27 July 2000 | Cathy Hayward
E-envoy Alex Allan has admitted that the government's target to buy 90 per cent of its low-value, routine goods electronically by April 2001 might not be met.
Questions from the floor at a recent Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB) e-commerce summit prompted Allan to agree that the target might be missed. He said that it was just one part of the government's aim to make the UK the best place in the world for doing e-commerce.
"These targets are not hard and fast - they are flexible and movable," he said.
The government's e-commerce drive is being led by the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), which recently announced it was abandoning its "shopping mall" project, an electronic catalogue for government departments.
Jane Gibbs, the OGC's head of e-commerce, said that the e-procurement drive was not being monitored centrally, but by individual departments, and that she had no firm idea of the progress being made.
"We are working towards the 90 per cent goal and I am positive that we will reach it," she told SM.
At the summit, Allan called on government suppliers to support the drive by developing their own e-procurement policies.
"We need help from the private sector to fulfil these aims," he said. "Our suppliers need to learn the lessons of the past. We need realistic bids that can be provided on budget and on time."
But the IT industry claims that government inertia, rather than a lack of private sector support, is holding back the e-commerce drive.
"The technology is there," said Chris Phillips, director of marketing at e-commerce system vendor Commerce One. "It's the state of mind that needs to be challenged."
Kevin Gaughan, general manager of business-to-business e-commerce services at BT, agreed: "The government needs to get its suppliers online, and pay for it if necessary, but I don't think it will happen by 2001."
Allan claimed that the demise of the OGC's shopping mall project was the key reason for the potential failure to meet the target. "It is certainly a setback," he said. "It is now up to Peter Gershon and his team at the OGC to decide what to do from here. We want to explore new ways of government buying from scratch, which will obviously put the target back a bit."
Allan's comments follow an OGC announcement earlier this month that it plans a further review of its strategy - the second in four months.
Gershon, the OGC's chief executive, will contact government suppliers to gain an understanding of their experience and discover their views on how the public sector could improve its performance as a customer.