use of e-government systems. While service quality is important for “active user” satisfaction, the most critical factor for continued use of an e-system by both active and passive users is the quality of the information provided on the site. “Informational inconsistencies or errors are tantamount to broken promises; they are extremely harmful,” says Srivastava. Because the goal of any e-system is continued use, Srivastava advises both governments and companies to display information well, update it as often as necessary, and ensure its timeliness and relevance. “Some companies pay a lot of attention to technology and neglect backend processes. But customers are becoming increasingly sensitive to CSR, for instance; they are increasingly more interested in a brand’s trustworthiness than in its technological savvy.” 

E-government and Business

“Government is very important for business,” says Srivastava. “If government systems are efficient, businesses have much to gain.” For example, in Singapore, setting up a company offline means dealing with approximately 20 different government agencies, an obviously time-consuming endeavor. In contrast, it takes just 15 minutes to complete the same formalities online. Such ease and efficiency explain why many international corporations have their head offices in Singapore; it also gives companies a good reason to get involv­ed in the issue. Srivastava adds that governments are also business customers. In times of economic crisis, they increase spending to boost local and/or national economies, presenting obviously valuable business opportunities. But in Singapore, for instance, companies must get on the IT wagon to win government contracts. Most government units interact with their vendors solely online, whether collect­ing bids or placing orders. Srivastava comments, “e-government has been underrated, but it can remove a lot of business hurdles. Companies are starting to realize this and ask for it.”

Based on an interview with Shirish Srivastava, his article, “Trust an Electronic Government Success: An Empirical Study” co-author­ed with Thompson S.H. Teo and Li Jiang, Journal of Management Information Systems , winter 2008-9, and the associated article, “Citizen Trust Development for E-Government Adoption and Usage: Insights from Young Adults in Singapore” co-authored with Thompson S.H. Teo, Communications of the Association for Information Systems , 2009.

1. In research, e-government refers to use of IT for interaction with citizens, including businesses.

2. Srivastava says numbers of active users of e-systems are increas­ing, so even though information quality is the most important factor for building trust, organizations mustn’t neglect to build trust for their technologies as well.

Applications in the workplace
Applications in the workplace

Managers and organizations can take deliberate steps to build trust among their customers and other stakeholders.

• Solicit feedback – Customer suggestions can solve problems and listening generates loyalty.

• Demonstrate leadership commitment and support – Encourage use of e-systems by providing training and even discounts for use.

• Cultivate IT literacy – Educating employees of all ages to use IT builds trust and motivates use.

Use e-government for the following reasons:

• Ease – fill out administrative forms any time, any where.

• Efficiency – online forms can be processed by numerous agencies simultaneously.

• Speed – this translates as shorter gestation periods before launching an initiative.

• Transparency.


The researchers conducted a study to discover the role of trust in e-government success. They surveyed 214 Singapore student e-government users, using a 7-point Likert response scale as well as open-ended questions to which 201 participants responded. The male/female ratio of participants corresponded closely to the actual Singapore Internet user population. Survey results were supplemented with five focus groups (total of 45 people) and 27 interviews with working professionals; there were few discrepancies between the comments of students vs. professionals. Singapore was an excellent place for the study due to its highly developed e-government system and technology-savvy population, 89% of which uses e-government.