With the advent of information technology and e-business, the quality of websites and their utilization to address the needs of many stakeholders is becoming critical. As Hasan and Abuelrub (2008) note, since the introduction of the first commercial website in 1994, electronic commerce has spread across the globe as a marketing, sales, and communication phenomenon, changing the operations of the business sectors. Taplin and Joseph (2012) observe that websites play an important role in the improvement of sustainable development for learning, benchmarking and cost reduction which are important to anybody including the business enterprises. This has compelled companies seeking to achieve significant benefits through ebusiness to create an effective and usable web presence to ensure successful interaction and communication with their employees, partners, and customers (Hasan and Abuelrub 2008).
The electronic presence globally through the Internet has revolutionized the way businesses are conducted and managed. To expand the markets especially in terms of investments opportunities and improve on productivity, the global appearance is vital today. This is not only making many business entities to create websites but also making governments the world over to rethink on their e-global visibility. In a bid to support government activities, most government bodies have now created their own websites. This is designed to help support government e-programmes, ebusiness and e-governance. Srivastava and Theo (2010) observe that recent years have witnessed rapid developments in e-governance as well as ebusiness within nations across the world, prompting many governments worldwide to adopt websites as an ingredient in promoting trade. The primary justification for the move towards e-governance--an electronic channel of service delivery that has proven tremendously successful in the private sector, is the belief that it holds considerable potential for positively transforming government service delivery (Morgeson and Mithas 2009). With the proliferation of websites and the commercial Internet services, assessment of website quality has evolved as an important activity (Grigoroudis ... et al 2008). Business organizations and governments throughout the world invest time and money in order to develop and maintain user-perceived quality websites. These websites should provide an effective communication channel and information access platforms between companies, governments and customers. Evidently, a website should clearly reflect the quality efforts undertaken by a business organization or government department; given that it is an important part of the connection with the set of customers (Grigoroudis ... et al 2008).
However, when the website does not meet the needs of the users, it attracts less users. As LaRose et al., (2001); Shao, (2009) and Paek ... et al (2011), note, according to the uses and gratifications tradition of studying media effects, internet or website users are known to be more motivated to search for information when they believe it can meet their goals and expectations. This implies the quality of websites and intention designed for are crucial matters today. But to what extent are the East African government ministries websites meeting the business information needs of the SMEs? How well are these websites designed? This study focused on these two important issues.
1.1 Problem Statement
It is undisputable fact that websites play a significant role in enhancing the web presence and providing a platform for access to relevant information. However, this does not mean websites should be created and hosted without following some basic quality measures. To be able to perform to the expectations of users, issues like content, design and organizational dimensions should not be overlooked. Saha ... et al (2012) ably note that despite the growth in adoption of technology or website or e-programmes by governments, the assessment of quality in electronically delivered public services has been relatively lacking. And if the role of SMEs in socioeconomic development of a country is well recognized by different countries or governments, then how well are their information needs being addressed using government websites? It is against this understanding that this study was instituted to assess the quality of East African government websites and their contributions to the provision of business information to the economic pillars of every country, which are the SMEs.
1.2 Objectives of the Study
--To assess the quality of the websites of East African Government Ministries responsible for trade
--To assess the provision of business information to SMEs through East African Ministries of Trade websites
--To recommend appropriate measures to be adopted for the design of quality websites and effective business information provision through Government websites
2 Literature Review
The literature review was restricted to two areas for the purpose of this research. These are:
Assessing the quality of Websites
As the dependence on websites for the provision of timely and useful information continues, many people (Grose et al., 1998; Vora, 1998; Ivory et al., 2001; Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002 and Moustakis et al., 2004) have picked interest in the study of the quality of the websites. McInerney and Bird (2005) earlier noted that the question of Website quality has been defined by different disciplines in three distinct ways:
* the usability of the interface (mediated communication);
* the information value of the content provided (library and information science); and
* the design of such a site (information systems and technology, media studies).
There can be a focus on the usability or the information value or the design dimension or a mixture of the three. A study conducted by Grigoroudis ... et al (2008) note that several research efforts, in the context of website quality assessment, have focused on the multi-dimensional nature of the problem (Grose et al., 1998; Vora, 1998; Ivory et al., 2001; Ranganathan and Ganapathy, 2002 and Moustakis et al., 2004). In several cases, website quality is related to the level of user expectations fulfillment (Grigoroudis ... et al 2008). Grigoroudis ... et al (2008) note that relevance; usefulness; reliability; specialization; architecture; navigation; efficiency, layout and animation are quality dimensions that are important in website quality assessment. Hasan and Abuelrub (2008) observe that most of the current studies on websites are either dealing with a limited number of quality factors or directed towards a specific web service. Thus, while there should be a considerable number and variety of factors associated with web site success, little research exists about the combination of these factors and services (Hasan and Abuelrub 2008). Lin and Joyce (2004) studied different e-commerce models of online auction websites. Six critical success factors for a successful online auction website were identified that included design and content, consumer education, security, customer support, online community, and market positioning (Hasan and Abuelreb 2008). Barnes and Vidgen (2001) deployed WEBQUAL in the domain of Internet auctions and identified three quality dimensions; information, interaction, and site design. In 2002, Lim, evaluated the impact of four relevant factors to e-shopping; usefulness, ease of use, enjoyment, and security. Results showed that perceived ease of use and usefulness of the e-shopping website have a significant direct impact on the success of the site. All the website quality parameters for assessment can be summarized by Hasan and Abuelreb (2008) in which they identified four dimensions for assessment, namely: content, design, organization and user- friendly. Because Hasan and Abuelreb (2008) summary of the relevant parameters for website assessment accommodates key factors, this study found it appropriate to adopte it. The study therefore made a focus on these four dimensions to assess the quality of the government websites.
* Content Quality Dimension Content quality dimension deals with the characteristics of websites' information (Rocha 2012). This dimension is the key dimension of any website, since it is the major source of value to customers (Singh and Sook 2002). The key elements and questions to consider under the content quality dimension include:
** Timeliness: How is the currency of websites' information and how much it is up-to-date? How frequently is the website updated? and is it clear when the site was updated?
** Relevance: To what extent is the websites' information comprehensive, complete and provided the right level of details? The extent to which it is informative, meaning, value added according to its audience, and fits to users' need to be assessed
** Multilanguage/Culture: Is the websites' information available in different languages? Or suitable for different cultures?
** Variety of presentation: Is information presented in different forms (text (.doc, .pdf, ...), video, audio, ...), so that the user can download the form that suits him/her?
** Accuracy: Is the information provided precise and there is no spelling errors or grammar errors? and the sources of information are identified?
** Objectivity: Is the information presented in objective manner without political, cultural, religious, or institutional biases?
** Authority: The credibility or the level of user confidence of websites' information is based on whether information is clearly provided about: the organization's physical address, sponsor(s) of the site, manager(s) of the site specification of sites' manager(s), identification of copyright sign, email to manager of the website exists
* Design Quality Dimension
This dimension concerns with the visual characteristics of websites' design that attract the users and encourage them to stay longer time...