E-government threatened by IT underspending

Public sector IT managers want more staff and resources, but many finance directors don't think technology is critical to government organisations - report

Almost all public sector IT directors believe their budgets are too low to allow them to achieve their e-government targets, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the IT consultancy arm of Unisys, also found that the majority of finance directors for public sector bodies don't believe that technology is critical to their organisations. Yet it is often finance directors, not IT directors, who are responsible for IT at a senior level.

Three-quarters of the IT directors interviewed by Unisys said their staffing levels were too low, while nine out of ten agreed that a more long-term approach to the development of government IT projects is needed.

Unisys claims that this situation means the UK's e-government agenda is running a serious risk of failure.

"At the moment, IT projects across the UK public sector are being run on a knife's edge, with projects selected almost entirely on a least cost basis. Without significant up-front investment over the next couple of months, the government is in danger of reneging on its promises to deliver Internet access to all by 2005 in conjunction with access to all government services," said Brian Hadfield, managing director of Unisys UK, in a statement.

Unisys interviewed 200 senior IT managers and 200 senior financial managers working in both the public and private sector.

Ninety-six percent of the public sector IT managers interviewed by Unisys said they needed more financial resources to achieve their targets -- double the number in any other sector surveyed -- but only 47 percent of financial managers felt that IT was "critical to public sector organisations".

Many IT managers may struggle to get the extra funding they believe they need. Unisys found that only one in three public sector IT departments have direct representation at a senior level, while in 32 percent of cases, the finance team represents IT departments.

It is likely that Unisys would benefit from any increase in UK government funding for IT. The company already works with 1,500 government bodies worldwide, and has worked on many British public sector IT projects, including a criminal investigation system and an emergency planning system.

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