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19 Jan 2018

Why cloud is key to building a mature open government

Barry Lowry

In many respects, there is a ‘push and pull’ situation developing in Ireland. There are those who carry out most of their banking, shopping and many other activities online, and they now expect a similar level of service and customer experience from government. We aim to facilitate that demand as best as we can.

Ireland is also very supportive of digital developments in Europe such as the Digital Single Market (DSM) and the eGovernment Action Plan. Andrus Ansip (current European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market and Vice President of the European Commission) has argued that the successful establishment of a DSM could generate €415 billion (approx. £366 billion) a year, and that eGovernment can drive its success.

Given its reputation as a ‘technology powerhouse’, Ireland wants to be at the forefront of such an exciting initiative. We are actively promoting the concept of digital government and associated services. We are also looking at ‘assisted digital’ projects, through partnerships with libraries and post offices, for example, helping to ensure that no-one is left behind.

eGovernment in Ireland

The eGovernment Strategy for Ireland was published in July 2017. The Strategy sets out ten key actions, which cover a range of themes including presentation of services, secure online identification, underlying infrastructure, governance and appropriate skilling.

As Minister Patrick O’Donovan said when launching the strategy: “The new eGovernment Strategy sets out our plans to be a leader in the provision of digital government services. We have made substantial progress over the last few years and want to build upon that. The expectations of our people are very clear in terms of more convenient, intuitive and joined-up digital services; delivering on these expectations will be one of my key priorities going forward.”

Already, there is a clear sense of momentum and cross-departmental commitment. In just a few months, the first version of our Digital Service Gateway was developed through consultation with representative groups of the public and organisations such as the National Disability Authority.

Uptake of MyGovID (E-ID) has increased and a transition plan has been developed to enable all government services to be underpinned by the MyGovID service. We have also drawn up a logical design for a simplified data sharing model and progressed the legislation to support it, agreed on an approach to ICT Shared Services and published an ICT Professionalisation Strategy.

For our efforts, we were delighted to be recognised as the most mature Open Government country in the EU.

The initiative is not without its challenges, however. Some people in Ireland are uncomfortable with the idea of government ‘joining up’ their data, seeing it as an infringement on personal privacy.

This is a counter-intuitive argument as one of the drivers behind our data strategy is to increase transparency of government by enabling people to see the data we hold on them, who is using it and for what purpose. This is a key element of the General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in May, and increasing transparency is a great way to drive improvements in data stewardship.

In any case, the vast majority of people, especially the 18-34-year-old group, are very supportive of the way ahead.

A further significant hurdle is the existing technology we have in place. We are not going to retire and replace everything in a short period of time so working out the detailed roadmap of key services using the MyGovID authentication engine, for example, can be time-consuming and leave us with a judgement call of whether to invest to make older systems compliant or wait until their replacement.

The role of hybrid cloud

While all governments will use more public cloud over the next few years, we will always have a requirement for on-premise hosting for certain categories of data.

In Ireland, we are developing a hybrid cloud approach which seeks to gain the best of both worlds, using public cloud where it is advantageous to do so and develop a government cloud to maximise the efficiency of those systems that for various reasons must remain on premise.

With this balanced approach, we will start to see increasing partnerships across public service in Ireland, including central and local government, health, policing and education, which is very forward-thinking and exciting.

Given the scale of the country, there is a real opportunity to share and co-develop on a cross-sectoral basis which improves services to the citizen and reduces cost to the state.

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