Let's not beat about the bush: the agenda for e-government is a major challenge for the public sector as is the target to get all government services online by 2005.
Of course, there is another side of the e-agenda which Computer Weekly is marking with the UK E-business Month. I support this initiative because it encourages e-commerce which will increase the prosperity of the British people.
There are four key strands in the Government's reform of the public services:
A fifth strand - information age capabilities to improve and transform government - cuts across and enables the other four.
The key strategy work for e-government was published in a document entitled Information Age Government in April. It sets out our policies and plans for the transformation of public services. It contains crucial policy frameworks and guidance on key areas of the agenda; for example, digital television, security and authentication frameworks, Web sites and many more.
I recently launched the e-GIF (e-Government Interoperability Framework). This is a most important and fundamental component of the policy. Government in the information age cannot be completed without implementation of the e-GIF, which sets standards for seamless electronic government.
Joined-up systems working across the public sector are the keys to delivering better services that meet the needs of the citizen and business. e-GIF provides the opportunity to reach these goals.
The framework lays down what we need to do and sets out the standards and policies that will apply to all our new information systems and portals. They will give clear guidance to the private sector on what will be expected for connecting to and working with government.
The e-GIF is more than a set of clear statements of policies and standards. It lays out how we will work together in capturing innovations and capabilities so that we can develop policies and implementation approaches consistent with today's Internet-led environment.
We will also work very closely with our European partners and other governments. I hope that together we can take forward this initiative and make it a truly international collaboration that supports the basis for e-government globally. I know the work we are doing on agreeing Internet standards, and particularly XML schemas, has this potential.
The framework is more than just interoperability. The policies are fundamental to our desire to reduce the cost and risk of procuring new government information systems, as well as aligning our systems and organisations to the global e-revolution.
We are looking for the support of IT managers in implementing this programme in three ways:
The scope of e-GIF covers interconnectivity, data integration and information access policies.
The e-GIF will expand into new areas like mobile communications. The next issue of e-GIF is due in April 2001 - a working draft of this will be held on the Internet for your feedback.
We are working with government departments to ensure implementation is embedded into their normal business processes. The departments are submitting their e-business strategies to the Office of the E-Envoy this month and we will be looking for convergence with e-government policies and standards.
The e-government agenda, which e-GIF will enable, will bring about some of most significant changes to the way civil servants work for generations. It will also bring about a fundamental change in the way government interacts with citizens.
We are investing billions of pounds in public services. With that opportunity comes a responsibility for all of us in the public sector to make sure the money is used efficiently and effectively.
Electronic delivery of services will be the key. It offers real potential to not just save money, but improve the services we provide to the citizens by making them more convenient and accessible.
On 11 September, the prime minister launched UK Online. This sets out a dynamic way forward, backed up by £1bn funding, to get government online as well as people and business.
The centrepiece of the e-government drive is a new Performance and Innovation Unit report, E.gov: Electronic Government Services for the 21st Century. It puts in place new incentives, levers and structures to make sure the transformation happens within Whitehall. It means there will be sharpened funding and financial incentives to promote electronic service delivery as well as a government incubator to develop new service ideas.
It opens up the electronic delivery of government services to the private and voluntary sectors to encourage the improvement in service quality, to stimulate innovation and to provide value for money.
The strategy will ensure also that electronic service delivery is joined-up, with services focused on the needs of users rather than government departments, and delivered through various means, such as the Internet, telephone, digital TV or face to face.
We are already achieving results. The way ahead is firmly marked; a third of government services are online. These are being improved, and new ones developed all the time. Existing examples include health advice from NHS Direct, travel advice from the Foreign Office, find out how employment law affects you from the Department for Trade & Industry's site; and checking residential property prices by postcode at the Land Registry.
As we roll out more of these services through the Internet, it's vital we ensure Britain has the skills and opportunity so everyone can access them.
A key strand of UK Online initiative is ensuring universal access to the Internet by 2005. We are creating a network of online centres, where you will be able to surf the Net, and get advice and training if you need it. The prime minister has already announced the first 600 centres. We're connecting all our public libraries to the Internet with Lottery funding - the single largest investment in the library network since its creation 150 years ago. And we're piloting Internet access in post offices. By the end of 2002, we're aiming for more than 6,000 online centres across the country.
Within the UK Online programme we are delivering the Citizen's Portal. The portal will provide both information and online transactions through a single personalised entry point.
A key feature will be Life Episodes - an innovative approach to service delivery which will help the customer to navigate the complexities of public services at important times of change - such as having a baby, going away or moving house. The portal must be built on firm foundations and the standards in the e-GIF provide this.
The framework is a key enabler of the e-government agenda. This important initiative may not be the sort to grab headlines, but it reflects the vital policies we are implementing to modernise our services. The two main benefits that the e-GIF enables are creating 24-hour one-stop government and banishing bureaucracy in government.
The targets set for e-government are a challenge, but they are an exciting challenge. Our goal is to create convenient 24-hour government at people's fingertips, where people can get online, rather than having to wait in line for the information and services they need. People at all levels of government and the wider public sector are committed to change. And e-GIF will provide a solid foundation on which this can be built.
Ian McCartney is minister of state at the Cabinet Office responsible for e-government
Copies of e-GIF can be found at www.citu.gov.uk
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