Now that the agenda has changed, says Whitehall, from e to t-government (t as in transformational) it seems timely to review how the first generation of e-government projects are faring.

The good news is that many have delivered real citizen benefits and saved on operational costs, apparently. MIS UK spoke to four such organisations, all of which had did well in a recent e-government awards scheme. Now that the agenda has changed, says Whitehall, from e to t-government (t as in transformational) it seems timely to review how the first generation of e-government projects are faring. The good news is that many have delivered real citizen benefits and saved on operational costs, apparently. MIS UK spoke to four such organisations, all of which had did well in a recent e-government awards scheme.

Hampshire

Hampshire County Council’s computer services and network architecture, for instance, has been transformed in recent years by an approach that not only underwrites the council’s overall modernisation programme but contributes to it in terms of greater efficiency and flexibility, according to Jos Creese, its head of IT. Hampshire says it turned off its last mainframe in April 2005 and the new platform is generating cost savings of £4 million a year (£2m on an improved infrastructure and the rest from better use of core applications).

The work has deep roots. A significant component is Hantsnet, an intranet in all but name from its initial creation some 20 years back, which draws on some of the most modern of topologies, thin-client computing. “We are also major users of SAP, which is our main business application architecture,” says Creese. The council uses SAP modules including finance, HR, procurement and property management, he adds.

In part this has been driven by Gershon. “Gershon has clearly focused a lot of attention on the issue of efficiency and finding ways of releasing more value from resources, but we have been going down this path for some time, at least five years. What’s certain is that IT has to be at the heart of all these kinds of initiatives,” says Creese. “We can do much more than just find sustainable efficiencies,” he adds. “We have to enable service improvement and service integration too.”

That is because, he believes, Hampshire is one of the local government environments where IT and the business really do work with one another and IT operates as a business.

"Our focus is on cutting costs, improving service quality and the delivery of agreed return on IT investments"

Jos Creese, head of IT, Hampshire County Council

“Our focus is on cutting costs, improving service quality and the delivery of agreed return 0n IT investments. If you operate IT like this and validate your decisions against your customers’ goals, you are more likely to get investments that pay off for the public and for the services that directly support them. The only difference between us and a big private sector corporation is that we don’t generate a profit.”

Liverpool

That emphasis on value for money is what seems to drive most of the better e-government projects.

Take Liverpool. Sometimes you come across great ideas that are so obviously useful that you cannot believe no one has had them before. A case in point is the Emergency Payments Cash Card application created by Liverpool City Council in partnership with Avantra, the outsourcing arm of Link, the national ATM network.

It is a debit card loaded with exactly the right amount of money to support needy people instead of issuing cash.

“About 18 months ago we looked at cash handling within social services,” says Paul Weston, business process re-engineering and IT manager at the council.

“Our scoping exercise showed that where we have a statutory duty to make emergency payments it can be quite a complex process for both us and the customer.” This includes the management of petty cash and making the claimant travel for the collection of funds.

Weston’s proposed alternative: issue funds electronically so that the clients collect them safely and at their convenience from any ATM with a card that could be activated in their own home. The result is a prototype single-use citizen cash card, useable at any Link cashpoint, free of charge even in charging ATMs. It saves on fraud and administration charges and will be a basis for future electronic cash services.

“We can already see ways to make the amount that can be withdrawn more flexible. That is, less than the £10 minimum ATM cash withdrawal or with coinage added, and we are working with Avantra and the Post Office to help us do this,” he says. “There are many possible extensions.”

Given that the city processes approximately 28,000 emergency and ad-hoc payments, the re-engineered process is reducing paperwork, time to process a request and also the number of staff involved – producing a projected saving in the region of 40 per cent.

Tameside

Savings also feature in another successful e-government initiative in local authorities, at Tameside in Greater Manchester. It is a Metropolitan Borough Council heavily committed to e-government and online delivery, says assistant executive director of community and IT services, Tim Rainey.

Its in-house developed web technology is being used to underpin all service delivery channels as well as supporting the council’s face-to-face and call centre services.

As a specific metric, in 2004 to 2005 the site received nearly 700,000 unique visitors and the call centre just over 300,000. The web channel costs the council a fifth of the equivalent money – only 25p per website transaction compared to £1.40 for a call centre one.

"It makes economic sense to look at self-service but it only works if you can deliver to customers’ expectations of what it will do"

Tim Rainey, assistant executive director of community and IT services, Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council

“We have put the work in to establish real e-government,” says Rainey. “Now the issue is exploitation of this and sweating of the assets we have created.” It is these kind of moves, he adds, that help limit council tax rises and also meet Gershon targets.

The Tameside Citizen First system uses CRM and is based on a single customer database to provide citizen portal functionality and customer tracking. The single common data source for all information and electronic forms ensures a consistent approach to the delivery of services, says Rainey, regardless of how accessed.

Responses to service requests are managed through the newly developed contacts database. It logs and tracks each unique request, giving the customer a receipt and a service level agreement. It then monitors, and if required escalates the transaction as it is processed in the back-office.

That back-office side is very important. “It makes economic sense to look at self-service but it only works if you can deliver to customers’ expectations of what it will do.

“The whole rise of eBay and the electronic banking culture has to be borne in mind. We are very confident the back-office systems are in place to make sure we can do that.”

Northern Ireland

A growing demand for online access is also a factor at another popular government service, The Land Registers of Northern Ireland (LRNI). With records going back more than 100 years, when LRNI made a commitment to a major business transformation programme, there was no shortage of source material. The refresh centred on extensive conversion
of all this information to a range of electronic media including workflow plus electronic data and records management.

"It’s gone beyond just making information available over the internet, it’s putting transactional information up there too for the real benefit of the public"

Ignatius O’Doherty, CIO, The Land Registers of Northern Ireland

The scope was ambitious -– covering geographical information systems; bespoke application management processes; the development of an online portal service for conveyancing (called landweb direct); as well as a document archiving and remote disaster recovery facility.

Ignatius O’Doherty, the LRNI’s CIO, says: “In 1999 we went from a very manual system to a situation where over half of all solicitor companies in Northern Ireland were using the service. Around 80 per cent of all conveyancing of property and land in the province is going through this system.”

In 2004 over half a million applications were processed via landweb, he adds.

This is in sharp contrast to the drawbacks of the old system – inefficient processes, duplication, potential inaccuracies, storage issues and decreasing customer satisfaction.

“A solicitor might have to drive to the other side of Northern Ireland to find one piece of paper in our office. Now solicitors and anyone involved in the buying and selling of land can do so much online – in fact 95 per cent of all registry searches happen this way now.”

As far as O’Doherty is concerned, “all this shows we are not just demonstrating what e-government might do – we are doing it.”

He adds: “It’s gone beyond just making information available over the internet, it’s putting transactional information up there too for the real benefit of the public.”