Cabinet Office minister Ian McCartney told 300 public sector IT leaders last week, "We'll never, ever tolerate failure," as the Government laid out the technical standards for the delivery of e-government.
Launching the E-Government Interoperability Framework (e-Gif), McCartney said common standards were the key to transforming public services to meet the needs of the users.
The framework mandates all public sector organisations, including local authorities and the health service to use Internet standards, including XML (Extensible Mark-up Language), XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language) and Web-browser technologies, to allow different systems to exchange data.
McCartney's introduction drew both praise and words of caution from European IT industry leaders who were in London to support the launch.
Neil Holloway, European vice-president of Microsoft, praised the Government for a world leading approach, but said those responsible for e-government should expect failure in the future.
IBM's Piero Corsini repeated the warning. "We may make some mistakes," he said. "It is not an easy task."
Anwar Choudhury, deputy director in the e-envoy's office, who has overall responsibility for the policy, told the launch meeting that there would be no exceptions to e-Gif. It is, he said, "the answer to everything and everybody".
Anticipating reluctance by some public sector IT organisations, Choudhury said the e-envoy and the Treasury had £1bn to spend on IT-based projects which comply with e-government and e-Gif policies.
In addition, he said new government project review procedures would look for compliance and so would the National Audit Office, the public accounts watchdog.
Ann Steward, director of e-government at the e-envoy's office, warned that e-Gif was not a fixed technical standard but an evolving approach that would keep pace with industry developments.
A new version of the policy will be published next spring, but officials insisted the framework would always be based on open standards.
Suppliers' representatives all emphasised their companies' commitment to open standards, but some of those who advised on the e-Gif strategy admitted to Computer Weekly that it would be a constant battle to stop a drift to proprietary solutions.
Tim Dawes from Socitm, the local authority IT managers' organisation, spoke for many in the audience when he warmly welcomed the framework, but cautioned that many detailed questions remain unanswered.
Choudhury said some of those questions would be handled through the UKGovTalk Web site, which will provide agreed XML schemes for the whole public sector, tool kits for conversion to XML, best practice guidance and online support.
"UKGovTalk is there to help you. It is not just the Cabinet Office passing down policy," said Choudhury.
This was first published in October 2000