Tom Siebel, the chief executive of the eponymous software firm, talked up the opportunities in e-government on Thursday at the launch of a raft of new customer relationship management (CRM) services from its business partner BT. Speaking at a press conference in London, Siebel said governments typically follow four to five years behind the private sector's IT investments, and are now ready to invest substantially in online services "to provide higher quality of service to their constituents at lower cost -- the same thing as we did in the private sector." BT and Siebel say they can point to a number of successful implementations of customer relationship projects in local government: Liverpool, Leeds, and Tower Hamlets in London were three examples given. "We've got a very, very focussed commitment to address this £1.7bn market of UK local government," said Siebel. Based on the track record of government IT investments, there was a suggestion at the press conference that the taxpayer may not get the best value from these investments. Siebel responded, saying he was "amazed" by the ability of IT professionals in the public sector to keep systems running. Offering the example of the social security system in the US as an example, Siebel said: "These guys are running on old Hitachi dinosaurs of Cobal code and they deliver 250 million cheques, accurate to the cent, and once a month. I'm in awe (of what they do)." Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, added that in his view it was no longer true that government contracts are a pushover for vendors. The government is now giving all IT suppliers "a very hard time" in ensuring that maximum value is obtained for the taxpayer, he said. Last year BT launched a customer relationship management service based on Siebel software for small and medium sized companies called Contact Central. Both Tom Siebel and Pierre Danon described the Contact Central launch as a major success, saying that £4m of revenue had already been secured, with a further £19m in the pipeline, and a target for BT's CRM initiative of £200m by 2005. BT/Siebel now plan to extend their partnership to offer a new suite of eGovernment solutions. "This extended partnership will ensure UK local government authorities are empowered to maximise the return on investment and reduce risk," said Siebel. BT said the solutions will address the needs of all local authorities, "from the smallest district council to the largest metropolitan authority, enabling them to improve citizen services, provide universal access and more effectively meet the public's needs as they transform to meet the 2005 eGovernement delivery targets."