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E-GOV.UK-CHATROOM

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Is the digital divide shrinking? The number of people who use the internet continues to grow and though there remai...
Is the digital divide shrinking? The number of people who use the internet continues to grow and though there remain wide disparities based on social class and age, they are diminishing. If Britain continues to follow the pattern set in the US, the gap will continue to narrow over the next few years. Initiatives by both central and local government are contributing to this.

Soon, everyone who wants it will have access to the internet - if not at home or at work then in their neighbourhood. So is it time to relax in the satisfaction of a job well done? I think not.

The digital divide is not only about access. For people to want to use the internet, three factors are essential:

- Access opportunities - the internet must be available in a place and at a time which is convenient and encourages use

- Learning opportunities - there must be the chance to gain the skills needed to use the internet

- Relevant content - there must be material which is of interest or of use.

It is the third of these factors that so far seems to have slipped through the net of government initiatives and which has attracted only limited public funding.

We live in a multicultural society, but

it remains the case that most of the content of the internet is drawn from an Anglo-Saxon cultural backcloth. In addition, much is explicitly or implicitly targeted at a youth audience. For many people - among them the most socially excluded - such content is largely irrelevant.

Addressing this lack of relevant content is, of course, harder to deal with than providing access to computers. There are some innovative and exciting projects, particularly where communities are producing content for themselves. These may well provide a model that can be used elsewhere. But, until we reach the situation whereby the internet offers something for everyone, the digital divide will remain unbridged.

Glyn Evans

Head of ICT, Camden LBC

THE UK is poised to become the world's leading e-government portal - if it can meet the demand for internet accessibility. Yet while many councils

have submitted e-government plans,

the public sector has yet to demonstrate the full back-office capabilities required

to perform transactions with its constituents.

The concept is based around the creation of a virtual town hall. It consists of four dimensions: citizens, staff, councillors and partners. Stakeholders log onto their respective areas to collaborate in a core business process embedded in the organisation's service departments, enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management applications.

An example of this collaboration might be the administration of a transaction between a patient, a health authority, a social worker and the patients' carers. Streamlining such an interaction and executing it in a customer relationship management application has benefits in terms of cost, speed and service quality.

Electronic self-service options are being implemented in 60% of UK government agencies. Ifthey can meet the challenge of satisfying citizen demand to conduct government services online over the next two years, the UK could even beat the US in transforming its business practices online. The enterprise portal simulation, www.MyAuthority.co.uk, aims to help councils understand e-government is not just about web pages but investing in the right back-office systems and processes to create value for citizens, staff, partners and politicians irrespective of whether they prefer to use internet, telephone or face-to-face methods.

In order to demonstrate what

e-government can actually achieve with the correct back-office infrastructure, Deloitte & Touche Management Solutions collaborated with three e-government experts to develop a simulation portal.

Another transaction realised by MyAuthority is the process of a new resident moving into the area covered by a council. What ordinarily requires taking a day off work to telephone multiple departments and individuals can be initiated online in two minutes.

Deloitte & Touche has turned to its US colleagues for an insight into where e-government might take us. Enterprise portals are being delivered across the US public sector at state, city and county level and are seen as a model that will have significant influence here in the UK.

www.MyAuthority.co.uk

MARK LAWRIE

Partner, Deloitte & Touche Management Solutions

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