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Sharing services in the public sector

By [email protected] - 25th October 2006 - 20:43

David Macken reports on some promising joined-up public sector projects and how these are likely to influence the next generation of e-government initiatives
Towards the end of last year, Tony Blair laid down the strategic vision of an electronically joined-up government, with cross-department or cross-council information sharing, making it easier to access and share information both within government and outside of it. Shared services is the buzzword of the moment within the public sector, yet it is still early days with the front-runners innovatively embracing the concept, while others are left wondering how much work will be involved in achieving Downing Streetâs vision and whether it really will be the panacea it is meant to be. Todayâs online public services are about collaborative working, economies of scale, providing wider accessibility to the citizen and citizen take-up of online services.Joined up services have been enabled by significant developments within Internet technology, making it far easier to integrate existing networks with web technology. Content management systems and search technology has come of age and, as a result, it is now far easier to link websites and deliver content to multiple websites, in real-time. Combined with the ability to build-in sophisticated registration systems and geographical databases, it is also now far easier for users to retrieve information more relevant to their individual requirements.Making collaboration workYour London is one of the early collaboration projects which has received wide acclaim and two awards within the public sector community. Its primary aim is to unify information about Londonâs public services via one website,, allowing those that live, work, study or who are visiting London to find the information they are looking for quickly. The project was managed by London Connects, with technology provided by System Associates. Developing the portal involved collaborative working with 33 London Boroughs, the GLA, the ALG, Transport for London, Metropolitan Police, the London Libraries Development Agency and the London Voluntary Services Council. The portal provides access to all Londonâs public services information with full search facility across all 33 London Boroughs. It also has live integration with other London websites such as Tflâs âjourney plannerâ and âVisit Londonâ . A âFind Your Nearestâ geographical search tool enables users to locate local services and amenities such as the local GP or post office and a purpose-built database has been developed to provide useful information about Londonâs parks, open spaces and areas of Special Scientific Interest. Your London has embraced Londonâs voluntary sector, providing a directory of community and voluntary sector organisations and it is possible for voluntary organisations to develop a web presence on the site.The site is continuously evolving. The home page includes news and information about topics of interest for the London community. There is a traffic alert facility, jobs section, an area to report street related problems and, most recently, an online school admissions facility. As a result of Your Londonâs success, the Department for Communities and Local Government (previously the ODPM) utilised System Associatesâ technology and project-management expertise to develop Local Directgov, an extension to Local Directgov is the largest collaborative web project to date within the public sector, requiring the co-operation and provision of data from all 388 English local authorities. This 100% sign-up to the project is unprecedented in a scheme that carries neither statutory sanction nor extra funding. Local Directgov/Directgov provides a single access point that makes it easier for citizens to access local authority information, regardless of geographical location and knowledge of how government works. The simple seamless transition from Central Government services through to local services offers a more customer focused, unified approach, without the customer needing to understand the complexities of government service providers.It is also providing increased traffic to local authority sites and, as a result, is expected to facilitate take-up of online services by the citizen, providing new economies of scale for public sector services.The development of these collaborative projects shows that the vision set out in the âTransformational Governmentâ paper is achievable and web technology is enabling greater shared resources and cohesion of public services in the UK. This will benefit the citizen, in the long-term, as well as develop increased communication and co-operation between government services.SustainabilityAlthough more and more web data functions are becoming automated, the test for a projectâs success will be whether it remains sustainable. The hardest part in the maintenance of any site is checking the integrity of data and keeping it up to date. At present, human intervention is needed for this and this involves extra resources and funding.There are three principle ingredients for long-term sustainability of a collaborative project. The first is funding, the second is standardisation of data and the third is employing a data champion to ensure data standards are met and that collaboration continues. If only one of these crucial ingredients is lost, the project will begin to crumble.A vision for the futureThe scope for joined-up services is huge. Collaborative projects can involve many councils, local authorities, government departments or delivery partners. They can provide a single reference point for a whole host of topics including healthcare, highways, education and learning, benefits and housing. They can be targeted at specific groups or demographic areas and can offer economies of scale and greater accessibility to the people they serve.The successful implementation of collaborative projects such as Your London and Local Directgov is testimony that they can work effectively. The technology to join up e-government services has come of age, yet these projects are not simply about technological innovation. They require vision, co-operation, sometimes coercion, as well as system integration. Solutions must continue to develop to make it easy for organisations to collaborate. More info:;;; above: David Macken

Author: David Macken

Bio.: Managing Director, System Associates

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