Put focus on business change, not IT systems

The Institute of Directors regards the government's performance on its e-government initiatives to be like the curate's egg -...

The Institute of Directors regards the government's performance on its e-government initiatives to be like the curate's egg - good in parts.

First the good. The government has become much more realistic about the deployment of its e-government services and it is focusing on those that are most likely to be of real benefit and widely used, rather than simply trying to tick all the boxes for getting everything online.

There have been some unsung heroes. For example, the system for electronic land records reduced the time required for searches in house conveyancing. The ultimate solution to gazumping was simply to remove the time window in which it occurred.

Similarly, under Peter Gershon's leadership, the Office of Government Commerce has greatly sharpened up the government's act in terms of purchasing new information systems and the project management of those systems through the Gateway processes.

Our chief area of concern is that the public sector still thinks in terms of information system projects to deliver e-services, rather than business change projects that happen to be mediated by new information systems.

All too often, new information systems are funded centrally, yet the funding for business change, including training, communications, incentives and opportunity costs, has to be found locally.

These local soft costs will generally be higher than those for the information systems. Perhaps because so few public servants have been enthused with the potential for service improvement (as well as for cost reduction), take-up of those services already on offer has been disappointing.

Figures from the Department of Trade and Industry's Business in the Information Age international benchmarking study, published in December 2003, suggested that the UK's drive towards a knowledge economy is stalling.

Companies and individuals are failing to exploit the new tools and channels and competitor economies such as Canada and Australia are overtaking us in the e-government stakes.

Jim Norton is a senior policy adviser on e-business and e-government at the Institute of Directors

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