Work for People

By Hill, Stuart | New Statesman (1996), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

Work for People


Hill, Stuart, New Statesman (1996)


Boosted by low-cost Internet access, around half of British people are online - 37% from home, the rest at work, schools and colleges. This will soon match the USA's level, estimated at over 55%.

Once we were confined to our desktops. Now there are laptops, electronic notebooks and various handheld devices -- and soon third generation mobile phones. The devices we use to communicate are becoming ever more available...ever more powerful.

Are these advances simply sustaining the way we all work at present - or are

they really challenging current thinking by transforming the way we live and work?

We've already seen how the Internet has transformed the whole process of production, manufacture, wholesaling and retailing. In some cases, the production process doesn't occur until we download a product like software or music. The Internet has also brought together powerful communities of common interests.

New technology has also reduced the cost of doing business. Banks have been quick to latch on to this. Telephone or Internet banking is a fraction of the cost of over-the-counter transactions. Paperwork is removed from the equation and the task of inputting data taken over by the customer. The customer accepts this in exchange for convenience and control. So for the banks it's a win, win situation.

One important consideration of this development in technology is that those least likely to be online are the less affluent; and, in any case, many people will always prefer to have someone help them with the more difficult enquiries. Allowing people to choose how they conduct business via the Internet is vital.

An individual might prefer to make an initial enquiry via a website, fill in part of a form there, then call at an office to make a face-to-face query, before completing the transaction on their mobile phone on the way home. Managing this, with its implications for social inclusion, while providing common electronic knowledge systems to support them, is one of the challenges BT is addressing in its consideration of innovative ways of harnessing new technology for the public sector.

Benefiting from BT's own experience

A key benefit BT can bring to government is the experience of our own transformation as an organisation.

For example, our own 'shop window' on the web, bt.com, attracts over a million transactions each month - the same as in the whole of 1999. People now expect to do business with us in this way, along with calling our contact centres, dealing with our account teams and visiting our shops.

We've also devised ways of personalising information to the individual. The more you can do that, the more relevant, compelling and exciting the content becomes to that individual - and the more likely they'll want to deal with you. For the public sector such applications represent only part of the relationship with citizens. E-democracy in its widest sense - not just voting online - will be critical in maintaining and increasing people's involvement in government and might lead to new forms of representation. …

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