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UK e-government gets new chief

Ian Watmore, UK MD of Accenture, has been appointed the new head of e-government in the UK. He replaces the outspoken Andrew Pinder who stepped down as e-envoy, the previous name for the role, at the end of April.

The e-envoy office will begin its transformation into the e-government unit in June and Watmore will join in September. The new role is the equivalent of a chief information officer for government and will replace that of the e-Envoy as a champion for public sector IT.

Responsible for strategy, architecture, innovation, IT finance, staff development, projects, research, security and supplier management, the e-government unit will be more like a traditional IT department looking for ways to improve business processes, better control of projects and improving the delivery of services.

Watmore has worked for Accenture since 1980. His appointment is yet another indication that the government wishes to recruit more senior civil servants from the private sector.

Prime Minister, Tony Blair said: " I am delighted that Ian Watmore is to take up this role. He will be playing a pivotal role ensuring that IT supports the business transformation of government itself so that we can provide better, more efficient, public services."

Ian Watmore said: "The head of e-government is one of the biggest and most challenging IT positions in the UK today."

His appointment comes at a trying time for e-government, its impact is under the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic as studies question how much citizens interact with government websites.

In the UK e-government has been an important part of Labour's commitment to voters as well as a means of improving and streamlining government services.

The government's flagship website, Directgov, was launched in March by the UK e-Envoy Andrew Pinder.

He said at the time it was necessary to find a replacement for UK Online because of flagging public interest in the government gateway.

Designed to bring all the public sector content together, Directgov was hailed as a better way of engaging with citizens.

But, according to a survey by newsletter E-Government Bulletin, nearly two-thirds of people working in e-government are sceptical that it will attract any more visitors than its predecessor.

A report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project thinktank found that US citizens prefer to pick up the phone when dealing with officials.

People are using government websites to find out about issues but 40% would rather use the telephone to pursue inquiries compared to just 18% who would use e-mail, according to the Pew Internet study.

Good old-fashioned people skills could be the best solution to the complex issues people tend to take up with government it finds.

"In sum, e-gov is a helpful tool among several options for reaching out to government, but it is by no means the 'killer app' among them," the Pew Internet report concludes.

Sources: The Register, BBC Online

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