New horizons

In my Internet wanderings, I  fell over a recent speech by the Rt Hon Jim Knight MP entitled “Future of Government in the Digital Space“, apparently given at the DotGov Live conference in London on 20 January 2010. In some ways I thought I’d fallen through a black hole since, despite talk of Twitter and Fix My Street in the eleventh paragraph he clearly states:

“The Prime Minister recently asked me to be the Ministerial lead for Government on meeting the target to get virtually all public services online by March 2014, following the publication last month of the Smarter Government White Paper.”

Now, as part of the introduction to my dissertation I have carefully prepared a timeline for e-government and I clearly remember writing that in the year 2000 the then Prime Minister set the target date, in line with the European Commission’s Lisbon agenda, for electronic service delivery as 2005 but unlike the other countries committed us to every possible transaction!

I also remember the celebrations and congratulations in Whitehall in 2005, or maybe early 2006, when the target was stated to have been reached and the unit responsible disbanded!

Now a key lesson I thought we had learned following the first ten years of e-government is the UK was that electronic service delivery is more than sticking a web front end on every service. To borrow an expression from my acquaintance Dan Champion, when he talks about the difficulty of true web accessibility – “it’s not a binary state.” In other words, it’s not black and white. The same can be applied to electronic service delivery (ESD). It is only truly ESD or e-government when the citizen completes the transaction end-to-end without humans fudging about in the middle.

If the web transaction creates an email that arrives on someone’s desk that involves rekeying data into an existing “old world” application, it’s a fudge. It may be a reasonable fudge if that particular transaction only occurs once in a blue moon and the cost of automation makes it not worthwhile, but in that case it’s not end-to-end ESD, its grey and not a nought or one!

As things currently stand there are a lot of grey transactions, which must remain until we restructure government and processes. To talk about getting virtually all public services online by March 2014, when I’ve no idea what he means by “virtually” or “public services”, especially after the billions spent in the run-up to 2006, is a strange statement. I thought Jim Knight was around in those years.

Most importantly someone’s forgotten that e-government may involve binary but of itself it isn’t, it’s a grey amorphous blob that needs resourcing end-to-end, and that includes rationality amongst the law-makers, to make it easier!

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