If the development of an e-society on a national level is a truly a priority for the UK government, Australia's a perfect act to follow.
Last November, the governments of Australia and the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about the development of e-commerce and e-government services. However, without further commitment to staffing, budgets or legislation for local e-government, the UK risks missing out - unless it takes a leaf from Australia's book.
The MoU commits both nations to work together to develop complementary codes of practice, consumer protection standards and dispute-handling methods. Each will coordinate policy on public key infrastructure and intellectual property, plus share methodologies for measuring e-commerce and e-government to create more comparable metrics.
The document also outlines how the two nations will cooperate in driving the take-up of e-government services. It suggests sharing and promoting best practices to act as a catalyst to public-private projects in e-government and e-commerce applications. It also sets out a framework to build international support for e-commerce initiatives through joining discussion groups and creating joint marketing and promotional projects to drive support for cross-border initiatives.
Nevertheless, without concrete action plans, the benefits of the memorandum to the UK will be non-existent. Therefore, the British government should take several measures.
First, it needs to learn how to help local government get over the e-commerce hurdle - and this is where Australia can help. State-level projects like the Maxi System in Victoria could serve as case studies which would help the UK address its local government laggards. Maxi is a joint venture between NEC and Aspect that creates electronic connections to local government and state bodies in Victoria, with a real-time Eftpos link via Westpac plus a direct link to Australia Post for verifying electronic identification certificates. Introduced in May 1997, by early 1999 Maxi was processing 24,000 transactions a month, three times more than predicted.
Australia's governments oversee a wide variety of e-commerce projects. By the end of this year, 87 per cent of the commonwealth agencies expect to buy off-the-shelf products. Western Australia hopes to save $100 million a year in processing costs for transactions.
Second, the British must guarantee that there is an experienced vendor base for e-commerce, with shorter procurement cycles. The Australian Trade Commission is encouraging home-grown e-government integrators to venture into the UK, and 12 were expected to land by last February. Proven e-government integrators should help the UK simplify its procurement systems.
Third, the UK should use this opportunity to become a driver for e-government growth. With close ties to the European Union, Australia and North America, the UK has the potential to build the fastest-growing network of e-government nations in the world. The announcement earlier this year that the UK's Government Gateway infrastructure, built on Microsoft's .Net platform, will be licensed for purchase by other authorities is a significant step in the right direction.
Caroline Sceats works on Forrester's UK Internet commerce team, specialising in the core issues affecting online business models. Her areas of focus include the UK e-government and regulation, e-business organisation and skills issues, and consumer adoption of emerging technologies
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