Government CIO Barry Lowry on pushing forward with Ireland’s digital strategy

SUMMARY:

CIO Barry Lowry says great citizen services sit at the heart of his approach for Ireland, with a strong focus on data sharing.

CIO Barry Lowry

Irish government CIO Barry Lowry is using digital transformation to help his country create joined-up and customer-centric services.

Lowry, who spoke with diginomica/government at the recent Cloud Expo Europe event in London, outlined his plans for change and talked about Ireland’s commitment to wider European Union priorities, such as the Digital Single Market. He talked about data management, shared service and his long-term aims:

I want Ireland to continue to move upwards regarding its use of digital services. Our ambition is to get close to the big hitters, such as the Danes and Estonians. And we believe we can do it. We have a clear idea of what success looks like and we’re determined to push on. Our objective is to join up data and the front-end of digital, so we make things as easy as possible for our citizens.

Lowry explained how Ireland has created a revised eGovernment Strategy, which was published in July 2017. The strategy, which will run through to 2020, includes 10 key commitments. These include the creation of a Digital Services Gateway, the bundling together of all digital initiatives in a single programme, and the development of electronic identification capability. Lowry, who assumed the CIO position in April 2016, said he relishes the opportunity he has been given:

I love it, it’s a great role. We’ve got central government, local government, health services and policing all moving in the same direction. We’re really starting to push forward the concept of an electronic state identification. We’re getting uptake and interest. There’s people who have concerns regarding privacy, but there’s a general realisation that the government is trying to do some great things around technology and we’re making strong progress.

Creating joined-up services for citizens

Lowry referred to the work of Andrus Ansip, who is the former Estonian Prime Minister and is now Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market (DSM). Ansip says the successful establishment of a DSM, where regulatory walls are removed, could generate €415bn a year for the European economy. All European Union member states signed the eGovernment Declaration in Tallinn last October, which should make it easier to create cross-border transactions. Lowry said the aim is to make it easier for citizens and workers to use data simply and securely, which is already a priority for his government:

In Ireland, we have electronic identification capability that is owned and developed by the state. Increasing the uptake of that technology is very important to us. As part of our eGovernment Strategy, we’ve published a plan for all key government services to be accessible – so that individuals can verify themselves – by using a single electronic identifier.

Lowry said other key concerns in the Irish eGovernment Strategy include: the enhancement of data sharing capability; the development of an open data portal; the creation of appropriate governance; and the honing of high-level skills and capabilities. Lowry also drew attention to the transformation of back-office capabilities:

If we want the citizen to access government services through the devices of their choice, then the only way to do that is to create a joined up, digital experience. We can’t have individual departments with their own log-in systems and their own front-ends. We need to create one portal, where individuals can go in, verify themselves once and use that service. If your information has already been provided, then forms should be pre-populated with the right data securely to create a better user experience for the citizen. If we’re going to achieve those aims, then it’s beholden on us that we join up the data at the back-end. So, instead of having separate silos of information that aren’t shared, we have proper joined up databases. A citizen should only need to change data once, and all the areas where it’s used should update automatically.

Building an infrastructure that is ready for the future of IT

Lowry said the Irish government is moving away from the traditional world of public sector IT, with rooms of servers that are barely used and with databases that aren’t integrated, and towards joined-up working and on-demand technology:

We’re moving to shared facilities and services wherever possible. Every government department doesn’t need its own networking or cyber security team. We can do great infrastructure once for everyone. And, of course, we need the governance to make sure this digitisation happens legally, transparently and safely.

Lowry is currently helping the Irish government to replace its existing human capital management system, based on PeopleSoft technology. He recognised a move to the cloud could create big benefits. However, Lowry also said many government CIOs remain cautious about a full commitment to the public cloud:

When you to talk to the market, it looks like cloud is going to be the only way forwards in terms of enterprise resource planning. Whether that’s traditional players, like SAP and Oracle, or newer companies like Salesforce and Workday. I’ve polled my CIO colleagues across Europe. That research shows governments, and that’s even in an area like enterprise resource planning, are not rushing to go to the public cloud. There’s a degree of concern.

Lowry said the way to overcome these challenges is through a hybrid approach and it is a method that is being applied in the Irish eGovernment Strategy. While the public cloud might allow internal employees to work collaboratively, Lowry said the private cloud often provides the best answer for public sector CIOs looking to manage highly sensitive data:

There’s a wide area in-between those two concerns where you can make a choice. Don’t be afraid to make that choice. If there’s a strong business case for using the cloud, then that’s what you should do.

My take

Irish government CIO Barry Lowry is a man on a mission. While his objectives for Ireland are aligned with wider plans for a European DSM, Lowry is clear about how he believes technology and data can be used to create better public services for citizens at home. Updates to IT infrastructure will play a key role in this digital transformation, yet Lowry’s hybrid approach to the cloud – and his research across European IT leadership peers – demonstrates how public sector CIOs remain reticent about going all-in with on-demand technology services.

Image credit - Via IIEA1 YouTube channel