Electronic Service Delivery
1. This section provides an introduction to the implementation of electronic service
delivery to citizens. Although most of the section is about local authority
services, the principles and practices could apply to any public sector (or even
private sector) organisation. The section covers access channels for services,
relevant technologies and the context of government policy.
2. The Modernising Government White Paper published in 1999 raised the profile
of „e-government‟ and presented a major challenge to the public sector to
modernise and achieve „citizen-centred‟ services by integrating policies and
programmes, joining up service delivery across departments and agencies, and
harnessing the potential of ICT.
3. The government set a number of e-government targets for the public sector to
achieve. These targets and their supporting measures undoubtedly helped to
focus the sector‟s attention on the issues needed to be addressed internally, in
order to ensure that the necessary framework is in place to enable the
implementation of electronic government.
4. However, many felt that the emphasis was placed too heavily on the
technological aspects of change rather than the experience of the citizen in
accessing public services. Many local authorities also approached this as a box
ticking exercise, merely reproducing existing paper documents electronically on
their websites without changing back office processes and systems.
5. With the publication of Transformational Government in 2005 the emphasis
shifted. Although subtitled “Enabled by Technology” the key message was the
transformation required was that services should be more citizen and business
centred, professional delivered and that opportunities for shared services
should be pursued. Technology had its place in this transformation but it was no
longer the driver.
6. Over the last few years the technological landscape for most citizens and
businesses has changed. The majority of internet users now have broadband
connections. More and more mobile phones have access to 3G networks.
Citizens now expect to access government services electronically.
7. The electronic delivery of services presents the opportunity to offer improved
(better and quicker), and more personalised levels of customer service. It also
offers potential efficiency savings, as well as meeting the expectations of an
increasingly technologically aware public who expect to be able to conduct
business over the internet and via other electronic means. These savings are
unlikely to be achieved without substantial initial investment in ICT.
What is e-government or electronic service delivery?
8. The private sector has prefixed many of its nouns with an „e‟ since the mid-
1990s, using terminology such as „e-commerce‟ and „e-business‟ to describe
how companies use new technologies to improve their selling techniques and
internal processes. Public organisations then started talking about „e-
government‟ to describe the way in which technology could transform their
internal processes and improve interactions with citizens.
9. There is no consensus regarding an exact definition of e-government but ever
since the late 1990s its techniques and technologies have become increasingly
important in the business of public sector organisations.
10. The development of e-business has been driven by the ability to reach more
customers, to make financial savings and to offer improved, more personalised
levels of customer service. The implementation of new information and
communications technology (ICT) systems saves public money by automating
routine processes, supporting information sharing and improving the services
11. One noticeable area where this applies is by increasing the number of „channels‟
through which services are provided. For example, citizens and businesses can
now communicate with public bodies by fax, telephone (landline or mobile), e-
mail, internet, interactive digital TV, street kiosks, text message or web camera
(especially for the aurally impaired), as well as by letter or in person. For the
time being it is important to keep the older, more traditional lines of
communication open, since a significant proportion of the population are still
suspicious of new technology, or have no access to it.
12. In addition, the promise of improved internal communications should mean that
people are not asked repeatedly for the same information by different
government departments, their agencies and public bodies (or by different staff
within the same organisation). This will help to achieve „joined-up‟ working,
whereby local authorities, central government and the private and voluntary
sectors act together to deliver services.
13. Similarly, staff in public sector contact centres will be able to use customer /
citizen relationship management (CRM) technology (call centre databases) or
contact management technology to access information about the individual they
are dealing with, and thus communicate with people in a more personal and
14. The 1999 Modernising Government White Paper put information technology
firmly on the agenda and encouraged much greater cross-departmental use of
systems and resources.
15. Public sector organisations are not only using ICT to automate existing
processes such as paying housing benefits or handling tax returns, but are also
transforming those processes, in order to provide a higher standard of new and
existing services to the community. It is this idea of re-engineering processes,
rather than simply „bolting on‟ new technology systems to existing work
practices, that differentiates electronic service delivery from traditional IT
16. The UK government instructed most public sector organisations to set out the
details of their strategies for making all services available „electronically‟ by
2005. „Electronically‟ was defined as being via the web, or by telephone if the
person being called is using an electronic device, such as a computer interface
or call centre database.
17. These targets were criticised as organisations could just transfer all their
delivery mechanisms to the internet or call centres, without fundamentally
reforming them. Nor did they address related matters, such as making the
electronic services easy to use or relevant to the citizen. Nevertheless, the
public sector made good progress in meeting this target – by the end of 2005,
97% of English local government services were online.
18. Building on this initial work, the Cabinet Office published a strategy document
in November 2005, Transformational Government: Enabled By Technology. This
emphasised the role that ICT could play in supporting public sector reform,
while reaffirming that transformation was a strategic business issue and should
not be left to technologists. It set out a blueprint for the future of public
services, in which they are joined up, efficient and designed around the needs
of the customer.
