Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Bush wants a Gateway says Kablenet. And who can blame him? It's a nice, shiny thing that every government needs if they really want to embark on the path to delivering better services to the citizen. When I met Mark Forman a few weeks ago he remarked on "how co-ordinated our strategy for delivery was". I was, of course, very pleased to hear him say that. We talked for an hour or so about Gateway and ukonline so I hope that something I said prompted the decision to procure a gateway. Now I just have to sell him one I prepared earlier.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

"The UK Government will need to think seriously before it goes ahead with an electronic general election" says Kablenet, quoting from some research (commissioned by 'government' itself). Some other quotes ... text voting trivialises the process, secrecy requirements are not clear in international law, pin numbers are annoying, cost of setup may be high and never recouped and then the killer statement, "Also, the internet in its current form does not provide an adequate level of security and has to be made more secure for voting. 'Until then we have grave reservations' ". So we need a new Internet? This is complicated stuff. There are all sorts of issues here and the report is worth a read. But I don't think the right points have come out in the sound bites so far. For instance, the report does indeed note that setup costs are high but goes on to say that costs will be recouped over the longer term. This is surely an argument to build a common infrastructure, or a few standards-based common infrastructures (and this will help in making sure that they are protected and conform to the right secrecy rules, ease the auditing burden etc). e-voting is coming, it needs to come as a natural extension of the e-government programme. And, like everything else we do, it needs to be easy to use, attractively packaged and trustworthy. That means that the pilot work needs to be extended, but not in a throw away approach - it needs to be in a way that can be built on readily. I believe that text voting will be appropriate, for some people - text is already a many times a day activity for some (I send 1000/month and probably receive a similar number) - but it's only one way in. Kiosks in easier places to get to than the usual local school will also be part of the solution. Maybe even ATMs at the bank or in the supermarket. One of the report's conclusions is that e-voting is unlikely to increase turnout ... that's right, and obvious. But, what if it was packaged with ways of getting to know your MP or prospective MP better (some people vote for a specific party, some vote for a person) with their record of speeches, votes cast, views on key issues and so on, along with a big "vote here" button on the page. If this page was easy to use, let you compare people and the parties, let you do it in easily accessible places and then complete the vote, would that attrach people that don't vote now? It's got to be something tha persuades people that there's a reason to vote - and that means increasing the ability to identify with the issues, the way the candidates might deal with them and so on. Just my view of course.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Another candidate for quote of the week (even though it was published on 25th April 2002, my birthday) ... "There is also substantial evidence of progress in delivering joined-up initiatives in a centralised way, seeking to exploit economies of scale and to avoid wasteful effort in duplicating resources for the public sector, especially since the establishment of the e-Delivery team within the Office of the e-Envoy". That's what we do. And progress is indeed substantial. This is from the NAO audit report, Government on the Web II, a good report overall (not just because it says nice things about us but because it raises some good issues that need to be addressed).

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Gartner on e-government ... ' "Traditionally, governments have designed their human resources practices to attract people who like to work in a secure, stable and often less competitive workplace," Carr said. "For e-government, they need people who not only adapt to change quickly, but also drive change." ' ... from the same report that said 60% of e-government initiatives are failing or going to fail (versus, of course, 98% of commercial dotcom projects).
Some news on Ezgov who, in partnership with EDS, build the Inland Revenue's online tax services. Looks like they've turned the corner and are on track to make a decent business out of what they do - that's good, they're good at this stuff.
Continuing to bounce ... this impressed me a lot ... it's the "GovBenefits" site in the USA and is the first time I've seen anyone aggregate many benefits programmes (55 today, and it even lists all the owning departments in a special "movie credits" like section) in a single site and let you step through those that might apply to you. This is nearly e-government in action. The good bit is that the site doesn't ask you for personal data to start with (so you can assess anonymously whether you are due benefit), but then it doesn't let you apply online (or not as far as I can tell). This is a step forward of course, but it's not the whole way yet. We have something similar in the UK, called Entitledto which I also think is good. More please.
Bouncing around the web just now, I came across this site (linked from the World Bank site) and a link to a story on Egypt's use of the UK Government Gateway - this was first reported by Computer Weekly a week or so ago. Nice to see it being picked up more widely.
I'm due in Washington for the e-gov 2002 conference, scheduled to speak on Thursday 27th June with a show titled "A UK Success Story" ... Hmmm, slides are due in within a week (much further in advance than I normally do them). I'm looking to see what else is going on in the UK and I'm going to use some of the GC2002 Awards as a base (I'm going through them now as a member of the judging panel).

