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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 16:38 GMT
NI gets ready for e-government
By BBC News Online's Fiona Murray in Belfast

Key government services in Northern Ireland could soon be available at the touch of a button on your television set or computer.

That is the view of the director of the Central Information Technology Unit at a time when many other governments in the world are going online.

Des Vincent said the target was to make a quarter of key services available electronically by the end of next year and a 100% accessible by 2005.

What services will be included is currently under discussion.


"In the future, from the comfort of your living room, people will be able to access everything from passport and car tax forms to applications for benefits at the touch of a button," he told BBC News Online.

The government wants to develop a "multi-channel" strategy which will include using technology such as the telephone, the television, and the internet to access services.

"It is all about giving people a choice and simplifying the service as well as demistifying the technology," he said.

He explained that a pilot project was already under way in Coleraine, County Londonderry, where people could renew their car tax over the telephone.

Des Vincent has a vision for e-government
Des Vincent has a vision for e-government

He added: "They simply phone up and give their credit card details over the phone. It's that simple.

"We also have a project under way to simplify the property conveyancing system, by joining up all those parts of central and local government which have their part to play in buying and selling property."

As technology improves, more services will be available via your television remote control, as broadcasting moves from analogue to digital.

"Certainly there are things you cannot do via your television set, because they have to be simple," he said.

"You can bring up the equivalent to a keyboard on your screen, and using your remote control, put in your name to get to a service.

Electronic service delivery is an additional way of doing things

Des Vincent

"Television is a major way of reaching the public and the way ahead for many government services."

He said almost every household had at least one television and almost a third of people in Northern Ireland had access to digital television and the internet via a personal computer.

"More and more people are availing of digital television and the internet. This means that even people living in the remotest of areas will be able to have easy access to government services," he said.

Another pilot programme is operating at Greenmount Agricultural College in Antrim.

"Farmers can register the births and deaths of their animals online. That would have been particularly important during the foot-and-mouth crisis," he said.

"It is all about social inclusion - to make sure that anybody who wants access to the internet can get it."


Mr Vincent said the government was at the "start of a long journey" in terms of technology.

"The technology exists to alter radically the quality and the reach of the services we provide. We are working at the front of a revolution in service provision," he said.

But he stressed that new ways of contacting the government would not deflect from the personal touch which some people value.

"Electronic service delivery is an additional way of doing things - it's not a replacement. Government offices and the humble telephone won't disappear.

"The current services will still exist."

See also:

08 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
NI Assembly: Does it work?
01 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Dubai Government goes online
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