Authority figures

The British government, it seems, is not keeping up to speed. Of the technology and solution providers interviewed by Forrester Research, 87 .percent felt it would fail to reach its goal of offering all of its services online by 2005. And nearly half felt that the government was failing to get to grips with the Internet.

Why the vote of no confidence? The three main barriers to working with the government on Internet initiatives seem to be cultural resistance (lack of commercial pressure to retain consumers, reluctance to innovate), cumbersome procurement procedures (long timescales and rigid tendering process) and a lack of coordination across departments. All of these are long-term obstacles.

The government needs to get it right. Forrester believes that there is a potential £3.7 billion (5.79 billion euros) to be saved over the next five years. Most of that figure (67 .percent) would come from the transfer of data between departments, rather than through blanket listings of information on Web sites (such as crime figures) or from financial transactions. These data services would enable consumers and businesses to provide information about their dealings with the government, and have that information automatically recorded on official records held by the government. This would cut down on costly face-to-face meetings and reduce record duplication and processing errors.

Many politicians are still not online. On the Houses of Parliament Web site, nearly two-thirds of MPs fail to list an e-mail address and/or a personal Web site. Almost a third of Labour MPs list an e-mail link compared with around a fifth of Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats, however, have 81 .percent of their MPs on the Internet or connected by e-mail.

In general, politicians seem to prefer older technology, such as faxes, phones and snail mail.

Editor's note: see today's story "Australia to push online government model overseas".

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