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Mobile services for e-government ... it all started with an article by Steve Ranger at Computing (not AccountancyAge as common myth seems to think). From there, much to my surprise, the news travelled far and wide in the blink of an eye ... The BBC, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Standard, Metro (certainly the London edition) and, happily, The Register. Being the naive soul that I am, I was fascinated to see the same story represented in different ways in different publications - with views ranging from "fat chance" to "what a good idea". Broadly tending to the latter view though, I'm pleased to say. I'm pretty upbeat about this project and will be looking to see it happen quickly (quickly = real word timetable, not government timetable) ... and, bearing in mind the Guardian's story on DTV, I've clearly got to find someone to write some rapid policy on this for me and then roll out the service across all providers simultaneously.
Quote of the week, from Des Vincent who heads up the Northern Ireland Technology Office ... “If Andrew Pinder had his way he would have gone for emphasising key services, as we have done with our targets.” Des is right I expect (he usually is) ... but it's a bit more complicated than that ... now we have to argue what key services are, and (as the research from KPMG noted below says) everyone has a very different view of who wants what, from which channel and when. But, can't argue that getting key services online and making them great services, better than offline equivalents (so that people really use them and we get high levels of takeup) is what AP would want to see happen.
I love research ... picking up on the point noted in the Guardian article on the DTV usage plans research (carried out as part of a wider study by KPMG), Kablenet has some views. Voxpolitics also picks up on it (and saves me the trouble of looking for all the links, thank you). Apparently e-voting is thought to be the most likely service to be used. I think that's good, and I'd certainly agree that it's got to be front and centre in our plans - although the downside is that it happens once every few years for most people (unless we go the USA route and get people to vote for fire marshalls, sheriffs, water board officials or whatever and that makes the entry point harder to manage. That is, how do you give people userid/password/password/token etc if they're not going to use it very often. The most interesting stat is that 60% of people want to use public sector services online, but only 15% have (slightly lower than our own research which shows about 20%) ... that tells us a lot about the need to make the services more compelling (ugh! Horrible word I know, but come up with a better one) - more engaging, more useful, quicker, better than the offline world and so on. Absolutely vital that we do that - and there is noone anywhere in government that would argue with it. It takes some thinking, some re-engineering and some mistakes and cockups. After all, behind every successful year in a person's life are lots and lots of unsuccessful ones (at least that's the way it's worked for me). Measure what we do a year from now, let's see if we're making the right progress: usage ticking up, transactions available ... I'm watching Gateway transaction use double versus last year, ukonline usage triple January's number so I know we're heading there.
Oh oh, the Guardian thinks that the "Sky's the limit for e-government". By launching DTV services only on Sky, without a policy statement trailing the plans, somehow the government has favoured Sky and shown a lack of neutrality. The way that we worked the DTV channel was to setup a small pilot to start putting content out and then we can see how people use it. DTV is like all the other channels (and here I mean IE, Netscape, Opera, various kiosks and so on) - you have to tailor your content to meet certain constraints or interpretations of standards. DTV is harder though - noone is going to read more than about 45 words on a TV screen, so you have to think really hard about what you display. The techno-cool way of doing this is to take an XML stream and render it on the fly, selecting certain fields only, to DTV ... but that is genuinely expensive and you have to do it for all your content. The pilot takes a simpler, slightly more manual route than that, at a much lower cost and lower risk. It worked originally on Sky and ITV digital and will work soon on the other providers - you just have to do a deal at a time. The article also notes that the %age of people who want to use DTV for transactions has dramatically fallen off. No surprise I guess. The home page of any site is streamed to the TV via the satellite (instant download), but if you want to go elsewhere, you have to open a modem channel, via the phone line (and this is where the extra cost comes in, plus speed is low - maybe 28kbps). I think this %age will shift higher once DSL, wireless, or cable connections are available for the interactive leg. One small step, one little acorn and all that - isn't it best to try the market out and see what it likes before you publish a policy?

