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UK Gov IT Strategy document takes aim at citizens

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The man at the helm of Britain's e-government unit unveiled a broad-brush strategy to be filled out by Easter in consultation with industry.

The three guiding principles of Ian Watmore's strategy are to improve skills, put citizens' needs at the heart of IT and develop shared services.

So on the face of it, no bombshells. But there will be issues for citizens and industry to scrutinize as the government puts flesh on the bones of the document, Transformational Government over the coming months.

For the punters it constitutes a promise to develop fancy new methods of delivering public services, such as over mobile phones, in ways that are better attuned to their increasingly demanding consumer egos.

A commitment has also been given to tackle the social exclusion that may occur as a result of a long term plan to phase out, where feasible, all conventional - ie paper-based and face to face - methods of delivering government services.

The shared services agenda should concentrate the minds of civil rights campaigners as the long term aim is to bridge the "silos" of information in government IT systems so that data can be shared across government.

There's no significantly new material here for civil servants, but their worrisome secrets have been swept from under the carpet and will have to be faced.

The public service has been well aware of the implications set out in today's report from the work it has already done to meet the government's target to have all services e-enabled by the end of 2005, and from the findings of last year's Gershon Review: more IT will mean consolidation - ie union negotiations - in the back office and a desperate need for skills to make it all happen.

Watmore's announcement last month that the hard work was just beginning, as laid out again in this report, was something everyone involved in public sector IT already knew. Now it is out in the open the pressure is really on.

The headline grabber for industry is the decision to divert £1.4bn from spending on legacy systems (10 per cent of the total government IT spend), which are "old, custom-built, use obsolete technology, [and are] costly to maintain".

This is to be expected, and will be of concern to the many SMEs that have built their businesses around supplying specialist systems to government, such as with the NHS National Programme for IT.

There are also implications for the whole of industry, most of which it is already tackling head on and will be determined largely by the outcomes of existing negotiations - which may drag on for some time as they are the most contentious of the reforms.

They are also among the most crucial and are related to the key theme of Watmore's strategy, which between the lines reads as, better specify IT project requirements in the first place and manage them better once they are under way.

This should also give industry confidence in its ongoing contractual negotiations. The private sector is arguing that the government is trying to pass the buck instead of dealing with the root cause of problems with IT projects: poor specifications and project management on the government side.®

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