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Lewisham trials user-friendly government services

Lewisham Council in London is testing Internet technology from Fujitsu Consulting and Microsoft in a bid to stem the Internet...

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Lewisham Council in London is testing Internet technology from Fujitsu Consulting and Microsoft in a bid to stem the Internet divide among its residents.

The EU-backed scheme provides computer-based assistance for new and inexperienced Web users to complete various Internet transactions.

The two-year project, called Avanti, aims to provide a user-friendly interface based on an animated character called an avatar. The character helps users of the system find local government services such as housing benefit claims and participation in council consultations.

Lewisham is co-ordinating the project with three further European cities participating in the initiative - Stockholm, Edinburgh and Ventspils in Latvia.
All the cities involved in the project are developing bespoke software for their residents' specific needs.

Microsoft and Fujitsu Consulting are developing the underlying technology platform for the avatar. Microsoft Windows and BizTalk Server are being used at present but as the project progresses, natural language and speech recognition software based on forthcoming .net Microsoft technology will be considered to enhance the system.

The project has involved setting up PCs as public access points in libraries and municipal offices. The aim is to provide a customised service. Users will be able to choose from a set of avatars that are older or younger, male or female, or black or white. The tone of the conversation can also be relaxed or formal to match the user's needs.

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