With 2005 deadlines for e-enablement fast approaching, many local authorities are looking for a magical IT solution that can convert mountains of paper in to electronic documents in an instant.
However, the rush to get the job done has led to the purchase of expensive solutions which may be incompatible with existing technology, inflexible between departments and offer limited future investment. The meticulous planning usually associated with local authorities purchasing is in danger of being swept aside in the haste to get organised.
And, with IT spend in local government set to rise from £2.6bn in 2002 to £3.3bn by 2005, mistakes could prove costly.
Local government is committed to getting services online because the potential benefits for the public are huge. In the case of the planning department, people will be able to log on to a website and view applications, allowing them to keep informed of plans in their area and voice their opinions on the proposals.
However, before departments start thinking about how a website will look and feel, they need to prioritise getting information in to an electronic format. Once this has been achieved, public access can be considered.
While the temptation to act quickly is huge, stopping to ask a few key questions before purchasing expensive document management products could make all the difference to the success of a project. Can costs be shared with other departments? Will your "all-singing, all-dancing" system be able to converse with both existing technologies and between departments? Will employees require training to use the new system?
Another key factor to consider is flexibility – can the new system be easily adapted to meet changing business needs and what investment will be needed to achieve this?
Impulse buying may not only prove costly, it could even impede progress towards meeting 2005 deadlines.
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David Eldridge is business development manager (document management services) at Remploy Offiscope.