Why electronic service delivery?
19. The key drivers behind electronic service delivery and the public sector
„modernisation‟ agenda are the need to save money, use assets more
efficiently, improve the quality of customer experience and offer service users
more choice in how they access public services.
20. ICT can provide essential links within an organisation as it strives to improve
service delivery using a range of management techniques, such as
benchmarking and performance measurement. These techniques require much
more sophisticated use of management information taken from a wide range of
21. Consequently, the core reasoning behind the implementation of electronic
service delivery was the same argument e-business reformers adopted in the
private sector: to improve operational performance. The goal is to transform
the state into a more effective and more efficient machine. At the most basic
level, these changes should result in better, faster and cheaper public services.
Customer Centred Services
22. In its 2002 report Message Beyond the Medium, the Audit Commission found
that citizens‟ expectations of local authorities appeared to be growing
exponentially. Increasingly, the level of service provided by private sector
companies is the benchmark against which people measure the standard of
23. Technology in general and electronic service delivery in particular provides a
timely way to meet these expectations, allowing the public access to services
where and when they want them, in a manner that is convenient. However,
since local authorities still tend to operate within normal daytime office hours,
the idea of 24-hour access to government has great implications for the way in
which public sector employees work.
24. Echoing this point, former prime minister Tony Blair said that he wanted to
shape public services around the needs of their users (the „citizen as
customer‟), rather than the wishes of the service provider – a point that was
reiterated in the Transformational Government strategy. The government's
flagship DirectGov website (www.direct.gov.uk), which aims to be a first port of
call for electronically available services, has structured its content around 'user
groups' – such as motorists, parents or the over 50s.
25. A prerequisite for delivering „citizen as customer‟ services is the presence of
fully joined-up back office systems. These will allow the easy sharing of
information across and between government departments, their agencies and
other public bodies. People will not have to register or fill in the same details on
forms more than is absolutely necessary. This gives people the opportunity to
access public sector organisations on their own terms, rather than through
traditional departmental channels. The boundaries of a number of bodies that
deal with similar customers have already begun to blur, as the new, combined
benefits agencies and job centres demonstrate.
26. Related to this, the government has realised that the proliferation of the
number of public sector websites has resulted in confusion for the citizen and
duplication of effort within the government. Early in 2007, the government
announced that out of 951 sites, only 26 would definitely stay, 551 would
definitely close and the others would be reviewed with the expectation that they
would also close. The aim is to have two main sites (Directgov and Business
Link), one site for each department and a few others such as NHS Direct.
Although progress on this rationalisation has been slower than planned, it is still
the government‟s objective to dramatically reduce the number of sites.
27. Implementing new working practices obviously needs to go hand-in-hand with
an effective change management programme. Managing the transition to new
processes is probably the most difficult aspect of electronic service delivery.
Success will require three elements: an underlying technical infrastructure that
is fit for the desired purpose, well designed business processes and supporting
28. Joined-up government refers to a holistic view of service delivery whereby
different departments and organisations act in a coordinated manner to deliver
services and share customer information.
29. Advocates of identity cards saw their arguments strengthened by proposals that
they should include personal information, thus allowing cardholders to use
government services more easily. These „entitlement‟ cards could include
details of the citizen‟s health records and benefits they receive, as well as more
standard data such as name, address and date of birth. This would enable
quicker access to services in hospitals, benefits agencies and other government
buildings and would be facilitated by the sharing of information across
departments and organisations.
30. However, there are legal and civil liberty barriers, not least the potentially
conflicting legislation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data
Protection Act 1998. The first of these gives citizens the right to request access
to information and the second compels organisations to get permission from
data subjects before they use or share their personal information. There are
also financial issues as the adding functionality to the ID cards will cost more
money on a project that is already at the limits of affordability.
31. Many public sector organisations have been pushed rather than drawn into
shared services due to their need to save money. Savings can be delivered by
exploiting economies of scale. An example of this is where several public sector
organisations join a regional e-marketplace. This involves joint negotiation of
prices with suppliers, reducing costs by guaranteeing these suppliers business.
32. Central government encourages partnership working by providing funding
through initiatives such as the Invest to Save Budget – www.isb.gov.uk. The
Cabinet Office‟s Shared Services Advisory Group has estimated efficiency
savings in the region of £40 billion. Forming partnerships with other public
sector organisations can often be the first step towards true joined-up working.
Working across boundaries
33. UKOnline, the forerunner of DirectGov, showed that it was possible for
government departments to work with one another. The „joined up‟ rhetoric has
increased since its launch and a number of projects in central and local
government have proved to be successful. Central government has urged other
public sector bodies to form partnerships with one another; this will reduce
expenditure on ICT and other infrastructure through economies of scale, make
transacting with government easier for the citizen, help to identify common
goals and assist with the sharing of best practice.
