Public sector urged to learn from business

A network specialising in best practice for the IT sector is urging the government to look out for lessons from the private sector

BuyIT, the IT best-practice network, has launched its framework for e-government to give the public sector a subtle hint on what it could learn from the private sector with technology.

Given the budgetary aim set out by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, of saving £20bn in the latest budget and the government's history of less-than-glorious IT project successes, the network hopes its recommendations will be timely.

While the 2005 deadline e-government may be a distant dream for some areas of government, the commitment at least is there and BuyIT's report, Delivering e-Enabled Public Service Reform, contains strategy suggestions and tools to help leaders and senior civil servants make the move towards joined up e-government.

Among the recommendations BuyIT's report makes to the government is an integrated back office across the public sector providing support for staff in the front line.

The document doesn't come as a result of a request from government but BuyIT is convinced the report "won't fall on deaf ears", with a launch at the House of Lords on Wednesday.

Frits Janssen, chief executive of BuyIT, said that the report is designed to "stimulate thought". "This isn't us saying the private sector has done everything right... it's not helpful for us to say this is the private sector telling the public sector what to do," he added.

That said, the authors of the report -- from organisations including Capgemini, Microsoft and BAE Systems -- believe the public sector could do well to follow their commercial cousins in some respects.

Graham Colclough, senior VP at Capgemini and one of the report's authors, said that in the last three to four years he had noticed a distinct shift in government's willingness to act like a magpie with the private sector.

Government is far more "prepared to share information across agencies and far more interested in what the private sector is up to," he said, adding that the idea of "the customer is king" had also been making an impact in Whitehall when it comes to IT.

All good news, then. However, while the techno-savvy may be pleased to hear about the government's willingness to put its focus on the users rather than the targets imposed by senior officials, the authors acknowledged that those most in need of online services aren't being catered to.

Government online services may reach three-quarters of the population eventually, said Chris Yapp, head of public-sector innovation at BuyIT member Microsoft, adding that the elderly, the disabled and those with English as a second language are those most likely to need government assistance and the least likely to get it online.