Going public on the Web
In our final set of shortlists we profile the e-government, marketing and recruitment & training nominees. on this page, we bring the public sector into focus as we review the e-government award
The Government has set its various departments tough Web goals. The joint tasks of making government more efficient and effective are driving projects, with the best initiatives realising costs savings whilst also reaching out more extensively to customers, that is citizens.
Companies House is the government agency responsible for the incorporation and registration of companies together with the dissemination of business information for the various purposes of business analysis and risk assessment. Companies House Direct is the Web site through which these activities are being delivered online. The aim is to provide customers with access to the full public record of company information straight to their home or office PC.
Companies House Direct is a massive operation by any corporate or public standards. The image database contains more than 25 million documents, formerly stored on the comparatively inaccessible medium of microfiche. To date, the online image bank provides all records submitted on statutory forms since March 1995. Documents are being added to the direct service at the rate of 20,000 per day.
Success can be measured in a number of ways. Certainly hit rates are high at 1.4 million per month. However, since launch in September 1999, the site also generates revenue at over £600,000 per month. It cost about £1.2m to set up.
Future plans will first focus on rendering the microfiche accessible, but work is being done to identify new user-friendly features, such as 'document packages' to facilitate the common searches that users wish to carry out.
This solution is a good example of a service that has been designed more for customer benefits, rather than pure technical innovation. it uses technology to make day-to-day dealings with the public sector simple, easy, convenient and more accessible. It makes "high value" information that was previously difficult to access available to citizens in an easy to view format. Finally, it shows that customer service pays in that, by providing a more efficient, accessible service, a Government department has also been able to generate a significant revenue stream.
Lord Chancellor's Department
An important goal of the Government's Web-based initiatives is to open government services up to citizens. The use of Internet tools to make government information and support more accessible to formerly disenfranchised community groups has been particular successful in the work of the Lord Chancellor's Department. The community legal Web site, Just Ask! focuses on clearing away the complexities of administering legal advice by providing an online service that responds simply and directly to the questions people want to put.
Delivery over multiple Web-enabled devices was important if Just Ask! was going to reach the citizens it sought. An intuitive interface operates over a wide range of platforms and channels, including PCs, games consoles, kiosks and interactive TV. Ethnic minorities have traditionally been one of the largest groups excluded from legal services and advice. With its accessibility, there is mounting evidence that Internet-based technologies are providing an important bridge to reach these groups.
The site is available in the seven most commonly-spoken languages in the UK, supporting the claim that it is providing a truly citizen-facing service, with the added benefit to taxpayers that comes from the knock-on effect of reducing unnecessary visits to agencies and the avoidance of some disputes altogether.
To date, Just Ask! is delivering about 1,000 page impressions per day, though there is still a lot of work to be done in making its existence known. An early indication of the success of the site comes from the feedback that the site encourages. At least 50% of users rate it as 'good' or 'very good'.
Just Ask! is a superb site as it makes legal advice universally available. The site's design and navigation makes information easier to find and understand. Its multilingual nature ensures minority groups are not excluded. From a technical standpoint it is a good early adoption of common standards - the Unicode format is used to provide the multilingual feature. It is a good example of an e-government project in that it enables citizens to interact electronically with government.
Technology is commonly perceived as taking people out of the equation. But when imaginatively deployed it can actually work to make people more visible. This has been the effect of new mobile services developed by Surrey Police Headquarters. Traditionally, paper-work and bureaucracy has tended to take bobbies off the beat because they have had to return to their desks to complete these necessary tasks. However, with laptops in cars, the police are now increasingly able to do this work on the move. This has the double advantage of not only keeping them visible on the streets but also getting information onto systems more quickly where it can be used for catching offenders.
Crime intelligence is vital for successful law enforcement. To this end, Surrey Police has developed Surrey Police Information and Knowledge Environment (Spike), an online framework that enables officers to interact with the applications available at their desktop computers remotely. Spike is based on the Remote Officer and Vehicle Environment (Rover) concept, an interface that runs over a secure Orange telecommunications network. In short, the desktop is represented remotely via Web browsers.
At the time of writing, the concept is proven, having been piloted since 1997. However, experience of the total policing environment is only just beginning with the full phase of the operation, starting September 2000, taking the technology directly into the communities it will serve. A process reviewing work practices and culture will then begin to build an understanding of the way the technology can aid policing across the country.
Clearly driven by the desire to meet the demands of the public to have more police out on patrol, Rover impressed us. It is a great example of a public sector body developing good internal e-business against clear business objectives to become a more efficient organisation. It enables the force to mobilise its personnel by providing the means to access the corporate network without the need for specialised equipment. The project is a fine example of a public sector organisation using technology in order to facilitate a more efficient organisation, to meet 'customer-driven' objectives.