Your shout: e-gov delivery, FOI clarity, frustrated with ERP

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Watmore's promotion is a highly positive move

I read with interest Lindsay Clark's article, "Watmore will retain ties to e-government".

Ian Watmore's promotion to lead the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit should be seen as a highly positive move and a validation of the work he has spearheaded with the E-Government Unit on the transformational government strategy.

While it is generally recognised within industry that the E-Government Unit has been successful in defining the strategy and direction for technology-focused public service reforms, as well as making significant headway in bringing the right people and organisations together to start implementing these reforms, there has been some criticism of its ability to enforce and deliver significant change.

Watmore's promotion will overcome those potential objections and clearly sets the agenda for the next phase of public service IT reform.

Russell Loarridge, Lagan


Clarifying the Freedom of Information Act

Renzo Marchini's article on outsourcing highlights an increasingly important issue for all suppliers to the public sector - the application of the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Protection Regulations.

While Intellect welcomes the greater access to information and potential benefits provided by the FOI Act, we believe there are important issues that suppliers must be aware of.

First, the act is fully retrospective. Anyone can make an application for information, including those outside the UK and competitors.

Second, many provisions within the act need to be tested and evolve - for example, the application of the exemptions and public interest test.

Intellect has produced guidance notes that provide an overview of the act and its implications. It has also set up a programme that includes raising awareness, training, surveying members, working with the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Office of Government Commerce.

By applying these activities, suppliers will be in a better position to understand the full extent of the act.

Anthony Kenny, chair, Intellect FOI Working Group


Is patience with ERP systems running out?

Arif Mohammed's article on the failure to fully exploit enterprise resource planning systems covers old ground. We know ERP has not lived up to its promises, yet firms continue to invest huge sums of money in it. How much longer will the ERP debate go on, considering this has been an issue since MRP II in the 1980s?

The industry perception of ERP has reached a low point. With today's emphasis on risk management and corporate control, can companies afford to choose huge IT implementations where they have to put their faith in a single supplier? It is clear that if anything goes wrong, it is bound to cost the earth.

Many first-generation ERP implementations were internally focused, with no associated business case, so quantifiable benefits are virtually non-existent.

ERP suppliers are trying to fight criticism by pre-packaging applications and selling parts of the ERP mix, but surely that proves ERP is not delivering on the promise? The whole point of ERP was that it could enable all business applications to interoperate, but how many companies can say they have achieved this? And in any case, the advent of web services makes this argument redundant.

Companies should consider carefully what they really need, particularly as many web service-enabled, enterprise-level packages can achieve the same, if not better, results as ERP.

Gary Bones, Coda


UK firms must break the password stranglehold

The Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs) has developed a standard for strong two-factor user authentication.

This represents a practical, risk management-focused solution to this issue, which should be considered more widely by public and private sector organisations alike. UK industry urgently needs to break the stranglehold that passwords hold over user authentication.

I applaud Apacs' decision to deliver one time passcode (OTP) authentication instead of PKI digital certificates or biometrics, which have been piloted and have usually failed due to complexity, cost and lack of user acceptance.

Apacs appreciates that securing its customers' digital identities requires only 20% technology; the remaining 80% is about how people use the system. OTPs can seem unexciting but they provide a pragmatic, proven security method, which is easy to understand by the average consumer and easy to implement by the industry.

Apacs' challenges will be, firstly, to ensure the card reader that generates the OTPs is designed as a "lifestyle" device: neat, simple and attractive.

Secondly, and key to the wider adoption of the solution, it must ensure that its OTP generation standard is made open and available for use by organisations and individuals outside the banking sector. This could broaden its value and appeal to a much wider market, and bring down costs for all concerned.

If Apacs can achieve these objectives, the opportunity is there for OTP authentication to be adopted as the second factor user authentication standard, certainly for the next five to 10 years, or beyond.

John Stewart, Signify


A cultural overhaul is needed within the NHS

The finds of the recent Medix survey on the NHS IT programme (Computer Weekly, 10 January) highlight a sickness within the health service that threatens to undermine the new electronic services before they even have a chance to get started.

Choose and Book is just one example of a project that, while suffering from implementation difficulties, could still be a success if more GPs would get behind it and start promoting it.

With regards to IT in general, a cultural overhaul is needed within our health system. The NHS must educate its staff on the advantages of IT systems. Only if the relevant parties are properly informed will they begin to view new technologies as the supportive and advantageous facilities they can be, rather than a time-consuming hindrance.

Choose and Book was designed to make life easier for both doctors and patients - it will be a pity if it fails simply because the government, in its excitement to get it up and running, forgot to tell the right people about it.

David Oates, Primavera Systems

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