Features: October 10th, 2003

Making Progress Towards e-Government

By John Thornton, Director of eGovernment, Improvement and Development Agency

This article was first published in eGov Monitor Weekly http://www.egovmonitor.com/newsletter/signup.asp

For the third time, authorities in England have been asked to summarise how far they’ve travelled on the journey to becoming fully e-enabled. The journey is long and hard for many but, as seasoned travellers know, regular milestones are useful for holding course, keeping spirits high, and maintaining focus on reaching the destination.

Performance transformation through eGovernment is certainly a journey, and a long and challenging one at that. One of our milestones is 10 November, when ODPM has requested the return of this year’s implementing eGovernment statements. The IEG process is a useful way of tracking progress and staying focused. But this journey is different than most, because today, there are few among us who can describe the finishing line with certainty – what it means to have finally travelled the path, finished, and won. We all know that 2005 is another major milestone on the journey – the point at which all local services will be available online – but what then? What does post-2005 local public service look like? Will the ‘e’ disappear, will we be back to striving for ‘good government’? Questions like these are beginning to be raised and debated more frequently in our networking events for e-champions, and elsewhere. Not least within my team at the IDeA. These questions are valid, and fascinating; vision building always is. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the road for the part of the journey we do know about, and the IEG process is helping us to stay focused.

Commitment to transformation

The IDeA has just published guidance to help authorities through the IEG production process. We have provided advice and resources to support the completion of each part of the proforma, and, uniquely, the resources available from other national organisations is summarised in the IEG matrix, the fourth part of our support package. These resources are available from the IDeA website: www.idea.gov.uk.

As this guidance makes clear, we believe the IEG process is an opportunity to re-affirm commitment to transformation through eGovernment, throughout the organisation. The process of collecting evidence, checking progress, plans and perceptions, and drafting the return is valuable in itself. It should be a joint effort, with input from a broad range of people from the corporate centre and every service area. Unsurprisingly, in places where excellent progress is being made, it is senior members and the chief executive who are leading and steering this process.

Analysis of returns will no doubt show an increase in returns against BVPI 157. Paradoxically, for some councils, it may be that progress on the ground is not matched by improvement against BVPI 157 figures. More widespread use of the esd-toolkit – www.esd-toolkit.org – to track progress, with its extra rigour, will mean that whilst more services are available online, many more have been identified as candidates for e-enablement. Hence real advances on the ground might not always be reflected in higher BVPI 157 returns. This possible downside is balanced by a better understanding of the task at hand, more accuracy and confidence in measurement across the sector, and the ability to compare progress with colleagues more easily.

Analysis of IEGs will also highlight those authorities that are leading the way and have accelerated in the last year, and those struggling to overcome barriers. The role of partnership working, and the sharing of capacity, knowledge, resources and risk is key to overcoming some of these barriers. It has long been said that the degree of complexity, and the scope of change required in e-government means that no authority can afford to act alone. This is still true today. Working in partnership is essential to all authorities, and it is encouraging to see every authority involved in at least one partnership sponsored through national strategy funding.

More support

The IDeA is in the process of establishing two new LGOL funded support services. A Strategic Support Unit is being recruited to offer expert advice on the building blocks of eGovernment, and to facilitate knowledge sharing about good practice between practitioners. An Implementation Support Unit will soon be offering peer reviews of eGovernment progress to councils most at risk of missing the 2005 target. The IEG process will help to focus the activities of these new support units.

For most councils, eGovernment no longer means getting all services online. The real value of implementing eGovernment – improved service quality and strengthened local democracy – is beginning to emerge across the country. Tangible benefits to citizens, business and communities are now being felt, as our recent research has shown. But at the same time, the true scale of the challenge is becoming clear.

Getting services online and used is an essential component of the bigger picture; it is a key part of the journey to transformation. BVPI 157 is not going away, and the core of completing IEG documents themselves is about mapping the steps needed to reach the 2005 target. All authorities can get there, and the IEG statements will explain how. But the simplicity of these plans can mask critical assumptions, for example, about the national infrastructure for authentication being available soon, on which local success hinges.

My advice to authorities is to make these assumptions clear on IEG returns to ODPM, to explicitly state the expectations that underpin the local timetable to 2005. Excellent progress is now being made, and all authorities need to sustain the momentum that has been created, and continue to demonstrate progress against eGovernment plans.

John Thornton joined the Improvement & Development Agency in September 2001 as Director of eGovernment. His role provides a focus for the co-ordination of eGovernment initiatives and to champion the interests of local government in discussions at national level with central government, suppliers and other public services