The Government in the coming weeks is to unveil the first phase of the Public Services Broker (PSB) system, the lynchpin of the its e-government strategy, representing the end of the design and development phase and the culmination of more than seven year’s work.
The first phase of the PSB — which was developed and will be managed by the Reach agency – will include a set of capabilities aimed at improving services to citizens and to achieve administrative efficiencies within the public sector. The deployment includes a portal website that will act as a comprehensive single access point for public services at www.reachservices.iefor citizens.
The PSB is intended to be the one-stop electronic hub for interaction between the State and the citizen as part of a cradle-to-grave type of relationship. As the central nervous system of the Government’s plan to create an integrated online public services framework, it will ultimately enable citizens to do everything from filing for birth certificates to death certificates as well as applying for and updating passports, driving licences.
Inter-departmental disputes are understood to have held up the initial selection of the tender for deployment of the project but eventually, two years ago, a shortlist was drawn up that included Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, BearingPoint, Logica, PA Consulting and Siemens Business Services.
In January, 2004 the contract — valued at €15m — was awarded to BearingPoint to deploy and manage the online public services system. Other companies involved in the deployment of the PSB include Esat BT, which will handle the infrastructure and telecoms management aspect, as well as BEA Systems, Netegrity, Oracle and Sun Microsystems.
In an interview with siliconrepublic.com, the deputy director of Reach, Victor Galvin, described the work completed so far: “Working with BearingPoint we have been putting in place a robust electronic infrastructure that will enable departments to interact securely and robustly, and share information amongst themselves and make services available to the public on the internet.
“We have been building this infrastructure and refining the architecture based on a technology stack that we accepted from BearingPoint as part of project two years ago. That is now in the very end stages of testing and release is imminent. This will allow departments to intercommunicate through systems and share data.”
Among the first of the services to go live in the coming weeks will be an ID validation system built in tandem with the Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA) that will enable citizens to register with the broker using their PPS number. Galvin explained: “People will be able to log on and create an account based on identity checked against DSFA’s databases. Some 99pc of people this in country have PPS numbers and the broker will use that database to authenticate people who wish to open broker account. They will be able to log in and access a range of services and we will continue to increase that range of services. At this point we are at the end of the beginning.”
Agency-facing services available on the PSB include a life event notification service, which exchanges life event data (births, deaths, marriages) between the General Registrar Office (GRO) and the DSFA as well as 19 other public agencies. Weekly volumes being exchanged on the system include 1,150 birth registrations, 750 death registration and 350 marriage registrations.
When the first phase of PSB goes live over the coming weeks new services available will include: the ALEC service, which will enable citizens to purchase life event certificates online from the GRO; online application forms for grants from The Arts Council; and online forms for reporting cases to the Equality Tribunal.
Future services expected to be deployed include: an online PAYE service from the Revenue Commissioners; online exchange of land title documents from the Land Registry; online exchange of courts outcome reports from the Department of Justice.; a work-permit system from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; a business customer ID management service; public service ID enquiry services; and an address validation service.
Siliconrepublic.com understands that open standards were a key aspect of the PSB rollout as the Government plans to make the PSB an architecture the State can build on for the foreseeable future. Key to this strategy was the use of XML and open standards software standards to support security, scalability and to support high volumes of transactions.
The deployment also included a reliable messaging hub for communications between government agencies and departments. This is known as the Inter-Agency Messaging Service , which brokers the exchange of citizen-related information between agencies on the government virtual private network. This is a crucial element to many of the new services coming online from Reach.
To enable seamless communication between various government agencies as they deploy technology going forward, Reach has also deployed a set of standards and guidelines known as Reach Interoperability Guidelines as well as a repository of useful software on the web called the Services and Data Exchange Catalogue.
Galvin described the PSB strategy as innovative on an international scale through the use of a services-oriented architecture and puts Ireland at the leading edge of global e-government deployments.
“There have been other glitzy implementations of e-government around the world that have been rolled out very quickly but it may be that many of these projects haven’t addressed the difficulties that go with creating a system that ought to be in place for decades. They may have failed to address the architectural aspects that will futureproof their investment. With this system we believe have put Ireland at the cutting edge of e-government deployments worldwide,” Galvin concluded.
By John Kennedy