'Long, hard struggle' for IT directors

Sheffield City Council has been acclaimed by Socitm as one of the 10 local authorities with the most improved e-government...

Sheffield City Council has been acclaimed by Socitm as one of the 10 local authorities with the most improved e-government services.

Ken Bellamy, the council's head of e-government, said getting there has not been plain sailing. "There have been a lot of difficulties. The most frustrating part has been being able to release the finance to deliver these services. The money from the Implementing Electronic Government statements is peanuts for an organ- isation of our size," he said.

"Convincing [the council] to invest in a network to support the one-stop shop service, for example, is asking them to invest in something they cannot see, when they would rather spend the money fixing holes in the road. We have won those discussions, but it has been a long, hard struggle."

Another problem has been dealing with central government departments, said Bellamy. Although some are very good, others have proved more reluctant to put the concept of joined-up government into practice. Sheffield has built a one-stop shop for council services, but convincing central government departments to provide direct links to it has been difficult, he said.

Firm direction from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is now helping overcome the problems, Bellamy added.

Within the council, the e-government agenda has helped change the perception of the IT department and its role in the business, Bellamy said. "At first there was a level of scepticism. IT, as a driver for business change, has been in the back seat and seen as a necessary evil, but people are beginning to change that view. People are slowly beginning to see there are benefits." he said.

Go-ahead authorities such as Sheffield are set to offer citizens a comprehensive range of online services, but that is just the start of the real transformation that is needed, according to Bellamy. The major challenge that lies ahead is to change the back-end processing. "We have just started to scratch the surface," he said.

Despite the difficulties, Bellamy feels that the e-government programme has delivered real benefits for both the public and council IT departments and their staff. "It has been exciting and interesting work," he said.

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