Promote IT benefits or risk losing funding, council IT managers told

Council IT managers must sell the value of IT investment to local politicians to secure future funding, a local government IT...

Council IT managers must sell the value of IT investment to local politicians to secure future funding, a local government IT leaders’ conference heard last week.

As the e-government deadline to get council services online by the end of 2005 gets closer, central government funding for local IT projects could dry up, delegates at Socitm’s annual conference in Edinburgh were warned. Local investment in IT will then become crucial for maintaining and developing e-services.

Colin Mair, chief executive of the Scottish Local Government Improvement Agency, said, IT managers should sell the e-government agenda to elected members to ensure sufficient funds would be allocated by local politicians. IT management should not complain that councillors do not understand IT, he added. Instead they need to demonstrate the value in what they do, so that it is not simply seen as a back-office cost.

One way to make IT appealing to members is to show how the internet and surrounding technologies could help the council to connect with citizens, Mair said. This would give politicians a reason to back investment in the broader IT agenda.

Meanwhile, in the UK there has been a shift of emphasis from e-government being seen primarily as a way of improving services to emphasising its role as a driver of efficiency and a way to reduce costs, according to fellow conference speaker Andrea di Maio, head of public sector practice for analyst firm Gartner.

E-government can reduce costs by arranging services so that users can serve themselves through digital channels, he said. The key to achieving this is to ensure that the business processes behind a service are made as simple as possible.

The concept of joined-up government was an extension of this way of thinking, and a way of creating "a new generation of public services which are low cost but of high value to the citizen", di Maio said. There are four levels of joined-up government, he said: first, processes need to be joined up within an organisation; second, they need to be joined up across tiers such as local, regional and central government.

Third, they need to be joined up between decision makers and policy makers, to help the policy-making process fit in with reality and public demand. And fourth, they need to be joined up with the private sector - say by using private sector portals as intermediaries to provide public services.

"Only when you have a plan in all four of these areas can you say you are working towards joined-up government," di Maio said.

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