E-government project doomed to fail

We don't want to say we told you so

The government's 2005 deadline for getting all government services on the Internet is "doomed to fail", says a report prepared by lobby group Eurim.

The group's report on New Labour's ambitious e-government plan is due to come out after the election but a summary of it was leaked to The Guardian. In it, government ministers are warned that the 2005 deadline (shifted from 2008 by Tony Blair) for all services to be "online" will never be met.

It says that many departments do not understand quite how complex the job is to tie in systems and make data and interaction possible. Technology is also being used as a "sticking plaster" to patch up existing IT systems rather than re-engineering computer systems for greater efficiency and flexibility.

The report also asks for more focus on the needs of an individual. It says: "Merely enabling citizens to access existing government systems is not sufficient. The modernising government programme will be effective only if there is a permanent improvement in the way in which the public sector operates, with the use of technology as an important tool, not an end in itself."

It also makes the age-old criticism that civil servants are more interested in maintaining the status quo that coming up with innovative ways to improve government.

Eurim (European Informatics Markets group) is a cross-party mix of politicians, civil servants and IT companies like BT and Oracle. It was set up by Lord Renwick in 1993 to scour through EU directives to make sure they fitted with the UK's IT industry.

Of course, if any of you have had any experience with e-government projects (or read any Register stories on them), none of this will come as a surprise. The 2005 deadline is ridiculous and also a manifestation of the peculiar English political disease which insists upon unachievable dates for the completion of hugely complicated and ongoing policies and processes (which in turn encourages fudge and stat-heavy politics).

Civil servants just do not understand the new technology and its culture because it concentrates on giving the end user control. Whitehall concentrates on maintaining control for the better good.

Civil servants also realise that e-government means huge job losses in their area and the whole business of government suddenly starts resembling something efficient. Is it any wonder they aren't enamoured with the Internet?

Downing Street still insists that the 2005 deadline will be met. They are currently working out ways in which the words "government services" and "online" can be twisted to fit in with their plans. We have already seen telephones listed as an online service. So, because you can, in theory, call a government department, then it is online.

Eurim is a well-respected body, concentrating on network security, government procurement and smart card technology. It is the only lobbying body of its sort in Europe and has some influence in making European policy. If something gets its approval, it flies through Parliament without a scratch. We shall see what effect is disapproval has. ®

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