Our e-government programme is built upon a political rather than a technology principle, says Simon Moores.
UK e-government is taking on the appearance of an ideological struggle. Karl Marx once said that "the bureaucracy takes itself to be the ultimate purpose of the state" and, with around a third of our workforce employed by the public sector, they have a lot of bureaucracy to wade through.
Elsewhere in the world, other countries have been a little less revolutionary in mixing new technology with a political vision of public sector reform.
But here, e-envoy Andrew Pinder has admitted that government will miss its ambitious target for putting all its services online by 2005. We all knew this in 2002. What matters, says Pinder, is that sites deliver, but deliver what?
Pinder is quoted as saying “There are some brilliant offerings available — the JobCentre Plus site, where people can find virtually every job in the country, and the Foreign Office site’s travel information.
"But there are an awful lot of other sites which are very little used," he added. "The public sector needs to understand we’re about providing access based on our customers’ needs — not those which government sees as important.”
What interests me about this e-Marxism is that its costs and its consequences, like its arguments, remain largely unchallenged. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), in the face of fierce criticism from MPs, is outsourcing its IT services to the private sector under a deal worth almost £1.5bn.
One Labour MP, David Taylor, expressed concern that decisions had been made to outsource IT delivery before a departmental IT strategy was in place. He accused Defra's management of "rushing" to finalise its IT strategy by the end of March to meet its timetable for procurement.
"It is, therefore, a strategy to support the programme rather than reflect the true business needs of Defra," he told the House.
Examples like this exist perhaps because our e-government programme is built upon politics rather than technology, so it stumbles from one expensive departmental fudge to the next.
There are many examples of where technology and IT investment is working at the local government level, but these still represent silos of progress and certainly don’t offer citizens an impression of joined-up government.
What are we really trying to achieve other than build websites that deliver? You and I in business know that behind every website there has to be a fully integrated Backoffice system, a streamlined and joined-up process that doesn’t exist across our own public sector.
What makes Singapore different from Streatham or Sunderland, and what should we expect from an unrestrained government pouring expensive technology into what appears to be a bottomless pit of bureaucracy?
Karl Marx may have had the first word but when it comes to discussing the progress of joined-up government in the UK, the last word should go to Groucho Marx. “I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it.”
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in May 2003