E-envoy details e-government vision

The e-Delivery Team – part of the office – plans to allow the public to book services by text and internet, but also wants to speed up communication between businesses and government.

The EDT is responsible for the implementation and operation of projects initiated in the Office of the e-Envoy. One of its aims is to create an e-government infrastructure which can be re-used by government departments and cut down on duplication.

Central to the plans is a series of different engines which departments can use to get their services online without building their own systems. For example, the notification and appointments engines when used together can provide a department with a way of scheduling appointments and alerting people through channels such as text and email.

The plan is to build a set of common components around a central transaction engine so departments can choose which they need and ignore those they don’t.

Once the components are in place the individual departments can connect their backend systems. For example, the ability to book hospital and doctor appointments will depend on NHS IT developments to put in place systems that will interact with the notification and appointments engines.

Departments are likely to move at different speeds depending on the amount of interaction they have with the public. At the moment the Inland Revenue, Passport Service and Customs & Excise are seen as some of the fastest-moving departments.

By 2004 the EDT also wants to have delivered an address database which will notify different departments when citizens’ addresses change, and a customisation and personalisation engine for government portals.

It also wants to introduce a rules engine which will allow people to calculate all the benefits they are entitled to by putting in some personal information. This would also allow ‘what if’ style calculations such as ‘how do my benefits change if I have to care for a relative’.

Next year the EDT wants to introduce a centralised form store – so forms can be part-filled out at one website, saved and filled out further at another site.

For example, a taxpayer filling out a self-assessment form could get some of the form pre-filled in at the bank website, then move to their employer’s website and have more of the form completed. It would also allow helpdesk or revenue staff to view part-detailed forms (with permission) to provide better help.

Alan Mather, chief executive at the EDT, told that the team has also developed server technology to allow companies to connect straight into the Government Gateway infrastructure in order to speed up dealings with government.

Although the government owns the intellectual property rights to the software code for the Department Interface Server (DIS), it has shared it with vendors such as Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, so companies have a choice about how they connect to government.

Mather said local government will start to buy DIS technology this year, with the private sector adopting it next year, and said there are advantages for companies with as few as 50 staff.

The DIS talks XML to the Gateway but translates this into whatever formats the company uses for its own systems. He said: ‘The advantage is seamless two-way electronic communications for companies that would otherwise use EDI. This is technology that small companies could be able to adopt.’

But challenges remain – one area where there are still concerns is authentication.

The EDT is disappointed with the slow development of the digital certificate market. According to Mather: ‘We are working with industry to say we have to converge on a set of standards. If they were easier to use more people would use them. As long as they are hard to use, the applications won’t appear.

‘We’ve created a market for digital certificates in government and we want to see it work. There needs to be a focus in the industry around this. If they are to work, standards must be the key.’

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