Towards true digital government

Government CIO Barry Lowry (Image: OGCIO)

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19 May 2017 | 0

“And we have an eGovernment minister, Eoghan Murphy (Minister of State for Financial Services, eGovernment and Public Procurement), we’ll have a dashboard that he’ll be able to understand what is happening under his watch.”

Build to share
To provide this level of service and interaction for citizens, infrastructure needed major work. The build to share philosophy is a major plank of the ICT strategy. Building on experiences during his time in Northern Ireland where savings of some £40 million (€47 million) were made, Lowry is confident that with a bigger civil service here, the potential for even greater savings is real.

“We are pretty close to deciding whether to build or own or go co-location,” GCIO Lowry

Lowry said that a business case for a public service data centre has been completed, and is about to go to the civil service management board for ratification. That will be an opportunity not just for central government to do things in a shared way, he said, but also the HSE, the Gardaí, councils, etc., to come on board and use this.

“What we want to do is get all of those distributed instances and get them all in a proper building, developed for that purpose,” said Lowry. “That gives us the opportunities, in terms of energy efficiency and green concerns, to be an exemplar. But it also gives us the scale, to drive out duplication of costs.”

“We are pretty close to deciding whether to build or own or go co-location,” he confirmed.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lowry said the costs of building as opposed to co-location were broadly similar. This is mainly due to the scale required.

While the decision has yet to be made, there are already indications of which may be preferred.

Sense of assurance
“The public still feels a greater sense of assurance knowing that their data is held on public premises and secured by public servants,” said Lowry. “And while that is a mindset, if it is relatively cost neutral to provide that level of assurance, then it is the right thing to do.”

Lowry said the thinking in government departments is rapidly coming around to the shared model. So while departments such as Agriculture and Revenue have already achieved much in terms of infrastructure to support sophisticated services, there is a recognition of the benefits of shared infrastructure to allow such bodies to better expend their own resources, rather than have to maintain infrastructure.

“From our point of view, we need to respect their legacy,” said Lowry. “That is one of the mistakes that has been made in other places. It is generally recognised that our Revenue system is among the top three in the world. We have to respect that in any shared environment in the future.”

“I don’t want to break what works, even though there are legacy elements still there, but equally, they respect that there is much that can be achieved with a clean sheet.

They have signed up to MyGovID, and the government data centre, and they share networks.”

“We are seeing a very strong evolution towards a more cohesive and coherent government and that is without putting at risk the things that made us respected in terms of good IT systems.”

Advisory board
Lowry said that all of this work is taking place with the help of the ICT advisory board, where all the various departments and offices are represented. With a high level of data sharing and coordination, Lowry said “I really get a sense that we are all pulling together and in the same direction.”

Drawing on another of his areas of experience from his time in Northern Ireland, Lowry said that another key element of the ICT strategy is around professionalisation for IT people in the public service.

There is no unique professional body within government which is called IT, said Lowry. People work in IT, but are not recognised or labelled as IT.

“The strong sense from staff themselves, managers and the business is that it would be a good thing of we started to establish that,” he said.

To that end, Lowry said that there is now a strong programme to develop professionalism within IT in the public sector.

Career structures
“It is very important to give our staff career structures,” he said, “but it is also important in terms of our own credibility as government IT provision, that we have a proper professional structure.”

Lowry said that there is a group working with the Irish Computer Society map out a structure for this.

Part of this is selling it to staff, Lowry points out, and continuous development and learning is very important for career development.

Overall, Lowry is very optimistic for the implementation of the government ICT strategy, and the development of digital first public services. He said he is very impressed without how informed ministers are with this agenda, and that there is great ministerial encouragement and support. He is convinced that by demonstrating what can be done, minister and civil servants will be inspired to demand more of IT and develop greater visions of what can be done for citizens.

Lowry also recognised the support and enthusiasm from secretary generals of departments, which also feeds into the ambitions for what can be done.

In sanguine attitude, Lowry says “I’d rather be criticised for not moving fast enough rather than for what we are trying to do.”

 

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