Effective standards are essential for local and central government services to interact electronically and provide a better offering to the public.
Standard-based computing is a recognised approach to cost reduction, meaning no more re-inventing wheels and an easier way to achieve the joined-up thinking that precedes joined-up services. It will also cut timescales for the implementation of service improvements.
Creating effective standards is the purpose of the Electronic Government Interoperability Framework (e-Gif), and the new e-Gif Accreditation Authority is a major boost to an ongoing drive by the Office of the E-Envoy and the Office of Government Commerce to improve the performance and value for money of government computing.
The accreditation service, to be run by the National Computing Centre, will, for the first time, make it possible for public sector purchasers to clearly identify suppliers that are committed to e-Gif compliance in practice.
Also for the first time, it will be possible for public sector departments, individuals and internal service delivery teams to get recognition for their skills and competencies through e-Gif compliance.
Together, the Accreditation Authority and the existing e-Gif certification scheme will create a community of e-Gif practitioners that encompasses both sides of the purchaser/supplier partnership.
This is an exciting opportunity for the UK IT industry, which should embrace the framework wholeheartedly. Not only will compliance with e-Gif have a positive impact on government IT projects, it will increase IT interoperability. This will stimulate new thinking and open up new market opportunities, products and services, along with opportunities for creative public/private possibilities.
UK companies' market opportunity for innovative new products and services extends well beyond our shores. Within the EU (now 25 states and 420 million people), the UK's e-Gif programme is seen as a leader and there is a complementary European Interoperability Framework in development in preparation for pan-European inter-governmental systems. UK IT firms that offer e-Gif-compliant products and services will position themselves for European contracts.
The spirit and concepts of frameworks such as e-Gif have wider application than just the public sector. Business and citizens' use of IT are just as sensitive to issues of effectiveness, flexibility and future-proofing. Indeed, the range of uses of IT in these domains is probably greater than in government and so too, therefore, the potential for benefits and new products and services.
As we enter the new age of interoperability in IT systems, the e-Gif Accreditation Authority will ensure that UK organisations and individuals who fully embrace interoperability are professionally recognised for their expertise and their forward thinking.
l Michael Gough is group chief executive of the NCC