Here we go again, and again

Frustrated IT worker
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25 April 2014 | 0

Sometimes, one reads a headline and it simply makes one’s blood boil.

However, by the time I got through the first paragraph of one particular story this week, I was fit to burst!

“Social welfare claimant had €400,000 in investments”, said the headline of an Irish Times story.

Unbelievably, a recipient of social welfare payments had €400,000 in investments that were only discovered when a check was run against a Revenue database that clarified that the recipient and the investor were one and the same person.

The story goes on to say “The issue was discovered in the course of a data sharing exercise with the Revenue Commissioners, which provided information on investment interest payments on sums in excess of six figures.”

Pardon my language, but that really demands a ‘WTAF?’

So, this ‘win’ came about as a result of an “exercise” between Revenue and Social Protection. The implication is that this kind of sharing does not happen all the time!

My incredulity stems from the fact that I have been banging this particular drum since the teeth of the recession fixed themselves firmly in the rump of Ireland’s economy six years ago.

I argued years ago, that the advent of cloud services and business analytics (as they were then termed, long before the coining of ‘Big Data’), that there was a golden opportunity to establish a new basis from which a new generation of government services for the citizen could be based. I argued that by taking advantage of the fact that the big technology vendors were desperate to push their new cloud and analytics technologies, coupled with falling prices, the government could have cheaply unified the Social Protection, Revenue and Health databases with a unique identifier for each citizen that would have allowed each person to instantly know their entitlements, benefits and tax status instantly.

This would have meant that means testing for the likes of the medical card, or child benefit or the anything else, would have been a database query — a big one I’ll grant,  but an automated procedure nonetheless.

I reiterated the argument two years ago when the Minster for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, mooted taxing child benefit.

And here we are again faced with a ridiculous situation where the benefits of such unification, with the above nominated three as only a start, are demonstrated and yet this appears to have been just an exercise between Revenue and Social Protection.

Now, I put this to a public service veteran with deep knowledge and experience of both the technologies and the departments involved, who argued that legislative and perhaps even constitutional changes may have been necessary to achieve this joined up data approach, but if it can be achieved in one-off exercises, why can’t it be achieved on an ongoing basis?

In the eGovernment Strategy document published by the Government in 2012, was described a method for achieving just this.

It said: “The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has developed a central system to provide a single view of the identity of Public Service customers, known as the Single Customer View.”

Bearing in mind that this was in 2012, where is it?

It went on to say: “This system takes identity data feeds from a range of national registers across the public service and seeks to match them. CMOD has successfully piloted the system and a range of associated applications with public bodies such as data matching, PPSN look-up, address matching/validation, household control information, and online authentication services. These will be made available on an incremental basis. These solutions will be instrumental in helping public bodies to improve the quality of customer identity data, improve assurances around identity claims, remove duplication of effort from recording and checking processes, and facilitate the provision of online identity services.”

Exactly!

So where is this system? Is this what was used here? If not, why not? Or if so, why not say so?

While the immediate results in this particular case are to be applauded, it seems that this is not even picking low hanging fruit, it is waiting for the cherry to fall into the governmental gob!

When such successes are so obviously achievable through linking these data sources, why has it not been done across the board, on a real time basis?

I’ve reset the clock now, and suspect that in another two years or so, I’ll have to reference all this again. You’ve been warned!

 

 

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