34. In order to better facilitate developments in this area the Office of the Deputy
Prime Minister (OPDM) formed the Government Connects (GC) programme
(www.govconnect.co.uk). This is a suite of products, standards and guidance
that offer common technical solutions that allow local authorities to adopt a
common approach to registering and authenticating users of online services.
Development of a common infrastructure like this is an essential step to
achieving true collaboration between different departments and organisations.
35. To promote GC, a partnership of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP),
Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Department for Children,
Schools and Families (DCSF) and the local government community led by the
DWP has been formed. They have designated GC as their preferred common
secure method for the electronic transfer of data between departments and
local authorities and will be funding the connections until March 2011. From
April 2009 the three departments will begin phasing out internet and postal
based solutions that currently exist. The majority of local authorities are now
engaged with Government Connect.
36. This drive for joined-up working is being coordinated by the Shared Services
team within the Cabinet Office. The remit of this group is to investigate how the
government and wider public sector can achieve financial savings and increased
effectiveness by standardising, simplifying and sharing corporate functions,
particularly finance, human resources and IT.
37. Following the publication of its National Strategy for Local E-government, the
ODPM (now the DCLG) established a programme of national projects with the
aim of ensuring that all local authorities have the tools to develop key electronic
services and building blocks. These projects aimed to bring together local
authorities, central government and private sector organisations to develop
products that can be used to deliver electronic services, such as CRM
technology, e-procurement, digital television, smartcards, online payments,
online school admissions, etc. The principle was that the solution should only be
developed once but used many times across the country.
38. Similar initiatives have been criticised in the past for producing one-off projects
that are not rolled out nationwide and may not even be developed further by
the participating councils once the initial funding runs out. To try to avoid this,
the DCLG allocated £28 million to fund specific projects that build on the
learning of the national projects and assist with the roll-out of their products
39. The ownership of products developed by the National Projects programme has
been transferred to local authorities and other public sector organisations. The
central funding of these projects has now finished and they are expected to be
40. Joined-up public–private working is undoubtedly one of the most controversial
forms of partnership, and the criticisms of the UK government‟s flagship private
finance initiative (PFI) policy only account for some of the opposition. If
government bodies share personal information with private companies, this is
likely to be even more controversial than one public sector organisation passing
on private details to another.
41. However, because electronic service delivery by definition involves the
integration of ICT into public sector processes, technology and communications
companies need to play an essential role in realising the vision. Furthermore,
since private sector e-business practices tend to be more established than
those of government, private companies can use their experience of
implementing technological change to ensure that public sector organisations
are well equipped to deal with the problems they had to overcome.
Ethical and privacy issues
42. In spite of the apparent benefits of joined-up working, there are considerable
ethical and political questions relating to partnerships between different public
sector organisations or between public and private sectors:
Sharing data between agencies – how data is stored leads to issues about
who has access to the stored data. Choices have to be made to determine
the boundaries between a passive and an active data collection regime.
As governments begin to adopt information storage, control and
dissemination technologies, key ethical and political questions arise. How
will public bodies use personal data? Who controls access to it? How much
information is required to provide an individual with the level of service they
want? For example, is it necessary for a hospital to have access to a
patient‟s entire medical records, when most of the information may not be
relevant to their current situation? Are revenue streams such as advertising
or market intelligence profiling acceptable areas of government activity?
Indeed, are they acceptable areas of business activity if outsourced or
In recent years „identity theft‟, whereby people are able to masquerade as
other individuals after stealing their personal details, has become a big
concern. After assuming their victim‟s identity fraudsters can obtain
documentation such as passports and driving licences, or make payments
with credit cards or online banking services.
E-democracy and revitalising communities
43. Voter turnout at elections has fallen to around 60% at the last two general
elections and even fewer citizens have participated in elections for their local
and European representatives in recent years. The figures are even lower for
younger voters. Perhaps in response to this, the government set up a website
(www.edemocracy.gov.uk) and published a consultation document on e-
democracy in July 2002. This paper acknowledges that the government bears a
responsibility for low turnout and highlighted how e-participation and e-voting
could empower citizens, particularly the young.
44. Most e-democracy activity and discussion in the UK has concentrated on
electronic voting (e-voting). This term describes the use of the internet, e-mail,
kiosks, mobile phones and text messages in voting.
45. In the 2002 and 2003 local elections, a number of English councils piloted
different kinds of e-voting projects. Turnout increased in each area that was
involved, although some wards were more successful than others. Subsequent
concerns regarding electoral security have delayed work in this area and there
have been no further pilots since 2003. The Department of Constitutional
Affairs did not think that the 2006 local elections were a suitable time for
further trials of e-voting or all-postal voting but wants to start projects to
investigate methods of improving security.
