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Herfordshire goes DTV ...
Herfordshire goes DTV

It is hardly surprising Interactive Digital TV is having a rough ride at the moment.

-- DTV companies are struggling, cable company finances are dire and the future of ITV Digital is uncertain.

-- DTV alters your sight to work across a crowded room

-- Government is keen to promote DTV and turn off analogue transmitters, but the target date is drifting.

So why is Hertfordshire CC bothering to use DTV to reach its citizens? Statistics show that households with DTV already outnumber those who have the internet on their PCs, and demographic surveys indicate that less affluent households have a higher instance of DTV take up than ABC1s. Hence, DTV reaches more households and a different audience. The potential is huge - 35% of votes for Big Brother were cast from the couch.

Satellite coverage is comprehensive, but getting access to a channel is prohibitively expensive. Cable coverage is very patchy but councils prefer it because cable carriers can localise their content, whereas satellite content is aimed at a national audience.

Hertfordshire took the plunge last December when its HertsDirect DTV pilot went live on ntl: cable. It offers the same information as that used on our website, but the structure and design is completely different.

Recently published research suggests viewers use interactive services to overcome that painful modern disease 'micro-boredom' so, as we continue to develop the pilot, the key question for us is 'What killer application will attract the punter?'

So what would drag you away from the sports and entertainment channels? Suggestions please . . .

Bernard Thirkettle

Web development manager, Hertfordshire CC

E-Government is a fragile concept which needs maintaining

E-government promises much, but do councils need to adopt a wider role if electronic service delivery is to be a success?

Recently I was without a phone line at home for nearly three weeks. It was chaos. Suddenly I was plunged into a dark world without internet shopping or banking, no access to the web, chatrooms, e-mail or interactive TV, and no access between home and desk.

Nor could I make online leisure centre bookings, online payments to the council, make repair requests or report faults online, e-mail a councillor, or vote online.

A virus would have had the same effect, isolating me from electronic services.

The key issue here is the fragility of the e-government service councils provide. Through e-government councils encourage electronic service delivery, yet the infrastructure used to deliver those services is vulnerable.

Councils can ensure their internal systems are robust and protected, but when e-services leave the building they rely on an infrastructure that is beyond their control, and on the skills of the service user.

Recognising the problem early provides an opportunity to make an effective and co-ordinated response. Authorities cannot solve this themselves - the issue needs to be addressed with the government, suppliers and other stakeholders.

There is some direct action councils can take. One area is skills development. IT skills are essential for access to electronic services and authorities should be actively supporting skills development in the community.

Health warnings could be introduced. The community should be aware of the need to regularly update anti-virus software, and use passwords. Warnings are issued about other issues, and as cyber crime increases is there a community leadership role to fulfil?

IT support will soon be as important as plumbers and electricians in the home. Should councils be supporting this type of small business, in order to support their own service delivery?

Councils also need to maintain a non-electronic contact option. Given the critical nature of the services they provide, customers must be able to contact councils in any circumstances. In addition, a walk-in option for services remains essential for the foreseeable future.

Electronic service delivery will only be as successful as the delivery system that supports it, and the ability of the users that access it.

Councils need to take a broader view and act now to ensure communities have the skills and access necessary to establish both continuity of service delivery, and trust in e-government.

Steve Baker

Assistant director, Ipswich BC

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