The Year Behind

Last year, I looked at the lessons learnt, the ones that we’d learnt again and the ones that we would learn for the first time.

The main things I thought would come about in 2003 were:

– Not as much innovation as we’d like. A little too much of business as usual –online is the new offline

– Some continued negativity in the press about efforts to drive services online and secure takeup, but a plea for when it does go right for there to be favourable PR

– Some key services would drive demand and prove that it might all come together

– Digital certificates would stay on life support

– Some pretty scary, bleeding edge-type technology that would be high risk and difficult to implement

– Some first time use of multi-channel delivery, including mobile phone/text messaging

– We’d see that, after a pretty dark 2002, there would be light at the end of the tunnel (and it wouldn’t be a train rushing towards us)

I’ll give myself a B, maybe even a B-, for guessing the outcome of 2003. Here’s why:

– I don’t think that there was much in the way of innovation. The focus was still on content and website creation. We nearly doubled the website count during the year. More transactions were, however, put online but they were mostly same old, same old. There were some notable exceptions – Neighbourhood Statistics, from ONS, for instance – that show there is a willingness to go online with things that were never offline.

– The press didn’t have much to go on this year. Stories from previous years failed to repeat. Apart from the Flood Warnings problems on day one of the new year, there was little to cover on the negative side (at least at an individual service level; there was no shortage of macro-coverage). I think this year we, in fact, gained some champions. Chief amongst those would be Mike Cross at the Guardian, who made it his business to seek out the nuggets – the good stories both locally and nationally and talk them up. That’s not to say that Mike lost his edge, only that he gave credit where it was due across a range of local and central government entities and for a wide variety of services. Others who had been more vocal in prior years were quiet this year – I hope that 2004 brings them out in full force. If anything, stories of the NHS IT procurement filled more column inches than anything else; the doomsayers were out in force for Richard Granger’s work. May they be proved fully and wholeheartedly wrong every day.

– Digital certificates, well, er, they kind of stayed where they were. Not up, not down. This year will be the end though, at least in this incarnation. The end of one phase can, and should, spur a rethinking of them and if I get the chance I’ll spend some time on that later in the week.

– There wasn’t a whole lot of new technology to be seen although large numbers of departments did rush into the content management space. Many are still feeling the pain and wondering where the odd few million that they used to have in their bank account went. CRM kept a low profile although a few local authorities went for it – some very successfully.

– Mobile phones count as “toe in the water” territory only. We ran some pilots but nothing full scale. It’s been two years since I talked about this as being the thing to do and I’m disappointed that we didn’t do more, but it’s time to double down and see what comes.

– 2003 was a better year than most expected I think. Fully half of the online population used government services online, take-up of some services rose as high as 25% (and, if you count congestion charging, 70%); disasters were few and far between. 2004 is starting from a base more than double the penetration of year end 2002. That means the light was there to be seen and we’re perhaps emerging from the tunnel now.

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