46. The e-democracy programme aims to develop a „two way conversation‟
between the electorate and politicians, and thus to foster a greater feeling of
community involvement in the democratic process. Methods of achieving this
include the use of websites and web-logs by MPs, MEPs and councillors.
Communication of this sort allows citizens access to information quickly and
easily. Community organisations can download government consultation papers
or legislation from the web as soon as they are ready, rather than having to
wait for a hard copy to be published, sent in the post and then delivered
through internal mail systems. This gives them much more time to consider and
draft their responses to the proposals.
47. The UK government already allows (and in many cases prefers) opinions on
draft legislation or policies to be sent via e-mail. Many local authorities take a
similar position on planning or licensing applications. Online consultation (via e-
mail or discussion forums) can occur before decisions are made, to ensure that
all relevant parties can have their say on probable outcomes, or after new laws
are enacted, to assess how effective they have been. Many citizens find this
way of registering their opinions far more convenient than writing and posting a
letter. The European Union often arranges for its commissioners to answer
online queries in real time and thus discuss issues with people in all member
48. Local authorities are being encouraged to develop their role as community
leaders. This requires them to be much more proactive about their role in
promoting the economic, social and environmental well-being of the community
and, in particular, in building partnerships with other agencies in the
community. Electronic service delivery has a major role to play in providing
these linkages, by improving communications and helping to raise skill levels
within the communities they serve.
49. For example in July 2005 the London Borough of Islington became the country‟s
largest provider of a free wireless broadband internet service when it launched
the „Technology Mile‟ or „Streetnet‟. This was designed to increase internet
accessibility for residents who did not previously have access, to improve
customer feedback and to help residents and businesses take pride in the look
and feel of their borough.
50. In 2003 Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council launched an ICT bus facility to
increase the opportunities in the community for people to learn IT skills. This
offers ICT „taster sessions‟, basic skills and accredited courses at the locations
that are most convenient for service users. This service has been popular
across the borough in varying community groups including users of Sure Start
schemes for young people, senior citizens groups and local businesses.
51. Although the introduction of technology into traditional political practices is not
a panacea for the problem of people not turning up to the polls, many believe it
will provide new ways of involving citizens in the democratic process between
elections. Indeed, it has the potential to transform the relationship between
government and governed, through easier access to information, increased
transparency, and discussion and feedback mechanisms.
52. Many people see the principal driver of electronic service delivery as the
opportunity to save money, for example, by automating manual processes. This
is often taken as a euphemism for reducing staff numbers.
53. A key idea in service design has been the separation of the „front‟ and „back‟
offices. The front office is the organisation‟s external face and is made up of
those staff members who are responsible for dealing with customers directly, in
call centres or one-stop shops for example. In contrast, the back office consists
of work processes that are done behind the scenes, away from customers. In
most cases this separation will lead to the creation of new opportunities for
staff affected by changing organisational structures.
54. The desired outcome of this change is to address any inefficiencies such as
delaying factors or duplication of effort within internal processes and
procedures. This has helped in the delivery of the Gershon efficiency savings
(see below) during the last Comprehensive Spending Review period and the
new efficiency target required during the current CSR period 2008-2011.
55. Additional financial savings also result from other aspects of electronic service
delivery, including reduced office overheads due to higher numbers of home
workers, reduced transaction costs via the use of e-procurement systems and
cheaper staff training programmes through e-learning. These savings can be
redirected to other areas of priority spending at the 'front line', passed on more
directly to the public through tax cuts, or used for the continuous improvement
of all services.
56. Public sector organisations must invest heavily in ICT in order to reap the
financial benefits of electronic service delivery over the medium and long term.
As a result, many managers are understandably reluctant to spend money on
new systems that are not guaranteed to provide a return on investment within
the first few years. Furthermore, the money provided by central government to
help fund the agenda falls short of what most local authorities estimate will be
the total cost of implementation.
Gershon report and efficiency savings
57. Peter Gershon's report Releasing Resources to the Front Line, published in July
2004, increased the importance of ICT-supported change in public sector
organisations. Gershon identified the potential for delivering over £20 billion in
efficiencies by 2007/08. This represented the first serious attempts to get a
return on the government's ICT investments. His findings were then translated
into a technical note for local authorities.
58. This technical note asked councils to deliver and demonstrate efficiencies of
2.5% over the three financial years 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08, half of
which have to be 'cashable' – that is, delivering a direct financial saving or
benefit, releasing money that could be spent elsewhere or recycled within a
service to deliver better results. These gains were to be delivered across the
following four 'workstreams' and another 11 service areas, and ICT has a role
to play in each of them.
