E-envoy promises to deliver

Execution, execution, execution was the mantra Andrew Pinder had drummed into him at US finance house Citibank, and it will echo along the corridors...

Execution, execution, execution was the mantra Andrew Pinder had drummed into him at US finance house Citibank, and it will echo along the corridors of Whitehall now that he has been confirmed as the new e-envoy.

Pinder may not be calling for the heads of those who fail to embrace Tony Blair's e-government policies just yet, but he is determined to see words turned into action.

He has been acting e-envoy since October and has grown to relish the job he initially insisted would only be temporary.

Pinder would not comment on the selection process, but he only applied for the permanent post after the Government, unhappy with its 90 candidates, appointed head-hunters to trawl for more talent.

"I wasn't sure I wanted the job," Pinder said. "When they needed someone to step in temporarily for Alex [Allan], I was happy to do it. When I was approached by head-hunters, I thought 'why not?'"

The new e-envoy is good at being in the right place at the right time. The first phase of his career was at the Inland Revenue, where he rose to be IT director.

There he suggested outsourcing the Revenue's IT systems, but left for a job in financial services before the tendering process began and the contract was let to Texas-based EDS.

Pinder's subsequent career took him to Prudential and Citibank before he set up on his own. "This taught me a different perspective about big organisations. The way Citibank, for example, gets things done is different to the Inland Revenue.

"The last couple of years have also taught me what it is like to be out there, trying to start a business. It is hard."

For Pinder, these experiences are his key credentials. "I bring a wide experience of organisations, particularly instigating change in organisations. But I also bring an understanding of entrepreneurship and an impatience with the time it takes to get things done."

He has certainly won the support of industry heavyweights who, before Christmas, used the pages of Computer Weekly to express their disapproval of the delay in recruiting an e-envoy and their fears that the appointee would have an internal focus on government rather than the needs of UK industry.

Back in Whitehall, Pinder is keen to build on the work of his predecessor but the e-evangelist's role, which Allan had to play, will now take second place to a hardnosed drive to turn rhetoric into reality. "It is all about delivery," Pinder said. "We are now about making sure it happens."

Yet he knows he is still facing many of the same challenges that Allan identified in his farewell interview with Computer Weekly last year.

"We have got to deliver e-government and we've got some stretching targets there, but we will do it," said Pinder.

Like Allan, he insisted, "We want to make sure government services are delivered in a consumer-focused way."

The second big challenge for the new e-envoy involves using IT to drive up economic growth. In the next month or so, according to Pinder, the Government will announce a range of initiatives for its UK Online project, including new centres offering training and support and a package of help for small businesses.

There have been some successes. The Government Gateway went live last month, to the delight of Pinder, the surprise of industry watchers and almost no publicity. "The Gateway is a piece of infrastructure to deliver joined-up government," he said.

The timetable for its use, said Pinder, is determined not by technology, but by the natural timings of the departments that will use it.

Early adopters will include the Inland Revenue, which will allow employers to make their PAYE returns online at the end of April.

Delivery of the Gateway stemmed from another success, the process for reviewing major IT projects, which is overseen by the Office of Government Commerce.

The review process saw Compaq lose its preferred supplier status for the Gateway with the Cabinet Office giving Microsoft a lead role.

On a less dramatic scale, the review process helped get the UK Online citizens' portal, which was running months late, back on track.

These successes do little to diminish the tasks ahead. "Our first challenge is getting momentum behind individual government departments," said Pinder.

But success will still rely on ensuring everyone has at least some access to the Government through the Internet. "The real nightmare is the digital divide. We are determined to get wider access to people and businesses."

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Pinder's career to date

Civil service 1972-1990

  • Inspector of taxes, 1972-1976

  • Board of Inland Revenue: policy division, 1976-1979; management division, 1979-1990; under-secretary, director of IT, 1989-1990

    Private sector 1990-2000

  • Prudential Corporation: director of systems, 1990-1992; director, group management services, 1991-1992; director, systems and business operations, 1992-1994

  • Citibank: head of operations and technology, global transaction services, 1995

  • Consultancy work, 1995-2000

    Civil service 2000-present day

  • Acting e-envoy, October 2000-January 2001

  • E-envoy, January 2001-

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