Macromedia plans Web makeover for UK government

The UK government is working with the Internet design and development company to improve the take-up rate of online government services

Macromedia is hoping to cash in on the need for improved Web accessibility across the public sector with the launch of a business unit directly targeting government.

Macromedia Government, officially launched in the UK on Thursday at an event at the House of Commons, is dedicated to 'enabling the public sector to create Web sites and rich Internet applications', according to a company statement.

The unit, which launched in the US last October, is a way of formalising the relationship that the Web design and development company has had with various government departments for several years.

Although the private sector has successfully harnessed the Web as a sales and marketing medium, the Internet has still to fulfil its potential as a channel to the constituent and individual, said Terry Robinson, Macromedia's UK government business manager. "You can't get away without clever applications. Without clever applications people would rather use the telephone than the Web," he said.

The Internet continues to be an important potential tool for the government to reach the UK population. Between April 2003 and April 2004 there was a 9.1 per cent increase in the number of active subscriptions to the Internet, according to usage statistics from a survey of Internet service providers by the Office for National Statistics.

But e-government initiatives have been slow to take off worldwide, according to a recent survey from management consultant Accenture. Over a quarter of respondents cited difficulty finding the correct site as a reason for rarely or never visiting government Web pages. Other factors included the ease of conducting business by telephone as well as online privacy concerns and Internet security issues.

"While there appears to be good understanding of the potential for e-government to save time and money, there is a considerable gap in citizen expectations that it can actually deliver on that promise," said Stephen J. Rohleder, group chief executive of Accenture's government operating group, in a statement.

In order to encourage more of the online population to seek out government services such as filling in tax returns online there has to be an improvement in the basic quality of public sector Web sites, said Steve Miller, VP of EMEA Macromedia. "There is more to the Web experience than simply putting content online. Poor user experiences have driven citizens and workers away from government sites," he added.

More than 60 percent of all e-government initiatives either fail or fall short of expected outcomes, according to analyst Gartner. For the government, the Web is still an aspiration, said Macromedia's Robinson.

Robinson cited the Court Service Web site as an example of how a properly designed online service will attract more users. The site was recently redesigned to provide a richer experience for potential jurors. It is hoped that by allowing the public to view the inside of a courtroom online, for example, any fears individuals may have about the jury duty process will be allayed, he said.

The ubiquity of its Flash multimedia player - installed on up to 98 percent of all PCs, the company claims - provides an excellent platform for the government to provide rich applications to the majority of citizens, said Robinson. When questioned on the efficacy of basing public services on what is essentially a proprietary platform, he said: "At the end of the day you have got to tie yourself into something. Hopefully we are trying not to lock people in but provide a service."

The UK is the first government to be targeted following the US launch last year but Macromedia has plans to expand the business unit into the rest of Europe beginning with France and Germany, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Japan by the end of this year.