Few observers that are acquainted with the intricacies of applying technology to government will be surprised to see Hewlett-Packard (HP) make it to the final selection in the tender process to build the country’s online broker infrastructure.
“In terms of the areas we focus on, government has to be the biggest along with the financial sector,” says Tom Carson, country manager of HP services.
Indeed,as a leading IT infrastructure company, HP’s skills in system integration, business consulting and hardware have seen its reach extend into numerous government departments and agencies already.
One high profile project that typifies its approach was taking online 50 offices of the Court Service. The solution required a solid network that would guarantee the availability and performance of enterprise business applications and office computing services for users in central and regional offices. The challenge was to start from scratch and create a standardised, easily managed virtual environment. Cisco was brought in to implement the network backend while Windows XP was used at the front.
According to Carson, the complex mesh of technologies is put in place to serve a very simple goal. “It’s all about inclusiveness, better public service and speeding up efficiencies,” says Carson of e-government in general. “And the path to the citizen must be bridged.”
He is concerned that cuts in public expenditure will impact on this. “A lot of the initiatives today are there in terms of inclusiveness, but I think one of the stumbling blocks will be the Government’s capacity to roll out those projects in a timely fashion because there are going to be constraints on resources unless it looks at public partnerships and outsourcing.”
While he thinks the Government is addressing the right areas, he points out that fundamental business objectives need to be employed _ something that HP is happy to help with.
“The basis on which we propose our solutions is in terms of business value as opposed to infrastructure costs,” says Carson. “The drivers and the business imperative are very different to private shareholder organisations. The Government will put more focus on a return of investment on project lifecycles because it’s spending public money. Companies such as ourselves have done a lot to educate customers on this and government is included.”
Some departments, however, are already up to speed, according to Carson. “The Department of Finance is picky and focused on developing partners and solutions that will show a very early return investment and drive some core efficiencies in government. There is a level of commercial focus that’s come into it that is encouraging,” he continues.
On a broader economic scale, Carson believes e-government has a bigger contribution to make to Ireland. “We see it playing a role in helping Irish businesses compete at a European level. All of us are stakeholders in this and we have to make sure it happens. The success of the country is dependent on a really slick e-government infrastructure,” he says.
All the more reason for concern about cutbacks, as Carson elaborates: “I think it would be a very short-term view to target e-government as a potential area for cuts. The real business value is going to be attained by a speedier implementation of initiatives that are reducing costs and freeing up civil servants to focus on other key community areas such as healthcare.”
Ultimately he remains optimistic: “In the overall scheme of things I don’t think it’s going to be an area where Charlie McCreevy would see as saving a big bit of his budget. I get the feeling that people have been encouraged to expedite the delivery of some of these solutions. I don’t get the feeling that they have to do it by tomorrow or it will be taken away.”