The government wants to use text, email and chat to allow the public to make appointments with state-run organisations such as hospitals, and to issue warnings of potential disasters such as flash floods.
In an exclusive interview with vnunet.com, Alan Mather, chief executive of the Office of the e-Envoy's e-Delivery Team (EDT), revealed the ambitious highlights of its efforts to get all government services online by 2005.
The EDT is developing a 'notification engine' that will allow government departments to send notification of events such as flood warnings or changes to hospital appointments, or to inform people when they are needed in court as witnesses.
The message could be sent by a variety of channels, including mobile phone text message, email, or internet chat.
For example, a householder could subscribe to the flood warning system by providing their postcode, and pick how they want the message delivered. Should the danger of a flood occur, a warning is sent to the notification engine, which then distributes it to people in the threatened areas.
The EDT said the benefits of the XML-based engine are that departments only need to connect to the one engine to get multichannel delivery, but each can still decide what the 'trigger' events are.
The flood warning system is already being tested and could be up and running within 12 months, while developments such as messages for court witnesses could be ready by 2004.
An 'appointments engine', also due to be available by 2004, will allow citizens to set up, change and cancel appointments for government services, such as hospital appointments or driving tests.
If a doctor was unable to keep an appointment, for example, the engine could notify the patient and reschedule it.
But the key to making the system work is integration with the back-end systems of the various departments, said Mather. Online patient booking will come about through partnership with the NHS, which is investing in improving its IT infrastructure.
Although the components for the services will be ready in 2004, adoption will depend on roll-out to the departments.
"The issue is always one of roll-out," said Mather. "A lot will depend on the back-end being integrated because that's where the complexity is. Some departments will do it quicker than others. There are departments which are already doing clever stuff."
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