Freedom

The depth of negative feeling towards the French here is quite startling. Wherever the word crops up, it’s been replaced … so we have Freedom Fries, Freedom Kiss and so on.

Fairfax – the leading e-government implementation?

Now this sounds good. What local authority in the UK wouldn’t aspire to what they’ve achieved in Fairfax county. It’s a good site with clean design. Everything looks easy to find. Worth a visit..

Seven years on, the county Web site gets 625,000 visits a month, and 257,000 people have used the kiosks. The phone lines have received 819,000 calls. Requests for court data, library books and tax payments are users’ most popular transactions. Still, the numbers represent a fraction of county business: 5 percent of the county’s real estate and personal property taxes were paid electronically last year, for example. But 61 percent of the books library patrons put on hold so far this year were reserved online, up from a total of 47 percent last year, county statistics show.

And mobile too …

Next, the county hopes to enter the age of wireless communication by displaying text messages on cell phones, beepers or hand-held computers alerting residents to traffic tie-ups, a plane crash in the area, a derailed train, fire or other emergency. Molchany calls this multiple delivery of messages “just-in-time” government, which he said “is the power of e-government.”

Channel strategy

Sitting in the hotel room in Washington, TV on. No matter which channel I pick, the same image. A hazy, green tinged picture with a few brightspots. Maybe street lamps, maybe explosions. Hard to say. Even MTV is carrying war coverage. The Weather Channel is predicting possible sand storms. The financial sites have suspended coverage of earnings stories. The only respite seems to be HBO, which is showing Castaway. Perhaps trying to give Saddam a hint.

The progress of the war seems strange to me. The tactics of “shock and awe” have not started yet, just a few sporadic bursts of missile fire. It’s almost as if the US is trying to draw Saddam into showing his hand – loosing a chemical warhead maybe. The world will certainly round on him if he does that. Damned if he does. Damned more if he doesn’t. Or perhaps it’s about giving the troops a chance to adjust to the country, the endless gas mask drills (seven today alone says every reporter on TV).

Pro or con doesn’t really matter now (though, for the record, I am pro). It’s started and it will end sooner or later. Once it does, the rebuilding process is going to absorb a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of money. Freedom is not free, as it says at the Korean War memorial, carved starkly in marble. Let’s hope the price in life is not too great this time.

Time of need

Government websites struggled today to deliver information on terrorism and the war, notes Silicon.com. I’ve said before (is it 50 times or 100 times) that if we’re going to get e-government going a resilient infrastructure is vital. Departments have proven over and over again (Environment agenct, Iraqi dossier, PRO and so on) that they are all ill-equipped for sudden peaks, no matter how predictable they are. The Home Office terrorism site has been advertised widely and, given that, you’d expect people to visit – even now at midnight London time it is slow (and I’m using a 100KB/s connection from the hotel – twice BT’s ADSL speed in the UK). It is beyond belief that, at a time when the citizen turns to government for vital information, we are unable to deliver a reliable service.

Significant sites should be taken away from departmental control and put into a large-scale infrastructure that is capable of dealing with the demand. To not do so is to show that e-government is not being taken seriously and, in the worst case, could provoke a serious issue at time of greatest need.

To all those running sites that could be subject to high demand. There is no praise for keeping control and falling at the first hurdle. There is no praise for not distributing your content to as many sources as possible. There is no praise for architecting a poor infrastructure. The job is to keep the sites up, deliver the content to those who need it and to keep doing it.

September 11 proved that large proportions of the population turn to the Internet first when needing information. When they do, we’d better be there for them.

FEAPMO

Not the simplest acronym, but I had my attention drawn to it today at a session with Dan Chenok at OMB. There’s a new organisation in town, solution architects who have the following mission

Assignment of Solution Architects. Provide E-Government initiative teams with solution architects who will assist in defining initiative blueprints and validate system and solution architectures to support the planning and implementation of the Presidential Priority E-Gov initiatives.

Solution Architecture Planning and Execution. Select, recommend, plan, guide, and assist initiative teams in the deployment of technologies that are proven, stable, interoperable, portable, secure, and scalable. Facilitate the migration and transition of E-Government initiatives from legacy and “inward-driven” architectures, to architectures that embrace component-driven methodologies and technology reuse.

