UK business may be seen as a hotbed of innovation, yet there is still some way to go as far as the use of IT is concerned, says John Higgins.
The recent World Public Sector Report 2003, entitled E-government at the Crossroads, rightly drew attention to the UK's success in developing "e-participation".
But it also highlighted that, in terms of readiness to provide services and products online and having the infrastructure and education to support it, the UK is lagging behind.
The UK is seen as a hotbed of innovation with successful global companies. In healthcare, for instance, it has been fascinating to see the market grow with the NHS and to see UK suppliers of healthcare IT become some of the best in the world.
Whether through managing patient records electronically, booking appointments online, diagnostic tools or the use of digital imaging for x-rays, IT has made and will continue to make a difference in healthcare.
Yet there is still more to do. Consider the statistics: 20 government departments; more than 400 local authorities; 750 services provided by local government and 520 centrally; and five billion transactions undertaken annually for 60 million citizens.
This spells out the scale of the challenge to achieve the prime minister's objective of making all public services available electronically by 2005.
Meeting this internal target will not be enough. The UK must be able to develop and implement policies to enable it to compete at a global level.
Eastern Europe, India and China present a challenge to the existing economic order. Similarly, in the US, stock markets are becoming more buoyant and there is an expectation that the US will lead the global recovery.
For UK IT directors the challenge is clear. Not only are they being tasked with finding new ways to increase competitiveness, they are also having to do this within seriously constrained budgets.
So how should the UK respond? As an industry we recognise the critical role that IT will play. Our challenge now is to educate business, to show it the true potential of technology.
Yet we are still a long way away from having a nationwide broadband infrastructure that can deliver, and even further away from a business community that truly understands the benefits greater bandwidth will bring. Do people really understand the benefits of technology? Will they be able to use IT effectively? And are they ready to embrace change?
Government policy-makers must be aware that their decisions will have a profound impact. Our industry is a great stimulus to the knowledge-driven economy. We need to remain focused on developing the richest possible value proposition.
What do you think?
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John Higgins is director general of supplier group Intellect