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MSN Launches Public Services Channel

eGov monitor Weekly

9 September 2002

The Government has entered into a unique partnership with Microsoft to promote online public services and information through the company's MSN internet portal - the UK's most popular website.

The landmark initiative sees the addition of a new Public Services channel on MSN, providing its users, currently standing at over 11 million per month, with quick access to a selection of content from UK government websites.

The new service is the result of a collaboration between Microsoft and several government departments, including the Department of Health and Office of the e-Envoy. It follows a pilot project which, since July this year, has seen information from the UK Online citizens portal delivered via MSN's instant messaging software.

The arrangement marks the first significant implementation of the Government's new strategy, outlined in its recent UK Online Annual Report, to promote the use of third-party "intermediaries" as delivery channels for eGovernment. The MSN channel should also help to build up the traffic and awareness of eGovernment services, an area which has now become a priority in the light of independent reports which have placed the UK near the bottom of the international league table for citizen take-up of online services. This was reaffirmed by Microsoft's Public Sector Industry Manager Jenny Duff, who commented that the company's intention was "to ensure that as many people as possible find and use health and government services through the internet."

According to Microsoft, no financial arrangement has been made with the Government in providing the new channel, although a "two-way agreement" and "defined boundaries" exist over the choice of content that appears on the site, with MSN retaining editorial control. MSN will not, for instance, be publishing government news in the style of the UK Online portal - conscious, perhaps, that this could be seized upon by its critics.

Nigel Tilley, who is heading the project at Microsoft, said a range of more localised and transactional eGovernment services would be made available via the MSN channel in the future. One of the issues Microsoft is studying is possible integration with the Government Gateway, the UK's flagship eGovernment project which it developed with the Office of the e-Envoy, with MSN serving as a channel through which services such as online tax self-assessment could be accessed. The realisation of these plans may be just 12 months away, Mr Tilley said.

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