The UK government has appointed the UK managing director of Accenture as its first Head of e-Government, a role replacing and greatly expanding upon the office of e-Envoy, as the government faces mounting disillusionment with how it has handled online government services and public sector ICT projects.
Ian Watmore's appointment in the role - which is modelled on that of an enterprise CIO - coincides with an attempt by the government to change gears in how it is implementing e-government. Andrew Pinder, the outgoing e-Envoy, recently overhauled the old online government gateway site, UK Online, replacing it with a service called Directgov that is designed to bring all e-government services together in one place.
While Pinder was responsible for getting the UK online, Watmore's office - the e-Government Unit, replacing the Office of the e-Envoy - will be responsible for setting up online government services and monitoring the government's use of IT, according to minister for the Cabinet Office Douglas Alexander, to whom Watmore will report.
"Douglas Alexander and Sir Andrew Turnbull have set a formidable challenge in not only driving up use of government services online but also driving change, reform and efficiencies throughout the public sector by using IT," Watmore said. "Im looking forward to starting in the position and supporting all the work that Departments are delivering." The Office of the e-Envoy will begin its transition next month and Watmore will take up his role in September.
Alexander pointed out that 71 percent of government services are already available online, a significant step towards the government's goal of getting all services online by next year. But industry analysts say this target-oriented approach was misconceived to begin with, as it doesn't necessarily enable services that citizens and businesses actually want. This led to the UK slipping from sixth place in 2002 to ninth this year in an annual survey carried out, curiously enough, by Watmore's employer Accenture.
Canada, which topped the Accenture survey, carries out relentless focus group testing and user polling for its e-government programme, an approach not often seen elsewhere. An e-Government Framework rolled out by BuyIT, a private-sector best-practices group, criticised the government for not taking a customer-centric view of services. Also needed are more efficient processes and systems that are developed with the input of all the departments, organisations and partners that need them, rather than existing in isolated "silos".
A report published this week also questions whether governments have been listening to the users of public services, finding that US citizens who contact the government prefer traditional means. A telephone survey of nearly 3,000 individuals by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that of the 54 percent of Americans who had contacted the government in the past 12 months, 53 percent preferred the telephone or in-person visits while 37 percent preferred the Web or email.
The report questions the notion that online services are necessarily the best way to interact with the government - or at least suggests that the US government hasn't rolled out online services that people want to use. "People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to government," said Pew senior researcher John B. Horrigan, the principal author of the report. "The Internets main benefit is arming people with more information; this helps people move through their dealings with government more efficiently."
The report found that more Americans used e-government services in 2003, at 97 million adult citizens, or 77 percent of Internet users, up 50 percent from 2002. The report also found that those with Internet connections were far more likely to have contacted the government than non-Internet users.
In the UK, four out of ten say they would prefer electronic interactions with the government, according to Accenture, but usage is low compared with other countries: 37 percent said they had never visited a government site, though this is down from 65 percent since last year.
Accenture said the UK was more advanced in its use of e-government marketing than other countries, but said that this marketing needs to be shifted from getting people online to getting them to use e-services.
In the area of implementing IT projects, the government has come under fire from the National Audit Office among others. The NAO has criticised the implementation of a £400 million Criminal Records Bureau system and the intelligence agency's £450 million task of shifting its IT systems to a new headquarters.