Clarity in strategy

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9 March 2015 | 0

At the end of January, the interim government CIO Michael McGrath launched the Public Service ICT Strategy document, detailing how the public service could deliver better outcomes and efficiency through innovation and excellence in ICT.

The ambitious strategy is based around five key strategic objectives that “will set the future direction for innovation and excellence in ICT within the Public Service”.

“When delivered,” the strategy says it will “create a new model for ICT delivery across the Public Service; delivering more efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery through a more integrated, shared and digital environment.”

Shared services
The first of the objectives is to create shared ICT services that support integration across the public service to drive efficiency, standardisation, consolidation, and reduction of duplication and cost.

“More than just skin deep, this strategy acknowledges that Digital Government is not simply about putting front‐end services online but encompasses everything from the core digitisation of public services to digital infrastructure, governance and processes”

The document recognises that “each Public Body has a breadth of business needs and varying ICT requirements and capabilities”. That notwithstanding, the aim is to ensure that a ‘built to share’ approach in all future development can take advantage of collective procurement, bargaining power and both internal and external expertise to deliver better, more efficient and intelligent services.

It is also careful to state that “Any potential efficiency gains referred to as the Reform Dividend could be used to part fund investment in new digital services, innovation and supporting data infrastructure”.

Key change
This new attitude is recognised as a key change in how the public services thinks about ICT, and is expected to have knock-on effects. “It is also in many ways a prerequisite for implementation of wider collaboration, data sharing, cross‐government digital services and ultimately a unified Civil Service as per the Civil Service Renewal Plan.”

The department of Agriculture and Food in its work with the department of the Marine is cited as a good example of how infrastructure and service sharing has already been successful.

The next key strategy is described as “Digital First”.

The document explains that the “digitisation of key transactional services and the increased use of ICT” will “deliver improved efficiency within Public Bodies and provide new digital services to citizens, businesses and public servants”.

More than just skin deep, this strategy acknowledges that “Digital Government is not simply about putting front‐end services online but rather it encompasses everything from the core digitisation of public services to the digital infrastructure, governance and processes, including both front‐end and back‐office transformation needed to deliver services for citizens, businesses and Government”.

Again success in this area is cited on Online Motor Tax and its success in making 98% of vehicles taxable online.

“This will require a shift in the culture of Public Bodies so that they think digital first and design digital services around the needs of the end user,” says the document.

In many places throughout the document, the need for better informed decision making in relation to the public services is mentioned, till it becomes a refrain. As such, data as an enabler is the third key strategy outlined.

Data sharing
The document says that in line with statutory obligations and data protection guidelines, the strategy will facilitate “increased data sharing and innovative use of data across all Public Bodies to enable the delivery of integrated services, improve decision making and improve openness and transparency between Government and the public”.

While the sensitivity to data sharing is clear in the language of the document in this area, the cited example of success is a potentially controversial avenue. The department of Social Protection and its fraud reduction exercise whereby it exchanged information with Revenue identified a total of 941 cases for investigation from which payments totalling €25.7 million were reviewed and more than €9.5 million recovered.

Key points of the data issue were a common data model, data management and the need for a new data infrastructure to “allow aggregation and facilitate sharing of common data on a Public Service wide basis to support new digital services and secure authentication to existing services”.

Nervous prospect
Despite the obvious benefits, there are those inside and outside of both government and the public service who are nervous at the prospect of Revenue being linked to Social Protection or health and cite everything from privacy to human rights as justification for those concerns. However, as has been demonstrated in several other countries. It is only when such services are permanently linked on a reasonable basis that proper, integrated and intelligent public services can be provided. It is a direction that has been advocated in these very pages since the possibilities of such things were first obvious in the early days of technologies such as enterprise service buses, virtualisation and the as a service delivery model.

The next key strategy is around governance, to “Ensure that the ICT strategy is aligned, directed and monitored across Public Bodies to support the specific goals and objectives at a whole-of-government level and with an emphasis on shared commitment”.

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