E-govt strategy ushers in "seamless front office"

The Internet will be the dominant means of access to government information, services and processes by 2004, according to the e-government strategy released yesterday.

The Internet will be the dominant means of access to government information, services and processes by 2004, according to the e-government strategy released yesterday.

Launching the strategy yesterday the Prime Minister Helen Clark said that it would "guide us in using the power of the Internet to change the way government works, to improve the quality of what it does, and to provide better opportunities for people to have their say."

The document, which is, of course, available online, fleshes out the proposal first made in IT minister Paul Swain's pre-election white paper 'Labour Online' of "single window" public access to government services.

In the final version the window has become a "multi-channel government portal" where citizens and businesses will be able to pay rates, arrange benefits and taxes, obtain licences and offer feedback on policy.

The government envisages that its "seamless front office" will be accessible through home PCs, public terminals, digital TV, mobile phone or independent agents.

It will be backed up by common back office standards for government agencies. Among the activities listed in the strategy is a proposal to "develop common data protocols, infrastructure and system standards which will enable information and data to be shared and integrated horizontally and vertically across agencies, reducing the multiple collection and processing of the same data."

This is a break from the philosophy of the past decade, which has upheld agencies' right to make their own IT choices, even at the risk of incompatibility.

But the back office plan still appears to lack some critical details. It aims to "develop a secure environment and authentication framework enabling secure, trusted exchange of information among agencies and between agencies and customers," but contains no hint of whether that would mean a system of individual digital certificates to provide a common means of authentication.

While it would help answer public questions about security, a certification scheme would, along with the declared plans for information sharing within the public sector, inevitably spark fears among civil liberties groups.

State Services minister Trevor Mallard has overseen e-government plans since the process went from the policy phase at the Ministry of Economic Development to its own unit at the operationally-focused State Services.

Mallard said rapid changes in information technology meant it would be "pointless to define work priorities several years out when the cyber world could look completely different from predictions.

"We have set ourselves a challenging but realistic programme. For example work is progressing well on some of the projects we want completed within a couple of months like an e-billing strategy; a framework for cataloguing government information and services in a standard way to make them easier to find; and an e-procurement strategy and pilot to move government purchasing projects online.

"The strategy is designed to be picked up by the whole of the public sector. The Government will ensure that all of the public service participates, will encourage the wider State sector to engage, and invite local government to participate in creating e-government."

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