Federal Enterprise Architecture Guidance. Establish linkages between relevant Government-wide entities to ensure that standards, best practices, and lessons learned are leveraged across the entire government. Additionally, the SAWG will champion the creation and validation of the Service Component and Technology Reference Models.

Component and Technology Reuse. Identify and capitalize on opportunities to leverage, share, and reuse technologies to support common business requirements, activities, and operations across the Federal Government.

Generation of Intellectual Capital (IC). Champion the creation and propagation of intellectual capital that can assist in E-Government transformation.

See that … pan-government, reuse, capitalise, intellectual property. Bang on target.

US e-government

I’m in Washington for a few days – I’ll be speaking at an e-government conference tomorrow, here is its press release, and have also taken the opportunity to meet some of the Federal officials responsible for e-government here. It seems a funny time to be in the USA and, particularly, to be in Washington but my theory is that there is no safer place than here given the security. I have to be at the conference at 8.30 tomorrow. Ugh.

I met with Terry Lutes at the IRS today and spent a fruitful hour or so comparing notes on tax filing initiatives. The IRS has a significantly higher percentage of people filing electronically than we do in the UK and I wanted to see how that had been done and what the plans for development are. I’ll draw out the contrasts another time. Terry also referred me to the “pay.gov” site which is going to provide some of the authentication processes necessary for online filing. Pay.gov is not there yet, the website contains lots of “coming soons” and little that I can latch onto, but there is a very good FAQ. As near as I can tell, the plan is to ask a series of questions that will vary depending on what you’re trying to access. The questions might include employment or credit information, and the answers will be compared with both government and commercial databases. If there’s enough of a match, then you get access. In the future, you’ll be able to build up an online identity that lets you do more and more. I’ve kicked this idea around many times back home, spent time talking to the Experian folks about perhaps using their databases and to the company registration database holders. But I’ve never managed to get sufficient interest to move it forward. It looks like pay.gov has the buyin to move ahead and, whilst there may be little there now, it’s something to watch. Partnership with industry to develop secure authentication has to be the right thing to do – if you can login to your bank account, you ought to be able to deal with government with the same id one day. Terry talked about work he’s doing with the credit card companies and others too, all of which is interesting and right where we need to be in the UK.

While I had an idle minute, I also checked the latest developments on the govbenefits.gov site, which I’ve visited several times in the past and commented on. What led me there was a news release on firstgov that heralded a Gracie award for the site (I don’t know what that is, but any site that is winning awards is worth a look). More and more benefit programmes are being added to the site, to the point where ticking just a couple of boxes on the home page (I ticked “senior” and “farmworker”) led me to 30 questions with those answers prompting 20 more, all of which led to a couple of dozen benefits I could apply for. You still can’t apply for the benefits online (so there is no “common information” page) and the information that you’ve typed in to get to the end doesn’t seem to be held, also some of the questions are a bit strange (they’re conjured up front, rather than in relation to specific answers – so you can get several questions about your children or your wife, independent of prior answers). But, that said, it brings together many of the benefits available, does it in a citzen focused way and saves you wading through the sites of all the benefits that you aren’t eligible for. That, to me, is worth an award. Doubtless improvements will be made over the coming months and, as some of the services come online, you’ll be linked directly to them with prepopulated information (perhaps taken from your pay.gov account). That, again, would be worth an award or three.

OeE cuts story continues

Computing continues the story of the OeE budget cuts. Speculation increases on whether Andrew Pinder will still be in post in 2005 (given his contract runs out in March 2004, I would not be going long that option). Kate Mountain is clear that if he is not there, someone else will need to be – which is true. I’m certain that the role is not yet done, there is a vital need for someone to be there to catalyse change and ensure that things are both done right and rightly done.

Kate is also quoted as saying “Whatever transpires with departmental budgets, maintaining funding for the Government Gateway is essential” which of course delights me. I do hope that she wasn’t misquoted.

I think it’s time for the “cuts” story to move on. The focus should not be on how much, but what and what that means. A tighter, leaner operation can focus on the most vital things – and there are a few of those that need to get done still.