The brouhaha of last November’s strategy call to move to transformational government based on integrated ICT, clouded the fact that much of government technology leaves something to be desired.

Take what seems like a fairly straightforward enterprise content management (ECM) move by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM). Part of its remit is to co-ordinate the nine regional websites the government runs in the English regions which act as information sources for consumers, the voluntary sector, emergency services and business.

Action stations

Now a central ECM system (the Mediasurface product, hosted by the ODPM’s technology provider Fujitsu Services) is in place to unify creation and routing of content – a fix, it would seem, a commercial organisation might have taken much sooner.

But according to Andy Bentley, head of IT in the unit of the ODPM that carried out the job, the Regional Co-ordination Unit, it has taken a long time to get to this point around seven years from having a single network connecting the relevant offices. This project alone took 12 months before going-live last May.

“This really is a tremendous step forward for us, in terms of the ability to work internally and externally. It really is an example of ‘joined-upness’ in action,” says Bentley.

"We are getting four times the traffic and two million page impressions a month, which we are very pleased about"

Andy Bentley, head of IT, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

If it took a while to build steam, the site – www.gos.gov.uk (for government offices) – is a definite achievement.

“We’re getting four times the traffic and two million page impressions a month, which we’re very pleased about,” Bentley told MIS UK.

The new system links the nine regional sites, the RCU site and an entry site. It provides visitors with a wide range of information and comparative searches on government policy (such as transport and education) in the different areas of England. It has also met the highest current accessibility standards, the AAA level of the W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Standing tall

“Now we think we can tell the national tale a lot better,” says Bentley. But he then carefully delineates what the work is not about.

The project was originally suggested in consultation with Ian Watmore’s e-gov office as a possible pan-UKHMG web platform, which “didn’t progress”. It is an initiative in parallel with and not closely linked to the overall e-gov and now transformational government initiatives, he says.

“We can see we are just really starting out here,” he adds. “We are interested in an e-business extension to the site but really we’ve only just launched a decent website with decent technology behind it. Anything else is a future step. We see a natural link with some kind of customer relationship management system, whatever that means these days.”

Bentley concludes: “In government IT we are a very young community and it’s taken a while for us to deliver the business case we needed, but we are absolutely progressing in the right way now.”