U.K. rethinks portal


United Kingdom officials launched the first phase of a new portal last week that represents a significant shift in the British government's approach to online information.

The U.K. Office of the e-Envoy said it developed the Directgov portal for citizens who want a more intuitive way to find government services. More than 800,000 people visited the UK Online portal in January alone, but the way that services were presented around life episodes, such as having a baby, starting a new school and looking after someone, was not very popular, according to officials.

In contrast, Directgov arranges services according to groups of citizens and categories of service. There is also a quick find section with common online services, an index of agencies and a full search engine.

"Directgov really addresses how people use the Internet today and incorporates best practice from the public and private sectors," e-Envoy Andrew Pinder said in a statement. "It has been designed around the needs of the customer, and we have sought feedback from users while building, testing and refining the site."

In addition to a new layout, Directgov also brings much more of the information and services to the central portal instead of immediately linking to details on department sites. In this first phase, however, actual online transactions still reside on those agencies' sites.

Directgov is still a subsite on the UK Online portal, but the Office of the e-Envoy is soliciting feedback on the structure and content, and officials expect to launch a full version of the portal before the end of 2004.

A new version of the United States' FirstGov portal launched last year, presenting information and services within four user groups and then divided by audience and topic. The redesign relied heavily on user input and testing, and the office that maintains the portal continues to regularly refine through feedback.

U.K. officials also posted a job opening for a new head of e-Government last week, a position that will essentially serve as the government's chief information officer, replacing the e-Envoy position within the Cabinet Office. The e-Envoy Office, created in 1999 to lead the government's technology and e-gov initiatives, expires in April.

The head of e-Government is a three-year position, and the official will work directly with the central government departments to drive strategy, standards, technical architecture, security and citizen-centered policies.

"Their task will be to focus on ensuring that IT supports the business transformation of government itself so that we can provide better, more efficient, public services," Douglas Alexander, minister for the Cabinet Office, said at the announcement in December 2003.


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