Public sector IT: what does good look like?
Creating a robust and comprehensive online public service offering is an ongoing project in Ireland and it is fair to say that while we are ahead of some countries, we are not a world leader in this area.
However, just because we are behind the curve does not necessarily mean we are disadvantaged. For a start, we can learn from what others have done and adopt best practice established elsewhere. So where are online public services done particularly well and how do they work there?
According to John Walsh, chief technology officer for Fujitsu Ireland, the country with the best current offering to look to when it comes to public sector digital engagement is Australia, where citizens benefit from a single portal site, my.gov.au through which they can access an enormous range of government services.
“Basically, what they’ve done is create a single portal for all Australian citizens, using a standard set of credentials not based upon things like a social security number but on a unique identifier. It’s a single log-in point with two-factor authentication and now literally millions of Australian citizens are using it.”
“There are hundreds of government agencies up on my.gov.au and it’s accessed from a single portal. There are over four million pages of data for the citizen in Australia available from a search on every conceivable level. In addition, there are mobile apps to facilitate people with smart devices.”
By contrast, Ireland currently has a patchy record when it comes to digital engagement—while some public services are well catered for online, others are patchy or non-existent.
“We have a situation in which there is at least some sharing of data between government departments but nothing on the scale that you would see, for example, in Australia, the Nordic countries, Denmark and Sweden,” said Walsh.
“There was an attempt a number of years ago to create a more joined up online government project here but it went by the wayside in the recession.”
One of the major advantages of a single log-in system such as that used in countries with more advanced digital engagement projects is that it reduces the number of accounts and passwords that the average citizen needs to remember in order to go about their day.
At the moment, an Irish citizen logging into the NCT portal uses completely different credentials when they log into Revenue.ie, for example.
“The government has information on all of us but it has that information in siloes, where it remains for use by each department so when you start to join it up to create a single profile representing the citizen and you start making associations between the data, then things become a lot more streamlined,” said Walsh.
Putting in place a single log in credential remains a big issue for public take up of e-government of this kind, but there are also issues regarding security and public faith to be surmounted.
“The two biggest hurdles as I see them are credentials and security—a single secure identifier that’s acceptable to the citizen and what’s going to happen to the data? Large companies with the best security money can buy get hacked seemingly regularly, so what hope has a government working with limited resources? That’s how much of the public feels,” said Walsh.
When it comes to assessing the level of Ireland’s digital engagement with its population, it is necessary to first of all look at the way in which we engage with technology in general. That is the opinion of Pat Power, managing director of health and public service with Accenture.
“Digital engagement is a very broad topic but if you step outside public service for a second, I think it’s important to understand what’s happening with digital in general. What we’re seeing in the market place feels very much like the next industrial revolution—digital is completely changing the way we work and live.”
“Think about the consumer. What millennials expect is the same level of service from the government that they would get from a commercial organisation. They don’t discriminate in terms of whether they’re dealing with public or private sector organisations—they want simple and tailored interactions.”