E-government moves on

By changing focus with its latest report, the Government's has made it as difficult as possible to compare its e-initiatives and...

By changing focus with its latest report, the Government's has made it as difficult as possible to compare its e-initiatives and judge its progress.David Bicknell reports

In its initial report on e-commerce last September, Ecommerce@itsbestuk, the Government set out three key metrics by which it could be judged: access, understanding and trust. However, this year it has ensured that it cannot be judged by the same criteria, by producing a report on electronic government instead.

E-Gov: Electronic Government Services for the 21st century attempts to explain why progress towards useful electronic government services for all has been patchy, and set out what needs to be done to put it right.

At the heart of the criticism is that electronic government - or electronic service delivery as the Government prefers to call it - needs to be "joined up", work across several departmental boundaries and break down "silo-based delivery networks".

It also needs to be delivered through a range of channels, backed up by support and advice, open to the private and voluntary sector, competitive, and driven forward by a government operating in new ways

What the Government eventually wants to achieve is already being accomplished in other countries.

In Australia, www.maxi.com.au offers a one-stop-shop delivery system, whereby a range of government services are delivered through the Internet, telephone and public kiosks. In Finland, the Government collects each citizen's annual financial information and makes a "tax proposal" to the citizen for agreement, saving them the effort of self-assessment.

If the Government manages to achieve its goal, you will be able to make VAT registrations online by the start of 2002, make company registrations online by April 2002, and get agricultural grants for farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy over the Web by December 2002.

If all goes to plan, by 2005 UKcitizens will be able to renew vehicle tax electronically. It will also be possible to make driving test, passport and benefits applications and file patents over the Internet.

However, before the Government can achieve all this, it will have to demonstrate a change of mindset on some key principles. The first is to give priority to areas that will make the most difference to the average citizen, where transaction volumes and user numbers are high, and where there is interaction, and not just the publication of information.

The second driver is that there must be competitive pressure to open up the electronic delivery of government services, with no exclusive contracts for the delivery of services, and no private sector monopolies.

The third principle, that there should be a push for efficiency savings, will be difficult to achieve, because the Government rarely gets its equations right over savings. A string of complex IT projects have been developed over the years on the basis of potential savings, only to prove later that the rationale for saving money was flawed. In theory, electronic service delivery should substitute rather than complement traditional delivery, but that is yet to be seen.

E-Gov in a nutshell

Problems

  • The Government is not doing enough to maximise use of its online services

  • Government is insufficiently open to private and public sector service providers

  • The necessary and institutional structures to realise the full potential of electronic service delivery are absent in the public sector

    Solutions

  • Give electronic service delivery a stronger strategic focus through regular six-monthly cabinet meetings to discuss progress against targets for e-government

  • Introduce new bonus schemes to reward individuals who successfully implement electronic service delivery

  • Funding for projects should be made conditional on robust departmental e-business strategies and rigorous appraisals of individual project proposals

  • A government incubator should be established to develop new ideas in partial isolation from traditional service providers. These ideas can be developed into prototypes, tested with a target audience, and then quickly rolled out

  • Read more on Business applications

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