Strategy Clinic: Consult the expert

UK organisations have many dealings with local and central government even if these are limited to no more than filing tax...

UK organisations have many dealings with local and central government even if these are limited to no more than filing tax returns. How do you see online transactions with government becoming more accessible while remaining secure?

E-enabled target is not realistic
All the government's dealings with citizens and businesses should be e-enabled by 2005. Since that target was set - by the Government - very few transactions have actually been delivered (progress on providing government information online is much more impressive).

Whether the target is practical or not, how much it will cost, where the money is coming from and whether there is sufficient public demand to justify such a comprehensive target is not known.

The filing of tax returns online is a case in point. Online deposit of personal tax forms sounds like a good idea and was one of the first transactional services to be offered. Unfortunately, it was beset by technical problems, which deterred many users before they could discover the benefits.

Having sorted out those problems, the Inland Revenue has discovered that public take-up is still low. Perhaps it is still suffering from the initial bad publicity or perhaps tax payers just don't want to handle their affairs this way. Did the Inland Revenue ever take the trouble to find out?

If the 2005 target is to be realistic there has got to be some rapid progress in areas like security, where the Government should be taking a stronger lead. Before it hands over money to someone, whether it be for individual learning accounts or housing benefit, it needs to be sure it is giving it to the right person. A national identity card including biometric data is probably the only practical solution. Once the technology is in place, civil liberties issues have been addressed and a practical solution delivered, we can start setting some realistic targets. How about 2015?
Roger Marshall, Elite

Accessibility will improve over time
Accessibility will increase as more services become available online and with the variety of means to access these services. Many councils are implementing new, large-scale back-office financial systems capable of receiving online payments, including council tax, and these will have an impact on service delivery.

The e-government agenda requires more access channels and many areas will find that the kiosk approach will not have the immediate input expected. In the long term, interactive digital TV is more likely to play a part than PCs, particularly in areas where computer uptake is low.

Secure access will only be possible where information security management is treated proactively and covers the technical and organisational aspects. In the UK, roll-out of public key infrastructure, strong encryption technology and Pin identification are already being implemented to differing degrees. Standards such as BS7799/ISO17799 also provide security frameworks.
Richard Woods, NCC Global

Encourage business to use the Net
The key to increasing the accessibility of electronic transactions between organisations and government lies in creating an incentive for businesses to communicate electronically. In other words, "What's in it for me?" It's an obvious question, but most people (and organisations are just big groups of people) will generally only change their established patterns of behaviour if there is a good reason for doing so. Applying this to the business world, the government needs to ensure that electronic communication gives business an advantage over the status quo.

For example, enabling organisations to reduce the amount of time they spend on preparing the annual corporation tax return through an efficient, well-thought-out and streamlined process would work. Alternatively, government could offer financial incentives for organisations to adopt new forms of electronic communication.

This is unlikely - a more frequently encountered approach is the big stick: in other words, it will cost you time or money if you do not comply.

But what about security? Surely this is holding back growth in this area? Well, maybe not. There is little evidence to show that existing methods of protecting data in transit are unsafe. If the Government can show that its Web sites and data collection processes comply with best practice, then that is probably good enough - provided everyone knows that is what is being achieved. Hence the importance of BS7799 and the government's push to have all central and local government sites comply.
David Hughes, Deloitte & Touche

Generating public confidence is key
The Office of the E-envoy has an ambitious aim to make all government services available online by 2005. It is doing everything it can to ensure that public confidence in the security of the Internet is improved and sustained. Initiatives such as Trust UK and the T scheme for approved trust service providers go some way towards accomplishing this. The move towards increasing the reach and extent of the Internet is irresistible and will result in ever more government pressure being brought to bear to force the private sector to come up with new ways of dealing with Internet security. If you're in the Web security business you should do well in the long term. I believe that increasing numbers of us will discharge our public responsibilities like voting and tax returns over the Web and that by 2005 we will wonder how we used to do it, just as we wonder now how we used to manage without e-mail. At the end of the day, we will use the Internet and solve the problems.
Hugh Macken, Certus

E-envoy Web site can help
Government, both local and central, faces a major challenge in balancing accessibility against security, while making access as standard as possible. Much work has already been done to address this challenge.

The e-envoy Web site at www.e-envoy.gov.uk/ shows both current and future online services and describes access to these through two Web sites, the citizen portal at www.ukonline.gov.uk for information and the Government Gateway at www.gateway.gov.uk/ for communication.

Four levels of security are used for these sites:
  • None at all for most portal services

  • User name and password for advanced portal services

  • Password, allocated user name and personal identification number (Pin) for some gateway services

  • Digital certificate and Pin for advanced gateway services.

With the current status of security technology, this seems a sensible range of provision and should enable a government service provider to select an appropriate level of security. One problem is that the user must pay the (not excessive) cost of a digital certificate to use the most secure services, which may deter some.
Andrew Davies, Cranfield School of Management

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