Sunday, November 30, 2003

Catchup

A bit of a bulk post today, to make up for missing pretty much all of the last week. I thought I'd link, with a comment, to the stories I saw that were interesting. I'm still writing up my trip notes and also my Internet Green Cross Code idea and I will post those as soon as I get a chance. Mike Cross has been on form in the last few weeks, writing about the NHS' website, which gets a short domain name as it's spared the need for .gov in its title. NHS.uk has been around for a while, but this is a relaunched version. When I first saw the patient waiting times application on the site, I really though that there was a killer app in hiding. Mike says the site gets 450,000 visitors a month (roughly what each of the largest government websites gets: IR, ukonline etc, depending on peaks and whatnot). What I don't know, of course, is how many of these visitors are hopping from site to site, or how many we might persuade to hop if we could figure out the path that they were taking through government sites. That's a problem for another day. Mike also wrote about Jo Wright and her plans for IT in Criminal Justice. A strange piece that seems to major on the fact that Jo is a she, in the overly male dominated world of CJ. Perhaps the overly "pale, male and stale" world, as Rene Carayol would probably put it. I bumped into Rene this week at Somerset House - he was on fine form as always, delivering a memorable speech on people and process. With the accent on the former. Finally, nearer to home, Mike wrote two pieces this week - an almost comic piece on True North that made for a good read - I'm still picturing the disk drives whirring in the advent of Whitehall becoming radioactive sludge (and wondering if anyone will want to file their tax return then). News that gets the story out on True North is always good - there's a lot in there and Mike gets most of it across, even getting DotP into the story. There's also a story on why True North is called True North and the trouble that occurred because of it, but perhaps for another day. The second piece from Mike this week covered the difficulty of getting small traders to file VAT online. A recent NAO report considers the issue at some length and votes in favour of some element of compulsion - if anything, perhaps a dangerous place to be. Why? Well, if services are good, people will use them. If people have to use them, there's no incentive for the service to be good. Ask Lastminute how much of their budget goes on tweaking and updating the site to make sure that it works the way their customer base wants to. Compulsion has already been advocated as a route for small businesses to be encouraged to carry out PAYE online, via the Carter report, and so, over the next few years (all the way to 2010 I think), businesses will gradually file online (doubtless aided by accountants and payroll bureau who can, and should, reduce the load). So if they're doing PAYE, they can just as easily do VAT, right? Broadly true I imagine. But perhaps not as straightforward as that. Certainly I see no reason why accountants shouldn't be handling things online now - there are systems in place, websites that will handle it and I am sure that most accountants use PCs to run their own businesses, so why not? For small traders, it may be another thing - and there may have to be more incentives in place to smooth the way. But we're used to compulsion anyway, aren't we, whether it's overt or covert. Who remembers the switch from analogue mobile phones to digital ones? Probably noone - but we were subtly moved from one to the other by the providers. Digital TV is another such example. We're being slowly moved that way and, when there are just a few analogues left, the move will be made compulsory. Congestion charge? If you want to opt out, don't travel. But it's not the only story in town. There is no substitute for devising an easy to use service that is bundled around other services, provides incentives (longer to pay, discounts, faster turnaround times etc - after all, the PM announced this week that we're no longer a one size fits all business), is easy to find (linked to from all of the places you'd expect, with good PR from associated press) and just plain works. Because if it doesn't work, noone will want to use it ... and then we're in the place that Mike also wrote about ... purgatory. Kable published a lengthy non-story on e-voting and whether it will or won't go ahead. Stranger things have been published, but not in the world of e-voting I expect. Lots of quotes from people who say it is 60/40, a quote from ODPM stating commitment ... and something about Gibraltar being brought into the South West region. Who knows? As someone says, if we don't do it, we'll go backwards. Just like with concorde? Madder than Mad McMad, the maddest person on the planet Mad, Ian Kearns takes aim at government policy on e-government and intermediaries and says that we should just pay them to take care of it all for us. The crucial line is "Provide the Office of the e-Envoy, or whichever body is subsequently tasked with driving this policy through, with sufficient powers to insist on and enforce departmental collaboration and compliance". Of course, if that was in place (for this or any other thing), then life would be easier all round ... Seoul was ranked top for e-government recently too. I was invited out there recently for a conference, scheduled for mid-December, but sadly had to turn it down. I really wanted to go too - especially as the email invitation was addressed to "Dear President Mather". Who would have thought promotion could come so soon? And finally ... there was this piece from the Information Warfare (?!) site ... on the new relationship between government and citizen, made possible only by online government. It's enlivened by quotes like this: "The federal government has created more than 20,000 Web sites, so information can be hard to find. Some information remains difficult to locate because some agencies remain focused on posting their priorities rather than the services their customers demand." and "We need more effective leadership and management. We need to develop a stronger "citizen-as-customer" focus. We need more reliable software and hardware. We need more sophisticated technical expertise." and this whopper "Indeed, with the advent of lightning-speed communications enabled by the Internet, the networked world is creating new demands on government services from consumers - demands that require immediate response. With the ability for citizens to e-mail and communicate with federal agencies directly, Congress and the administration must efficiently manage the federal government by providing the resources to make sure the government can deal with new demands" Ummmm... Enough for now. My head's full of things I want to talk about, it's just a problem of finding the time right now. Bear with me.

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