Blair's Digital Britain vision poses challenge for IT leaders

IT-led transformation of public services has only just begun, according to the government.

IT-led transformation of public services has only just begun, according to the government.

With a general election looming, ministers have been busy setting out their vision of the future and the challenges they face.

Last Friday Tony Blair was set to launch the government's Digital Britain strategy at a meeting with the leaders of the UK's largest suppliers, although his place was taken at the last minute by e-government minister Phil Hope.

The Digital Britain strategy followed an unprecedented video message delivered by the prime minister earlier this year to the new super-group of public sector chief information officers, telling them IT is central to plans to boost services and cut the cost of government.

The Digital Britain strategy emphasises the need to move beyond the 2005 e-government targets to put services online to a fundamental transformation of public services through IT.

Key to this will be overcoming the digital divide in the UK and ensuring local authorities continue to invest in the IT systems needed to facilitate change.

The prime minister made the central role of IT explicit in his video to the CIO council, which was made at the request of the government's chief information officer Ian Watmore.

Blair said, "I challenge you, the leaders of the IT profession, to ensure we have technology to support the business transformation of government itself. It is only in that way we can provide modern, more efficient public services. You can help us transform public services in three ways.

"First, the people of this country demand we provide public services online and over the phone that are as good as anything they receive from the private sector.

"Second, is to help us deliver services which are efficient to run, secure, and protect privacy and confidentiality. Technology is central to our efficiency reform agendas as we reduce the cost of government across the board.

"Finally, the pace of technology can seem extraordinary in the changes it brings about. I am looking to you as leaders in the profession to build teams of experts to keep up with and harness this change. You have to be capable not only of introducing these systems without disruption but also of working effectively with IT companies."

Blair added, "The pace of reform is increasing all the time. We are more dependent than ever on technology for our success and protection as a nation. The role of IT professionals in government therefore has never been more important."

The CIO council comprises about 30 top IT professionals from central and local government, including Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT.

Introducing part of the video at the HC2005 conference in Harrogate last month, Watmore said the prime minister "understands we need to press on and implement more IT-enabled change, not slow down and retreat into our bunker because we have a few high-profile problem projects".

The video proved motivating for members of the COI council, who want to be "seen as people making a difference in the public services of this country, doing some of the most challenging things done with IT on the planet and doing them successfully", Watmore added.

£10m e-gov prize
The government is to establish a £10m prize for a local authority that outlines the best IT-enabled business change programme across local public sector services.

Authorities will be invited to bid for the prize and the top 12 will be awarded £100,000 each to develop their plans. The winners will be announced in December 2006.

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