Top of the global e-government crop

The worldwide drive for e-government has produced a host of innovative technology applications. Ian Murphy looks at some of the...

The worldwide drive for e-government has produced a host of innovative technology applications. Ian Murphy looks at some of the best that is on offer

Broadband over fibre
South Korea

In October the UK government announced proudly that the UK had more than one million broadband connections. It estimated that 5% households now have fast Internet access.

In South Korea, however, 67% of households have broadband with most using 2mbps connections, four times faster than the UK's standard 512kbps.

South Korea's dramatic uptake of broadband is, according to a study by the Department of Trade & Industry and Brunel University, a result of government commitment, a cultural emphasis on the value of education and high housing density.

The South Korean government has prioritised the delivery of education services to the home via the Web. It offers subsidised computers to less well-off families and universal access to one-month courses on how to use the PC.

It has also encouraged the rollout of optical fibre networks, which has meant that most broadband in Korea is provided via fibre, rather than copper.

The rapid rollout of broadband was made easier by the high-density housing in South Korea's cities. This allowed telecoms companies to run fibre-optic cable into apartment blocks of up to 600 households at a time.

Tough competition in the telecoms market has kept prices down with operators offering 2mbps services from £16 per month and 8mbps from £22 per month.

The final boost for broadband, according to the DTI and Brunel report, was South Koreans' enthusiasm for online-gaming - the country has more than 21,000 clubs - and the widespread enthusiasm for video-on-demand.

Britain has a lot of catching up to do.

Web services

Governments around the world have a vision of getting their IT systems to link seamlessly with those of their partners in local government, agencies and the private sector.

Australia's Commonwealth Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) has turned part of this vision into practice by using Web services to develop its Job Network.

The department created a national network of 200 private, community and government employment agencies across Australia.

This first meant making its own systems interoperable and then linking them to those of its partners.

At the start of the project, the DEWR had a mix of mainframes and ran a range of operating systems including Unix, Novell and Microsoft.

This architecture meant that data interchange was complex and rigidly defined.

Lowest common denominator solutions were often installed, which reduced the functionality available to frontline staff and created problems for developers. It also resulted in formatting problems when data was moved between systems.

XML offered a way to overcome these problems and to share information with external organisations.

To speed the rollout of the Job Network, the DEWR commissioned the development of a series of Web services components, based on Microsoft's .net architecture and .net framework.

The aim was to build a set of middleware components that could be easily managed by developers and also provide flexibility for software designers. The DEWR is now supplying them to other government departments, public sector agencies, businesses and software developers.

As a result, different organisations on the Job Network can communicate seamlessly.

Some employers are also building the Web services components into their human resources systems so that the Job Network can be notified of new vacancies automatically.

The implementation of Web services means the DEWR no longer has to worry about how changes to its systems will affect third parties.

The result is a flexible solution that works for the DEWR, other government agencies and all third parties.

Smartcards for healthcare

The French government is rolling out smartcards to secure and manage healthcare information on all its citizens.

Initially it issued more than 39 million smartcards, one to every family, and are now extending this to cover every individual who possesses a French social security record.

The cards hold medical data on the individual, including blood group, allergies, drug treatments and major disorders.

A second set of cards is being rolled out to healthcare professionals that give them access to medical databases, rights to exchange data and to sign e-documents and e-forms.

The system is underpinned by a secure intranet that allows healthcare providers to read smartcards and transmit data.

In addition there are almost 6,000 smartcard readers available around the country to allow an individual to see, verify and update information on their electronic health record.

The smartcard programme had its origins in France's medical insurance system, which produced a mountain of paperwork.

The government estimates that more than two billion forms are completed within the healthcare system each year, creating massive administration and potential for fraud.

The new system is expected to produce savings of €1.22 (77 pence) per form.

Customer relationship management
Leeds City Council

Leeds City Council has put customer relationship management at the heart of its e-government strategy.

The process began two years ago with the creation of a call centre that offered the public a single point of contact for the council's social services and housing departments.

This has now been extended, using CRM supplier Siebel's partnership relationship management software, which provides a single front-end system to the council's databases and systems.

Some 400 council staff use the system, 80 in the main call centre and the remainder in 13 one-stop shops around the city.

One of the goals of the system is to ensure that all contact with the council is properly recorded and managed. For example, if a member of the public refers a child to social services, the council can compile a complete profile of the case and the circumstances surrounding the referral immediately.

The details are then instantly sent on to a social worker to be followed up. The system can also ensure that the correct procedures are acted on and in the right order.

"It is now possible to identify cases in hours as opposed to days without the need for prolonged telephone calls and unnecessary paperwork," a council representative says.

The council is buttressing its CRM strategy with the rollout next year of public access terminals in libraries around Leeds and will improve its Internet self service to the city's population.

Democracy via the Internet
Porto Alegre, Brazil

For more than a decade the city council of Porto Alegre in Brazil has tried to involve the public in decisions about its budget and priorities.

In the past, about 30,000 people a year have turned up to meetings to debate local priorities and the allocation of resources, and this process is now being underpinned by Internet technology.

Web sites and e-mail offer citizens a chance to view information and deal with local officials. This process is backed by four call centres that allow the local community to take part in the budget process debate and also to access local government services ranging from requests for street lighting or repairs, to official documents.

The call centres are run in partnership with government, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and community leaders.

E-democracy in Porto Alegre is built on a strong telecommunications backbone. The city now owns a 100km fibre-optic network using asynchronous transfer mode technology for the transmission of voice and data. Private telecommunications companies are now required to install additional cable ducts for future public use in each of their projects.

The local government has also set up an e-commerce service through a virtual mall - Portoweb Shopping - to act as a showcase for small entrepreneurs.

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