UK e-government efforts get mediocre grade

The UK government's efforts to get all of its services running online by 2005 is not only failing but could imperil the £3.7 billion in projected cost savings to taxpayers, according to a new Forrester Research study released last week.

          The UK government's efforts to get all of its services running online by 2005 is not only failing but could imperil the £3.7 billion ($US5.47 billion) in projected cost savings to taxpayers, according to a new Forrester Research study released last week.

          Based on a study of 14 UK government departments conducted last November, the study found that those involved with the online projects suffer a lack of IT knowledge, and if a grade were to be assigned between A and F, with F being the lowest, the UK's electronic-government efforts would receive a D, Forrester analyst Caroline Sceats says.

          "The study showed that the government doesn't really understand how to work with fast moving, small e-commerce vendors and how to build partnerships," Sceats says.

          Only 13% of the vendors that are currently working with government are confident that the government will reach its goal of getting all services online by 2005, Sceats says.

          This likely comes as unwelcome news to the UK government and Prime Minister Tony Blair, who last week approved the appointment of Andrew Pinder as E-Envoy in the Cabinet Office.

          "We thought the research was pretty weedy and we don't think much of Forrester's methodology," says Ben Wilson, an e-Envoy spokesman.

          Blair has repeatedly pushed the 2005 date for the implementation of online services and pledged £1 billion for the effort. A report published in September on electronic government prepared by the Performance and Innovation Unit was confirmed as the blueprint for meeting the government's self-imposed deadline.

          According to Wilson, more than 40% of UK government services are already online and that number is expected to grow to 70% by 2002.

          "We're confident that the government is on target to get all government services online by 2005. The report demonstrates little understanding of what's happening in government," Wilson says.

          But a separate study also published in September, showed that many Members of Parliament (MP) within the UK's own government do not believe Blair and his officials will be able to reach the 2005 deadline. Of the 101 MPs questioned, 61% believe the government could hit its target, according to a poll conducted over the third quarter by the independent research company Market & Opinion Research International (MORI) for the World Internet Forum (WIF). That was a drop of 13% from when the MPs were polled with the same question in January 2000.

          The Forrester study seems to back up those doubts. In particular, the crown prosecution service, the Department of Social Security, customs and the excise, and office of national statistics are having the most difficultly understanding how to migrate services to the web, Forrester says. The government departments doing the best jobs of getting online are the inland revenue, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department for Education and Employment, but none of those departments would receive any higher than a C grade in the study, Forrester says.

          As a result of its failure to get services online, by mid-2002, the government will begin to seek outside help from industry. The commercial market created by the government partnering with industry could total £730 million by 2005, the Forrester study predicts.

          As for the government's dissatisfaction with the report, Sceats says that Forrester worked hard with the government to make sure they were involved in sculpting the report.

          "We gave the government access to our grades before going to publication and took every step we could to ensure our report was fair and accurate," Sceats says.

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