Workstream Role of ICT
Procurement • Better IT sourcing
• Joint purchasing
• Reducing office space requirements from flexible
Corporate services • Simplifying, standardising and automating work
• Improving partnership working
• Measuring baselines and performance
Transactional services • Supporting business process change
• Supporting information sharing with voluntary sector
intermediaries (such as Citizens Advice Bureaux)
• Adopting best practice on electronic transactions, as
developed by the national projects (particularly
Valuebill, e-Pay, enterprise workflow and customer
relationship management (CRM))
• Integrating service delivery and authentication of the
customer with existing initiatives so councils are not
'reinventing the wheel'
Productive time • Increasing flexible working
• Reducing the costs of the organisation's property
• Reviewing business processes and staff management
59. The technical note also required councils to produce annual efficiency
statements to outline how they are progressing with the agenda. These
statements have shown that ICT played a major role in delivering the gains. In
addition, tools embedded in many software solutions provided managers with
information that helped them to measure savings, making a potentially onerous
data collection exercise much easier.
60. The Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 introduced a new single target of
3% cashable efficiency savings across the public sector. The amount of data to
be reported has reduced significantly but the higher target will continue to drive
the need for efficiencies that can only be provided by continued investment in
Access Channels for Services
61. In recent years there has been much blurring of the line between the public and
private sectors, with government agencies run as businesses, corporate entities
operating public services, and mixed public and private funding, but the
fundamental distinction between the two is very real. Government does not
have to operate with shareholders in mind; instead it has to consider the
interests of all stakeholders (its staff, suppliers, industry, trade unions, interest
groups and citizens) when making decisions.
62. As a result, private companies are able to decommission older, unprofitable
delivery channels and concentrate on those aspects of their business that will
deliver the greatest return for their shareholders. This has allowed banks to
close down their rural branches, replacing them with cheaper online services,
even though many account holders in the countryside do not have access to the
63. In contrast, the public sector must provide a wider service and must therefore
continue to use traditional methods until they are no longer wanted. This is
likely to result in a long and expensive process of delivering services through a
variety of options.
64. Since the full financial benefits of electronic service delivery will only be realised
once the older delivery mechanisms are closed down, a substantial marketing
campaign will be required to ensure sufficient take-up of online services. In
particular, organisations have had problems in convincing older people of the
web‟s benefits. Recognising this, a number of local authorities have
concentrated on service delivery via call centres rather than the internet, since
the great majority of people can use a telephone while a much smaller
proportion can use the web. Other routes, such as interactive digital television,
have also been developed since many socially excluded groups that don‟t have
access to the internet are able to access services via their set top boxes.
65. Ensuring proper integration and communication with the customer-facing front
office should also result in better all-round service delivery, as more skilled staff
are able to concentrate on complex, higher-value work, rather than having to
answer routine telephone calls. Customer relationship management (CRM)
systems and contact management systems can also give frontline staff more
information about their customers, which allows them to provide a more helpful
66. These allow customers to access all services at one point instead of having to
visit different locations to access different services. This traditional face-to-face
method of service provision is labour and time-intensive for both the service
provider and the customer.
67. Efficiencies and improved service delivery can be achieved through one-stop
shops by use of integrated systems. For example, if someone calls in to deal
with a planning enquiry, the one stop shop employee can also see if they have
other needs that can be dealt with at the same time or receive payment for a
number of different services through a single transaction.
68. Contact centre technology gives customers one point of telephone access into
the whole organisation. If the organisation‟s back office is sufficiently „joined
up‟, callers can often have a range of different issues dealt with at the same
time. CRM systems give customer service advisors access to useful details
about the caller, such as when they last contacted the organisation, the subject
of that contact and how the issue was dealt with. As a result, the caller can
receive an improved, more personalised service.
69. The internet has the potential to deliver many services that previously relied on
paper-based processes, although some are more suited to this channel than
others. Although payments can be made via the web, a number of
„transactional‟ services require the public to sign documentation. This can
create problems, such as authentication of the user. For example, UK citizens
cannot currently complete the process of applying for a passport online, since
this requires a signature and photograph, as well as payment of a fee.
Alternatively, some advice may be better given by telephone or face-to-face,
especially if it concerns issues that people want to keep private.
70. On the other hand, the UK was the first country to allow minor crimes to be
reported via the web (through the website www.online.police.uk). This process
does not require financial transactions and authentication is not a major issue;
indeed some victims may prefer the relative anonymity of the internet to
entering a police station environment.
71. Internet-based service delivery reaps the greatest benefits in those areas that
are used most often and require the least state involvement, such as repeat
requests for prescriptions, registering on the electoral roll, applying for housing
benefit and paying council tax.
72. The internet is also a useful medium for disseminating information quickly to a
large number of people. For example, the Environment Agency website draws
attention to areas that may be at risk of flooding, the Met Office publicises
severe weather warnings on the internet and the Foreign Office includes a link
to current advice on travel to specific countries on its homepage.