Monday, May 13, 2002

There's also been follow-up on the "800,000" jobs will be lost in the civil service ... seen in Computing a couple of weeks ago (as 20% of jobs to go), The Register last week, the Sunday Times (12/5/02) and Silicon today. Based on the private sector experience, notably banking and financial services, 20% seems a reasonable target - I lost the plot on how you get from 20% to 800,000, but where I come from the civil service is about 250,000 people - so I guess we are never hiring again (or at least for the next 700,000 years). If you talk to Dell, he'll tell you that when they first put their web site live, more jobs were added to the call centre to cope with the load there (as people checked the web then 'phoned their order) but then, ultimately, he was able to reduce (which is why Dell can survive in this low margin PC game), Cisco will tell you that they save $625 million in customer service jobs annually through web self-service. If we weren't looking for the same benefits in government, wouldn't you (as a taxpayer) worry about why we were doing it? I would and do. There must be better service, more effective service and more efficient service at the end of this ... and cheaper to provide services too. Why bother if not?
Silicon.com has picked up on the story of mandating online filing, just as The Register did (see 11/5/2002). Bit of a shame really that there is a negative slant on this. Ultimately, by 2010 (8 full years from now), does anyone really think that the Internet will not have changed things dramatically. In 1997 I seem to remember less than 5% of people were online, now it's 45%. Can you imagine a conversation with A.G. Bell saying "don't worry Alex, you're doing the right thing, in 100 years they'll be passing laws in various countries to make people stop using your phone when they are driving." "Driving?" he'd have said, "driving what?" ... 2010 is far off ... our job is to make these services easy to use, simple to complete, automated for payroll systems (just like now with Sage, Rutherford-Webb and others) and so on. The decision point should be "Why would I not want to file by web?" ... but along with targets for take-up and targets for online achievement must come some incentives and some reverse incentives. Inertia is a tough thing to overcome. But if we want real improvement, then there must be mass ... and mass takes time, effort, energy and (force/acceleration amongst other things).

Saturday, May 11, 2002

I liked this a lot ... a quick wrap-up on e-voting pilots from the local elections from a site I just found VoxPolitics "ZDNET gives two thumbs up, Kable net gives one thumb up, Silicon heralds "flop". In other news the FT quotes Electoral Commission boffin saying no security problems, New Media Age links the trials to thorny old ID Card problems, and the Birmingham Post says nothing much. The Electoral Reform Society reaffirms the "Jury still out" consensus. Meanwhile the IPPR brands the experiments "tokenistic" saying that "The answer does not lie in tinkering with how we vote, for example enabling voting by post or text message", which might come as news to the Digital Society team doing a project on exactly that. Still, they got a piece in the Glasgow Herald". I do love that the same data prompts so many diverse views. How could we cope without that? P.S. I found the VoxPolitics link from John Gotze's site.
The OeE announced e-GIF V4 earlier this month ... think the XML orgs like it. Bottom line: we're pushing harder to use XML as the standard for all Internet stuff (and, unlike filing tax forms, it's already mandatory) ... but there is some way to go. XML on the way in is really the easy part - preparing the back end systems to receive data electronically whether via XML or not is the hard part. I don't think it's going fast enough.
A view on the announcement of the move to mandatory tax filing by Internet from The Register. The UK is not the first to announce this kind of a step (others include Italy), but we do seem to be the first to announce some penalty attached (as far as I can tell). Given how many companies use payroll software already and that most of these are accredited by the IR and, again, most of them talk to the Gateway, then this target should be easily achievable without too many falling foul of the penalty. Unless, of course, they are already filing late now or trying to avoid filing at all, in which case mandating it to happen electronically won't make any difference.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Nice one Dave ... The Role of Professional Journalists
I'm down to present at a conference in the USA at the end of June, it's called the "Forman Grill" or,more formally, E-Gov 2002. Haven't figured out what I'll talk about yet. June seems a long way off but the slides are needed in about 2 weeks!

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Great quote in the "Culture" section of today's Sunday Times ... "Orson Wells said it 'cinema's one of the few art forms where the artist cannot ever get to a point where he actually owns the tools to express himself'. Those things are changing dramatically with digital technology. It's going to democratize the process .. break through the tyranny of the normal mechanical and imposed structure that a film goes through." The quote is from Rick McCallum who is talking about the new Star Wars film. But what if you took out "artist" and "film" and said "voter" or "citizen"?
Just found something in the NAO newsletter "Into IT" that I wrote...it was published in Government Computing previously. Funny how these things turn up.
I made it into Italian...not sure why or how or what it says...
Government Computing has published the shortlist for their awards to be presented at GC2002 in June. I'll be part of the evaluation team. I'm looking forward to it.
I'll be presenting at the Electronic Government forum on the 29th May 2002. The title is billed as "Developing the Killer App for e-government" and I will indeed cover that, but I'll also talk about progress we've made so far, what new challenges we will face and some of what we might do to overcome them.
Fascinating article with quotes from a Gartner research guy, E-government won't deliver till 2010, echoing what another Gartner guy said when I was in Saudi. The main points were (1) that the "government portal" is tactical only and won't be around long enough to be considered strategic and (2) that benefits from e-government won't be realised until between 2005 and 2010.