This week Robin Bloor and his team assess the government's initiative for improving its IT projects, the options for enhancing the fulfilment of online orders and the future of online bettingIan McCartney, our e-government minister, took an important step towards improving the public sector IT project record when he announced last week that the Gateway review process will be mandatory for all central government IT projects. But the announcement leaves quite a few stable doors wide open. The Gateway review process, which came out of a comprehensive study a year ago into why public sector projects fail, is a potentially significant step in the right direction. It forces reviews at five stages in an IT project. Early on in a project, the business case has to be justified independently, procurement methods checked and the investment decision, including any technical issues, reviewed before a contract is awarded. Towards the end of the project, the system's readiness for implementation and the client organisation's ability to roll it out are checked independently and, finally, actual as against planned deliverables have to be verified. It's all good stuff. But who, exactly, does it apply to. The announcement superficially says all central government projects but in fact there are significant exceptions. They are the MOD and everything outside of central government, such as the health service, the Post Office and the whole of local government. Admittedly, only the MOD qualifies strictly as central government but many other departmental projects will be tied up closely with local government outlets. The Benefits Agency (DSS) Pathway fiasco, for instance, was tied up with the Post Office. In such cases, can the involvement of non-central government parties be used to avoid scrutiny? Given the Government's well-known love of independent review, the answer in practice will surely be that any excuse will be good enough. Or, at least, the result will be a partial review that happily avoids any areas of high risk or other contention. A useful yardstick by which to gauge the effectiveness of the announcement could be to see how many of the howlers made over the last few years could have been avoided. The result is not very reassuring. Pathway apart, the NATS Swanwick traffic control saga would fall outside the review requirement, as will the proposed controversial NHS appointments booking system. However, the immigration system disaster would be caught and the Passport Office system would have been too. The Government seems to be taking a lesson from the high street banks in how to screw customers in order to save themselves money. Coming on top of the scheme for electronic filing of tax self-assessment returns, which achieved 5 per cent of target acceptance in the first year, it's hardly an inspiring picture. Not that you'd come to that conclusion from Government announcements. Apparently 128,000 people have now indicated that they will use the electronic tax filing system in future, a full 25 per cent of last year's target. On that basis, the system is being proclaimed a great success. Milking the milkman Even though the fulfilment of orders undertaken across the web improved for Christmas 2000, performance is still not up to consumer expectation as late deliveries and incorrect orders caused problems under many Christmas trees. While it is often transparent to the consumer, the final mile is a costly and inefficient element of the B2C transaction for the supplier. Currently, shipping costs are based on a fixed delivery charge and a variable figure for the number of items. This is common practice among B2C suppliers and is a charging model that is accepted by consumers. This model only remains acceptable for the consumer of occasional orders, once this model is multiplied up for regular monthly or weekly deliveries it quickly becomes unattractive. In order for the B2C market to continue to increase it is therefore critical that a more effective final mile model be developed. From the highest level the B2C market can be divided into two broad categories of perishable and non-perishable items. Due to the nature of the product, suppliers of perishable items locate their fulfilment centres locally to the consumer. Suppliers of non-perishable items are not restricted by shelf life and sell by dates and are therefore able to establish their fulfilment centres on a regional or national basis. In rural areas it has been suggested that consumers collecting their deliveries from post offices or village shops could solve the problem of the final mile. But once specialist storage requirements are considered, amongst other things, that seems somewhat unworkable. In towns and cities the convenience factor is far more important. For those commuting, collection from their local train station is a possibility, again this requires storage and refrigeration facilities. Another possible channel may be to revitalise the role of the milkman. Fulfilment centres for milk are obviously well equipped to handle perishable items but it would be necessary to replace the ageing fleets of milk floats with vehicles that are more suitable for carrying high volumes of perishable items. Even if the milkman isn't the e-fulfilment man of the future, the final mile must be addressed. The centralisation of fulfilment is also an important factor without which we will see a plethora of men in white vans circling the local neighbourhoods, something which is both ecologically unfriendly and inefficient. Gambling on gambling Just like its seedier vice relative pornography, online gaming is one aspect of the internet that has pushed the online world to new technological heights. Both involve financial transactions that require a certain degree of security, and often anonymity. Both require a high degree of presentation and content to involve the user, keeping them interested and coming back for more. Also, both areas have pushed legal boundaries and this has forced governments to evaluate the legality of certain aspects of the internet and consider which jurisdiction a consumer falls into, their own or that of the content provider. Like pornography online gaming is rarely surveyed or analysed and so the true value of the market place is difficult to determine. That said there is no shortage of new entrants - the newest of which is Randombet.com. Whether it is Murphy's Law or just an urban myth, the saying goes that "a random gamble will always have a greater chance of success than a more carefully chosen option based on logic, research and experience". It is this fact that has obviously played a major part in Randombet's business plan. The whole idea of the site, launched last month, is that the user places their stake on their chosen event and then "randomises" their selection giving them no control whatsoever over their final betting selection. No consideration is made of favourites or the form book, the selection is completely random, indeed the site is keen to point out that they employed an international accountancy firm to professionally and independently audit the randomising process in order to guarantee the integrity of the service offered. Whether or not Randombet.com will succeed has yet to be seen, apparently the site is backed by a group of investors with a successful track record of developing and running businesses. With the failure rate of dot-coms yet to slow down from last year's high point it must be said that even by its own standards Randombet.com looks like a long shot.