Public access points
73. Public access points such as kiosks give people a place to find information,
access the internet and use e-mail free of charge, or transact with an
organisation without the need for any personal contact. These can be useful in
areas of low internet penetration or where tourism is an important industry.
74. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council has a network of 23 public information
points that offer a wide range of services to users. These include access to e-
mail, selected websites, council service information, a „contact my local
councillor‟ service, Crimestoppers, local job vacancy information, tourist
information, public transport information and a local business locator. The
council aims to establish a total of 38 of these facilities and hopes that 63% of
the borough‟s population will live within an eight-minute walk of one. Kiosks
have proved popular, some receiving over 1,000 visitors in the first month after
installation. This is however an expensive technology; rental and maintenance
fees at an external location can exceed £18,000.
Technologies for Improving and Enabling Access
75. This section is based on the technologies and systems listed as enablers,
connections and core systems in the government‟s model of the building blocks
of the successful e-enabled organisation.
76. Details of the infrastructure that underpins these technologies can be found in
the ICT Infrastructure section.
Internet and intranets
77. The internet allows individuals and organisations to communicate with the
outside world, via e-mail or websites, whereas intranets enable (usually secure)
internal communication with colleagues and employees through an
organisation‟s own network. One intranet can also be linked to intranets of
other organisations that work together, forming an „extranet‟ and reinforcing
multi-agency working and other types of collaboration.
78. The internet and intranets provide a number of advantages. They can:
provide an alternative publishing medium to printed paper;
communicate a range of data types such as graphics, images, voice and
video as well as text;
link automatically to other complementary sources of information (i.e. other
provide information for immediate dissemination, stimulating interaction
allow access to information electronically from any desktop or laptop PC;
reach anyone with a connection, at any time of the day or night.
79. Increasingly, organisations use intranets as the basis for their own networks.
They provide employees with easy and quick access to relevant corporate
information and documentation. This can be protected from external influences
by company firewalls. In addition, intranets normally include discussion areas,
which facilitate protected online dialogue with staff that are not based in the
80. Whitehall‟s Government Secure Intranet (GSI) allows for e-mail, information
sharing, directory facilities for GSI users‟ details and access to the external
internet. It enables staff in central government departments and agencies to
communicate with each other more effectively, thus increasing the speed and
level of debate on policy. Providing staff with easy access to information
through the intranet also improves their external communications with
businesses and the public.
81. The NHS uses a secure intranet called NHSnet. This was developed in
partnership with BT and provides a similar range of communication services and
information to the internet. This includes the ability to send e-mail and SMS
text messages, and access to professional information and to the internet itself.
This network can be accessed from around 18,000 sites and locations across
the country. It allows for very fast transmission of visual data such as video and
x-rays between these sites.
82. People with mobility or language problems can access relevant government
information, vote or transact with public bodies much more easily via the
internet and e-mail – provided that information is presented in a format that is
accessible to them. New technology can also help break down barriers to
83. More information regarding these technologies can be found in the Applications
84. Smartcards can hold information about an individual that allows them to pay
fares or fees, gain access to buildings, book tickets etc. Bracknell Forest and
Ipswich Borough Councils have been pioneers in this area. The most widely
used is Transport for London‟s Oyster card scheme. This has the largest user
base of all smartcards the UK with more than 2.2 million users. More than 3
million journeys are taken every day using this technology.
85. Video conferencing and teleconferencing (on a one-to-one basis or for large
meetings) cut across distance and save travelling time and costs.
86. Digital television is often cited as the technology that will help bridge the „digital
divide‟ – the gap, which reflects socio-economic differences, between those who
have access to the internet and those who do not. The Communications Act
2003 allows local authorities to compete with private companies to secure
restricted service licences. Suffolk County Council, Ipswich District Council and
Babergh District Council have formed a partnership to offer two new
information channels to local residents.
87. As mentioned above, digital television can also be used via the “red button”
interactive services to provide access to services to citizens that don‟t have
internet access. This was the focus of a national project that was subsequently
taken over by Kirklees Council who now market this under the banner of
88. Mobile telephones, SMS text messaging, wireless application protocol (WAP – a
technology that allows mobile phones to access the internet), General Package
Radio Service (GPRS) and high-bandwidth third-generation (3G) mobile
services are options that can allow citizens to access their local authorities (and
vice versa). For example, some councils offer news and alerts via e-mail or text
messages. A number of councils piloted voting by text message or mobile
phone in 2002, and the DCLG is keen for other authorities to do the same.
89. The government is developing plans to use SMS text messages to alert
geographical areas in the event of terrorist attacks. Fife Council currently uses
text messages to inform council tenants about rent arrears.
90. Further details about the use of mobile technology can be found in the Mobile
and Remote Working section.
