Microsoft's e-government service for the UK was unveiled with great relish last night. For some ungodly reason, the official ceremony took place in Seattle - showing that Microsoft is now more important than the UK government. Civil servant E-bloke Andrew Pinder attended.
The "government gateway" is the future, although precious little information about it is available save that it is a service built on MS software that lets people pay taxes and farmers apply for subsidies online*. You also won't find any mention of the fact that the project is late. And we have it on good authority that Microsoft's people have been bricking themselves trying to get it up and running in a decent timespan.
That aside, this is wonderful news. Pinder tried hard to be optimistic about e-government but ended up saying "It's my job to make the UK the No. 1 place to do e-business. We have a large number of things to do as a nation to get that right" before reiterating the fantasy that all "government-related transactions" will be online by 2005.
It is good news for Microsoft though. Taking on work for a government will inevitably cause people to view its software as secure and reliable. This fact alone was enough to push its share price up four per cent yesterday. Not only has the Beast of Redmond already taken £15 million of UK tax payers' money but Pinder admitted that the two were looking to sell the software together to other countries' governments.
In the last e-gov announcement in January, the claim was that 40 per cent of government services were already online. We rooted about a bit and found out that the "target" had been met with some handy reclassification of Whitehall equipment - such as telephones being rebranded as "online media".
We expect even more creative statistics throughout the year. ®
* You may have missed the clever news angle the government put on it there. We wonder whether farmers applying for subsidies would have been so important before the outbreak of foot and mouth and the destruction of their livelihoods.