Is the UK Government Getting I.T. Right at Last?

Posted on March 26, 2010

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I’m not sure if this is a sign of getting old or feeling ill but after hearing Gordon Brown’s speech about Britain’s Digital Future earlier this week I actually felt that it might work out well.

In addition to the much discussed plans to roll out high speed broadband to everyone (paid for by the 50p landline tax) there were some unexpected revelations about the organisation of government websites and a new centre for research into the future of the web.

Firstly, the government websites. Anyone who’s had the joy of trying to use the current direct.gov site will know the issues surrounding it. Although designed to be a one stop shop for all government services it’s difficult to navigate, almost impossible to find specific information and if somehow you find the page you want it links you to the relevant government website to start the whole process again to actually get somewhere. Essentially, direct.gov is a directory to lead to other sites (with brief information about the other services) and a very poor directory at that.

In his speech, Brown said that they would replace the first attempt at e-government with a more interactive version called mygov. Aside from the poor name this new site will, in theory at least, provide a more customised service to individual users rather than the ‘one-size-fits-nobody’ method of the current site. Furthermore, mygov will allow users to actually apply for services or change details without having to go to another site and have another set of details to login with.

“Mygov marks the end of the one-size-fits-all, man-from-the-ministry-knows-best approach to public services.”

Secondly, Brown announced £30 million to found a new Web Science Institute. Headed by Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, the new institute will focus on the developing ‘semantic web’ and other new internet technologies to keep Britain at the forefront of web development. The institute, and Sir Tim Berners Lee in particular, will continue to consult with the government with the opening up of its data through the data.gov.uk service. Together these could lead to a new way of interacting with the government and actually making things easier for everyone.

Obviously, talking the talk and walking the walk are very different things but it’s nice to see the government saying the right things as well. There may well be problems with other aspects of government IT (namely the ID card/database and the Digital Rights Bill) but let’s take a moment to acknowledge the positive side as well.

Only time will tell whether the plans come to fruition and how effective the implementation is but with Sir Tim Berners Lee at the helm and effective support from the Prime Minister the outlook seems brighter than normal…maybe I need to go and lie down and wait for things to come crashing down so that everything seems normal again.

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