Technologies for Improving Internal Management
91. Behind the technology that aids communication with the public is a supporting
set of technology that improves internal management. More information is
available on some of these technologies in the Applications section.
Electronic document and records management systems
92. Document and records management systems allow incoming documents to be
copied as images and all outgoing documents to be filed with them. This allows
for much better management of workflow through the creation, amendment or
reading of documents and records. In addition, an accurate audit trail is
available when the employee comes into contact with the customer. These
systems also free up space by reducing the need for storage cupboards. A
number of private sector companies (including the low cost airline EasyJet)
have already made the transition to a true „paperless office‟. There is however a
legal requirement for public sector organisations to retain certain types of
93. An electronic document management system will also allow the organisation to
respond to Freedom of Information queries with more speed and efficiency. See
the XXXX section on EDRMS.
94. Websites such as www.learndirect.co.uk and intranet-based training
programmes for employees offer access to educational materials that would
otherwise be very difficult to provide.
95. In 2003 the Department for Education and Skills launched the UK e-university.
This was a publicly funded company set up to promote online degrees offered
by UK universities. The company was closed in 2004 having only recruited 900
students at a cost of £40,000 each, making it more expensive than an
education at the universities of Oxford or Cambridge. In a review of this failure
the Education and Skills Committee however recognised the global potential of
e-learning and recommended that the government adopt an overarching
national strategy to ensure consistency, coherence and clarity of purpose in
developments across the sector.
96. E-mail allows rapid dissemination of information within and between
97. These allow employees to plan their time and facilitate meeting planning by
allowing event organisers to check attendee availability and issue invitations.
98. This brings together unrelated sets of data for sophisticated management
information (e.g. information about customers).
Geographical information systems (GIS)
99. These enable operational and management data to be assigned a geographic
location and placed on digital maps, for spatial analysis and presentation of
100. Devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones may also
reap benefits by helping staff to work remotely. This can result in financial
savings through lower fixed office costs, service improvement through easier
access to staff who are often away from a fixed location (such as social workers
or surveyors) and more satisfied employees, who no longer have to commute
as often and have a better balance of work and family life. (See the Mobile and
Remote Working section for more information about mobile working.)
101. These automate routine processes, direct tasks to the appropriate member of
staff and provide valuable management information about how the organisation
Extensible Mark-up Language (XML)
102. This is a programming language that allows organisations to invent „tags‟ that
describe their products, information or services. As a result, one type of
software can identify the topic of information that is stored on a different
system (or a different type of device) and „joined-up‟ working can become a
reality. The government has made XML the centrepiece of its e-Government
Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) to ensure that electronic devices in all parts
of the public sector will be able to „talk‟ to each other.
Electronic Service Delivery in the UK
103. With increased financial support for core policy areas such as health, education,
defence and transport, the role of public services in Britain has undergone a
quiet but significant shift since the late 1990s. Up until recently, the
government‟s agenda in the UK has concentrated on electronic service delivery,
with most minds focused on the 2005 target.
104. The Transformational Government strategy tried to move attention away from
electronic services and onto business change across the public sector, although
it acknowledged that ICT can play an important role in supporting this
programme. It pointed out that transformation was necessary in three areas in
order to deliver this agenda:
focusing services around the customer rather than the provider – by
involving customers and their representatives in the design of these
moving to a „shared services‟ and joined-up culture;
developing ICT professionalism in leadership, planning, supplier negotiation,
delivering and managing change.
105. The strategy set out a plan to replace silo-based delivery with shared services
that are designed around customers by 2010. By this time it hopes that radical
change should be sufficiently embedded in public sector organisations, and the
boundaries between departments and levels of government, as well as public,
private and voluntary sector, will become less visible.
106. The BVPI 157 target helped ensure that local e-government focused on
transactions and direct interaction with citizens more than managerial and
internal reforms. The approach was fairly pragmatic and aimed at government-
to-citizen (G2C) or government-to-business (G2B) transactions, whereas
national projects tended to be more strategic and focused on government-to-
government (G2G) relationships.
107. In autumn 2002, the then ODPM published a strategy document built on the
modernisation White Paper and attempted to outline a clear national framework
of priorities and standards, while not preventing local innovation. This came
with extensive online resources and case studies. The local e-government
programme officially closed in April 2006. Detailed information about the
programme and its legacy can be found at the Local e-government part of the
108. E-government has now been subsumed within the more general heading of
improving service delivery and efficiency within local government as well as the
transformational government agenda.
109. In 1998, the government published its Information for Health strategy, which
stated that it wanted to see the following by 2005:
electronic health records for every person in the country;
NHS staff able to access patient records and information about best clinical
„seamless‟ care for patients, facilitated by patient information sharing
between GPs, hospitals and community services;
online and telephone information services to which the public has 24-hour
110. Progress on some of these targets has been good. NHS Direct, which provides
patients with 24-hour access to health advice by telephone or via the internet,
was completed on schedule and has proved to be one of the UK‟s most
successful e-government projects. The major IT initiatives in health have been
brought together as part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS (NPfIT),
under the responsibility of the Connecting for Health departmental agency.
