E-government targets branded 'inadequate'

e-Summit: The government has set a target of getting all government services online by 2005, but this will not be enough, say critics. People have to be enticed to use them

Targets for getting all government services online by 2005 may not be going far enough, critics have said at the government's e-Summit.

While the target to provide Internet access for all who want it by 2005 was broadly welcomed at the first e-Summit on Tuesday -- an event in London that brought together an international group of government and industry policy-makers -- some argued that more must be done.

Speaking at the e-Summit, prime minister Tony Blair acknowledged the problems. "Fifty-four percent of government services are already online," said Blair, "but we recognise that British companies and citizens are still not using those services."

Dr Ian Kearns, head of the digital society programme at the Institute for Public Policy Research, had earlier led the criticisms of the targets. "We have to accept that having all government services online by (2005) is not as good as having better services online," said Kearns. "The only reason we should be doing any of this is if we can deliver better services online."

Kearns, whose comments were echoed by other speakers, said the government should be doing a lot more, and needed to find innovative ways of doing things.

Tim Field, project manager of e-government at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation in Development, said that the era of governments being able to get away with building simple Web sites and portals is coming to an end. "We are now getting to the hard stuff where we have to start thinking about the future -- collaboration and joined-up thinking around customer focus," said Field. "But that's not a model for e-government exclusively -- it's a model for government full stop."

Field said the problem is that whereas government tends to be structured into silos, problems often are not. "We need cultural change within government. It will be a long haul. We have to look at the government framework and have budgets linked up together. It will not be a technical fix -- you have to fix government first," he said.

Douglas Alexander, the minister responsible for e-transformation, said the government is working to get better services online, but noted the challenge is also to get people using the services. "It is not just about pipes any more," he said. "It is increasingly about content. But it is no longer enough to have all our services online by 2005. We must drive up the number of people using e-services."

At software firm Sapient, chief operating officer Sheeroy Desai said research shows that adoption of government services tends to be driven by three factors. People are more likely to interact with the government when their needs are immediate, in "life events" such as getting married or having a baby, he said.

"Second, people tend to see a need for access to local services more than central government services. And third, there is a desire to conduct transactions online. The challenge will be to provide services that are easy to use." This convenience factor, he said, will be crucial.

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