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VOCAL POINT - JOIN THE I.T. RACE

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Time is short for delivering a joined-up ICT strategy. Steve Palmer, head of ICT at Hillingdon LBC and member of th...
Time is short for delivering a joined-up ICT strategy. Steve Palmer, head of ICT at Hillingdon LBC and member of the Society of IT management's information age government group, says compromise will be essential.

The government's drive to modernise through wider and more effective use of ICT continues to gather pace.

The recent announcement of a revised 100% target for electronic service availability by 2005 rather than 2008 has been supplemented by the publication of draft 'interoperability standards' that prescribe the software products necessary to ease the pain of joining up.

The standards have an unusually short consultation period and, although welcome, they will not sit comfortably with many current systems. Their intended mandatory nature also poses questions as to a realistic timescale for compliance.

Within local government the 100% target will provoke fierce debate, particularly given the face to face nature of many of the services we deliver. The wide range of delivery mechanisms needed to meet this target are rapidly evolving, but are the radical approach and resources required to re-engineer services as much a priority as they need to be?

Although there are top quality examples of where local government is leading the way, such as Knowsley MBC's community information programme, the task is a formidable one. Winning hearts and minds will be one thing, changing organisational culture at pace is quite another.

That brings us to the question of standards. ICT is in many respects evolving to become an accepted part of the fabric of society, although there is still a considerable way to go before what it delivers lives up to the hype. Arguably, specific service delivery communities have led developments which have shown the way.

But if standards are to be embraced and become effective there will be a need for compromise and a willingness for the various professional bodies to work together. Certainly ICT professionals must accept that the need for a rapid but considered response is paramount if those who are responsible for day to day services are not be let down. If that happens, the already diverse approaches to standards are likely to become more, rather than less, of an issue.

For local government what also sits uncomfortably within these plans is the emphasis on the delivery of services within a joined-up framework. How much of the delivery is undertaken by local government itself needs to be focused on, and quickly.

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