111. There have been some recent high profile news stories over the delays to the
NPfIT with the withdrawal of another major supplier. There has also been a
select committee report that identified that the programme is now four years
late when two years ago it was running two years late. This has led to a review
of how this programme will be delivered in the future.
Progress So Far
112. During 2002, public sector watchdogs the Audit Commission and the National
Audit Office produced three reports. They emphasised that a great deal has
been achieved, with a number of councils and agencies progressing well in
delivering the vision. However, they also identified the following difficulties:
Many projects have not concentrated on delivering real value – they look at
achieving electronic service delivery rather than taking the opportunity to
change and improve processes. This approach will not deliver the full
benefits of e-government.
A number of public sector organisations have poorly prioritised their e-
government projects and set unrealistic targets for delivery. The studies
found that successful bodies have concentrated on a small number of local
objectives that are more likely to be achieved.
There is a possibility that services will be available online but nobody will
want to use them due to poor marketing, lack of incentives for the public to
opt for newer access channels, or poor choice of channel for the delivery of
Low-income groups and the elderly may have access problems and
therefore may not use online services. Ways to combat this could include
putting computers in nursing homes and job centres and providing training
where necessary. This could help the elderly maintain contact with relatives
or help the unemployed to find work. Alternatively, other ways of accessing
services (such as by telephone or one-stop shops) could be used.
In some cases, opposition to change and lack of ICT skills among staff could
prove problematic in e-enabling internal processes.
113. The true outcome will not be known for some time, since those services that
are made available electronically first have tended to be the easiest to e-
enable, often using simple web publishing tools to make information available
on the internet. Transactional services, where most of the benefits of electronic
service delivery can be realised, are much more difficult to make available
electronically, since distributing or receiving money online often requires
authentication and additional security tools.
114. The Society of Information Technology Managers (www.socitm.gov.uk) looks at
local authority websites every year in preparation for its Better Connected
reports, which aim to provide definitive annual snapshots of the standards of
council websites. This shows an increasing number of council websites that are
“transactional”, i.e. allowing real business to be conducted rather than
providing information only.
115. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when changing the way
services are provided is to involve customers in the decision-making process. If
customers are presented with something that they do not want or are unable to
use, it will not be a worthwhile investment. Liverpool City Council took this into
consideration when it decided that a contact centre was more important than
concentrating on its website.
116. The following ten points will help to ensure successful implementation of e-
1. Involve the customer
117. There is no benefit in providing a resource that the customer (the citizen or
constituent) will not use. Focus groups, consultations, surveys or citizens‟
panels can ensure that the technology fits the customer.
2. Involve the service provider
118. A sophisticated front-office system (the customer interface) requires a suitably
sophisticated back-office system (the service provider interface). The latter
group must be involved from the outset to ensure that the service can be
delivered in the desired way, and that the most appropriate options are
3. Beware leading-edge technologies
119. It is easy to be convinced that only the latest, state-of-the-art technology will
suffice. Most successful systems make the best use of all available and tried
and tested technologies.
4. Secure partnerships
120. Most large systems would benefit from the technical and financial support of an
appropriate technology partner. Usually this is a network, database or internet
5. Exploit existing resources fully
121. Most organisations probably utilise less than 50% of the full potential of their
existing infrastructure and systems.
6. Do not underestimate the training requirements of staff
122. The best system in the world serves no purpose if nobody knows how to use it.
7. Develop a strong corporate IT strategy
123. A successful back-office system is only as good as its weakest link, which is
usually a department or a group of users that does not comply with minimum
standards for infrastructure, technology or training. A corporate IT strategy that
has the full backing of all departments is essential, and usually this also
requires a strong IT client to ensure compliance.
8. Ensure that the corporate IT budget is sufficient
124. Corporate IT infrastructure cannot rely on departmental budgets. Corporate
investment must be available to ensure the successful implementation and
maintenance of back-office systems.
9. Utilise all technologies
125. IT forms part of the communication process but is not always a substitute for
tried and tested methods of communication.
10. Ensure that processes are truly re-engineered to provide
benefits from the customer’s perspective
126. If IT is just bolted on to existing systems, the full benefits of e-government are
unlikely to be realised.
Useful Websites Relating to E-government
IPF homepage: www.ipf.co.uk
CIPFA-SOCITM Network for Improvement Through Technology (ITT):
DCLG Local e-Government homepage: Local e-government
Office of Government Commerce: www.ogc.gov.uk
Cabinet Office IT in Government Unit: