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Farming out rural internet services

17 September 2009 Inderscience

Online public services are providing small and medium-sized enterprises with new opportunities for adding value to their business activities. However, those in remote and rural areas often face limited access to such services and providers in these areas face serious obstacles in offering suitable online services.

A shared services environment that allows rural providers to offer online public services is being developed by computer scientists in Italy. The proposed system is reported in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Electronic Democracy.

Flavio Corradini, Alberto Polzonetti, and Oliviero Riganelli of the University of Camerino, explain that rural economies must ensure that online services are accessible as well as cost-effective. For instance, Italy has 6000 municipalities covering geographic regions each with less than 5000 citizens. These small authorities risk being excluded from e-government and other initiatives because they cannot necessarily secure adequate funds, they often lack adequate skills to support innovation, and there is a lack of proper technological infrastructure, the researchers say.

The team has researched the possibility of implementing a Shared Service Centre (SSC) that could achieve operational efficiency among rural authorities in a cost-effective way. The SSC is a collaborative strategy in which a subset of existing functions are concentrated into a new, semi-autonomous unit that has a management structure designed to promote efficiency, value generation, cost savings and improved service for the internal consumers of the parent corporation, the researchers explain.

"An SSC provides support functions across rural authorities," the team explains, "In this way, each authority can focus on its core activities and improve organisational competences. The result is the delivering of more citizen- and business-centric services." The system coordinates the exchange of information among the various information systems by leaving full autonomy to each authority and avoiding redundant activities, the researchers add.

"Our contribution is currently under experimentation and involves around 80% of rural authorities of Le Marche region, in central Italy," the team explains, "The regional authority, Regione Marche, has a coordination role because it hasĀ  the authority to manage the cooperation among underlying authorities (such as municipal districts)."

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