Upgrading e-Government. The PR story.

It seems to to be the season for upgrades. I’ve just installed Office 12 on my laptop and very nice it is too, even if Outlook whilst looking much better runs much more slowly; I tried to install Vista on the same, Vista-Capable, laptop but failed dismally with a long hex-code only error message indicating it would go no further than the first stage of file copying; I’ve added a GPS gadget to my bike ready for the Summer; and, very soon, I might have to upgrade my left knee.

I also upgraded the software on my Sonos with their new software, V2.2, the main feature being to allow wireless connection to the various online music services. The nice people at Sonos kindly let me have the software a little earlier than most to beta test it. I like Sonos a lot, as I’ve said here before, and the new features add some great stuff, especially if you already subscribe to one of the services; but the best sites – Rhapsody and Pandora – are USA only at the moment which is a shame. For me, the addition of Classic FM as a radio station available for streaming was a big plus (and I appreciate it sounds weird to use such an awesome device to play stuff that was wireless before wireless meant something entirely different).

Finally, it was the season of movie upgrades. I want 3 hours of my life back having, last Friday, sat through Pirates III: Utter Rubbish. Years ago we joked about Microsoft needing 3 versions to get it right, now the studios need 3 versions to get it horribly wrong; reviews for Pirates III, Spiderman 3, X-Men 3 and Shrek 3 have all been awful.

So what has this to do with e-government – something you probably say every time you wade through the first few paragraphs of my posts?

Well, it occurred to me, that all of these new things – whether they be movies, GPS devices, new software versions and so on, were brought to my attention either through advertising or, most commonly, through email.

Only today, Amazon sent me an email highlighting its Askville service – a service that I’m not sure that I’ll ever use but at least I know it’s there (there’s a question outstanding asking for views on a national ID card if you want to try it out).

But in 7 years of developing, launching and using e-government services, I can’t recall ever getting an email that said:

Hey Alan, as a regular/occasional/one-time user of salt.gov.uk/hedgehogs.gov.uk/darwin.gov.uk, we thought you’d be pleased to know that you can now calculate your predicted death day based on your personal salt intake/learn how to cross the road more safely/see the list of people who have died for stupid reasons, proving darwin’s survival of the fittest theory

I certainly blame myself for this – as it says above, I helped develop and launch various services but don’t recall ever sending out emails to people; but I haven’t received any from services that I didn’t launch either. I often get emails from commercial services that say

Dear Alan, we notice it’s been a while since you last used our site and wondered why that was. To help entice you back here’s a gift voucher/offer of enormous wealth/picture of Pamela Anderson that you can redeem/take a chance on/view and vicariously live through on our site.

Lots of people have forever told me that search is the killer application for e-government (and, for that matter, that government is rubbish at search and should leave it to google – like they need more areas to be dominant in). But once someone has found a service and used it, or even flamed out trying to use it, surely the best way to retain them as a user/customer is to stay in touch with them. I’m sure I’ve heard that it’s 7x more expensive to get a new customer than it is to retain an existing one.

And what about the potential for cross-selling:

Dear Alan, as a regular user of salt.gov.uk we wanted to tell you about our partnership with 5 a day.gov.uk. If you use both sites, you’ll quickly realise a healthier diet and reduce your chances of heart disease/eating food full of flavour/getting caught taking white powder. You might even meet Jamie Oliver if you win our competition.

Government regularly refreshes its offline services – probably at least once a year. Tax rates change, allowances move, policies shift (left and right I imagine). In the race to 2005/100% online new services were launched regularly and catalogued on direct.gov.uk
. But they were never marketed to existing users or to users of related services. And as new features have, inevitably I’d like to think, been added, I haven’t heard a peep from anyone about what they might be.

With direct.gov joining government up, at least via it’s orange paint job, it’s the logical place to get updates from, although individual departments would likely want to retain ownership of the customer. The key will be who owns the email address and what the privacy rules were on sharing this – something I know we’ve fallen foul of in the past inside government. But surely an occasional bulletin to let existing users know of current services, updates, enhancements and pending launches would not be difficult? Since the government ad engine that we launched in 2002/3 was killed off a couple of years ago, there’s been almost no cross-selling. Time to start.

P.S. Rumour has it that there will be a directgov blog soon, perhaps that will dish the dirt on upcoming plans for new services?

One thought on “Upgrading e-Government. The PR story.

  1. I upgraded my right knee after leaving a Kawasaki ZZR-1100 @ 70mph, and meeting the tarmac, in heavy traffic on the Newtown Expressway – does that count ? Ciao, Wayne – plus when are we going to meet up next ?

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