Towards true digital government

Government CIO Barry Lowry (Image: OGCIO)



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19 May 2017 | 0

A new, more interactive way of providing services to the public, informed by easy to access consultation, is a major aim of the current digital-first information and communication technology (ICT) strategy for government.

According to Barry Lowry, government CIO, the model for interaction should be more like that of the consumer experience with the likes of Amazon, where the user sets up a profile and can then interact with the various services.

“I was very keen to make them feel as if they were all part of this journey—that we were all in it together, and that it wouldn’t be successful without them”

Speaking to TechPro, Lowry said, the interaction can be based around a set of ‘what do you want to do?’ options, such as renew a passport or apply for a driving licence, and the citizen will then be routed through to the various government services.

Tell us once
With examples from the likes of Denmark and Estonia, Lowry said that public service gateways can provide a ‘tell us once, use many times’ approach to public services where a secure authentication method for citizens, be they private citizens or other entities, will allow data to be managed for the services on which they rely.

Using measures such as the Standard Authentication Framework Environment 2 (SAFE2), the public service card and MyGovID facilities can be used to allow citizens to see what data is held on them, correct or amend it as needed, and also see what access has been allowed for it.

Lowry said that research here, backed up by similar work in the UK, has shown that more than three quarters of people here want government to be able to use data in this manner to provide better services. However, he fully recognised that trust must be earned and that even with the best security practices, some citizens will not wish to engage with such services.

“If Ireland considers itself a leader in European Digital Government, it is important for us to be putting these plans in place, and to make sure that people are aware of it. If they don’t want to pick it up, that is their choice,” said Lowry.

ICT strategy document
The broad aims and the actions to achieve them were outlined in the government ICT strategy document, from Lowry’s predecessor, Michal McGrath. However, on consultation, Lowry said, some changes were made.

There was a sense of a lack of cohesion in IT in government, said Lowry. Some of the smaller departments felt they had not been well supported, or involved, in the wider strategy as maybe some of the larger departments.

“I was very keen to make them feel as if they were all part of this journey—that we were all in it together, and that it wouldn’t be successful without them.”

Lowry said a consultation process in the summer of last year assessed the ‘doability’ of strategy document elements, as well as providing an opportunity for various government departments and bodies to have their say in shaping how the public service ICT strategy would develop.

Understanding why something must be done, said Lowry, is almost as important and as how, so the process provided insights as to how the strategy document could be improved to be a more realistic and achievable framework.

This resulted in the order of items being changed, with ‘digital first’ and ‘data as enabler’ moving to the top of the priorities.

Revised order
“The plan has gone slightly out of order, in terms of the strategy,” Lowry acknowledges, “because build to share used to be at the top, but, in terms of government, what we are interested in is which bits are the ones that make a real difference to our stakeholders, which are people and business, and digital and data were the two that are most important. They are now shown at the top.”

Lowry said that there was a lack of a single vision for digital services, and many departments were forging their own path, with successes nonetheless. A digital programme office is now ensuring that efforts are coordinated, cross informed and successes are capitalised upon.

“We have now got a digital programme office and they are now starting to collect information on what we have already done, in terms of services, what we are planning to do and what is a bit down the way. If nothing else, we’ll start to have a dash board.”

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