Tim Duggan tells Meadhbh Monahan how the e-government and cloud computing strategies form the primary focus of the Public Service’s ICT agenda and that buy-in from officials should ensure effective reform.
“The big trends in IT in the public service include cloud computing, mobile computing, greater electronic delivery of services, and shared approaches. Both the e-government and cloud computing strategies have those themes at their cores,” Tim Duggan tells eolas.
Duggan is Assistant Secretary with responsibility for the Centre for Management and Organisation Development (CMOD) and e-government in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. He also heads the Public Service Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council which worked with CMOD in the development of the Government’s e-government and cloud computing strategies and is now working towards progressing the measures outlined in both of them. Duggan says that the Public Service views these strategies as that fine balance between ambition and realism. He claims: “There’s nothing worse than a strategy that is highly aspirational but not achievable because it doesn’t take account of the investment and time required to implement it.” He says “there’s an acceptance across the Public Service that the implementation of these measures will take time and resources but that they are necessary to progress the reform agenda, to better engage with citizens, to remove duplication and to achieve best value for money in ICT and e-government related expenditure.” In that context, Duggan contends that “the measures set out in these strategies will be fundamental to the way ICT will be operated over the coming decade.”
The e-government strategy, published in April 2012, cites the following eight priorities:
• ensuring public services are available online;
• designing new public services for use on smartphones and other smart mobile devices;
• collaborating with citizens to ensure that e-government services are designed to meet their needs;
• taking steps to improve take-up of online services (e.g. a cheaper fee or longer deadline for on-line transactions);
• ensuring that public data is available for re-use;
• implementing digital mapping (i.e. location or geographic data on virtual maps), together with geographic information systems which facilitates analysis of that data;
• using the single customer view to improve the quality of customer identity data, remove duplication from recording and checking processes, and to facilitate the provision of online identity services; and
• strengthening back-end integration.
In relation to online services, Duggan observes that “a major mindset change has been occurring for a while.” When new products or services are being developed by the Public Service, “people now think: ‘How can we make this available electronically?’” This has resulted in some services being ‘born digital’, he notes, citing the non-principal private residence online payment system as an early example. However, he accepts that, for a variety of reasons “it will take a while for ‘born digital’ to become the default”.
The cloud computing strategy (see pages 40-41) outlines how the Government intends to move towards a public service community cloud for sensitive data. Public Service users will be able to connect through the Government Networks system to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms housed in public sector-owned computer and data centres. The infrastructure would be provided by a framework of private sector IaaS providers therefore allowing public bodies a choice of provider and assurance that their data will not move outside the system.
“If there was no such thing as cloud computing, we would be looking for a way to share much more of our IT than we currently do. It just so happens that cloud computing fits into that,” Duggan comments.
The Government’s ideal scenario for its community cloud is “that private sector providers would own the hardware and software platforms, and would manage and operate them from public service owned facilities.”
“We think that’s a highly flexible approach. It allows us to pay for IT environments and services on a metered basis, while retaining requisite controls and security,” Duggan notes.
He doesn’t believe that “any government anywhere in the world is going to trust its computing, particularly its data and processes, exclusively to public cloud computing over the internet.”
While Duggan accepts that some private sector providers will view the Public Service community cloud approach set out in the strategy as too risky an investment, he sees it as an opportunity to develop expertise and approaches in Ireland, where costs are “negligible” compared to larger jurisdictions such as Germany or France, and then sell into those jurisdictions.
“Most of the major IT companies in the world are in this country. The Irish public service is relatively small, nimble and flexible, therefore, the investment that would have to be made to satisfy our requirements is negligible compared to other jurisdictions.”
Duggan is “reasonably satisfied” that there is enough interest from those who have been in the industry for quite a while.
Working groups are being set up to implement the measures in the two strategies. The first group has been established on spatial information. “Experts are currently working on a common approach to using it, availing of it, making it available to others so that the Public Service has a standard way of doing things,” he reveals. Other groups will be established to progress the other measures set out in both strategies. In addition, the CIO Council will also work to find a solution to dealing with staffing and resourcing for ICT across the Public Service at a time of constrained budgets and fewer staff.
The rise in mobile technology is another watching brief, with “more and more people working in the public service starting to demand devices that allow mobility.” He explains that, at present, CMOD and most public bodies operate an ‘ownership’ approach or policy for mobile devices for management and security reasons rather than a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) approach. It is constantly assessing the approaches being taken in other jurisdictions and large corporates. He notes that the BYOD approach can involve HR agreements and special technology measures to facilitate the balance between personal and business information and functionality which can impose additional costs on public bodies that negate the stated cost advantages of BYOD.
Asked how the current reform programme can avoid becoming whittled down to a technology initiative (as discussed on pages 42-43), Duggan highlights how ICT is one element of the overall reform programme. He points to the transformation already achieved in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, where “managements concentrated on every single aspect of their environments including processes, structures and people rather than just the IT aspects”. According to Duggan, “the downside of taking such a comprehensive approach is that it can seem to slow things down, particularly where the reforms are complicated, but it does result in far better outcomes.” He notes that “if there are problems, rarely do you find that IT issues are the primary cause.”
Consultation across the system has been key during this reform programme. Using the Public Service CIO Council as an example, he adds: “I’m very keen that this is a thriving pro-active council, that it isn’t just there for the sake of being there.” Duggan insists on collaboration in order to avail of “the immense amount of knowledge and experience within the Public Service” and to ensure buy-in. “Ensuring people are involved in the determination of measures in the first place means that they stand a far better chance of implementation subsequently,” Duggan concludes.