Thought for the day:Can government carry the card?

Data expert Peter Dorrington gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The UK Government is currently requesting views...

Data expert Peter Dorrington gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The UK Government is currently requesting views on what it has called an "entitlement card" - an ID card by any other name - that will monitor and control our access to benefits and services.

The initiative has two main objectives. Firstly, it could improve public services by reducing errors and delays caused by moving data within and between departments. It could also help to reduce fraud by linking entitlement cards to sets of benefits and services.

Yet such a scheme is fraught with dangers, not to mention the technical challenges involved. How will proof of identity be established at the point of issue of the entitlement card? How will errors be managed? What about coping with a lost or damaged card? And how will government deal with groups that have difficulty proving their identity - youngsters, recent immigrants, expatriates and other such groups?

Perhaps more worrying is that sitting behind the entitlement card scheme will be one of the biggest data-matching/sharing systems ever envisaged in the UK. As CRM practitioners know to their cost, once you start dealing with data about people, you get errors and omissions.

Even assuming that the scheme takes off, one wonders what it will mean for the Government departments and local authorities entrusted to make it work. Initially, it will require the installation of 750,000 terminals to read and verify the cards, plus an expected 120 million cards put into circulation.

The card verification process will have to be linked seamlessly to operational systems for benefits to be delivered as promised. Local authorities will need to link departmental systems together, streamline front and back-office processes, provide an integrated service to citizens and simultaneously perform front-line fraud detection.

In order to deliver on its promises, government departments of all denominations will have to develop and manage perhaps the most advanced CRM - Citizen Relationship Management - system anywhere in the world. It will need to be massive, sophisticated, seamless and faultless.

I am not at all convinced this can be done. Leaving aside the Government's patchy record on commissioning large-scale IT projects, many of the fundamental questions remain unanswered. Where will the data come from? How reliable will it be? What sub-sets of the data will be used? How will all the existing errors be dealt with?

Then there are the "soft" issues, such as data protection challenges. Who will have access to the data? How will it be processed? How will errors be handled and how quickly? An error on benefits payments, for example, would need to be resolved quickly if the claimant is not to suffer undue hardship.

Put simply, the entitlement card scheme promises a great deal. It could make life easier for individual citizens to work with the Government and reduce cost, waste and fraud, all of which will save the taxpayer money.

But is the Government really prepared for the monumental tasks of collecting data and creating a collaborative architecture that understands the wants, needs and requirements of the citizens it serves?



What is your view?
Will the Government's plan for an entitlement card scheme work? >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Peter Dorrington is the principal initiative manager at SAS UK & Ireland
This was last published in October 2002

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