Despite a glowing appraisal of e-government projects by the Minister for the Information Society, Mary Hanafin TD, a new progress report on the New Connections strategy says that the slow delivery of the Public Services Broker (PSB), the electronic clearing house for a wide range of public services, is the biggest issue facing Ireland’s e-government progress.
“Its (the PSB) continued delay will adversely impact on the development of online service delivery in agencies awaiting the shared component that compromise with the broker,” reads the report, which was published earlier this month.
“In tandem with the development of the broker, there is also an urgent requirement for common standards (interoperability, security, registration and authentication) to enable service delivery by departments and agencies through the broker,” it continues.
The PSB is seen as the central nervous system of the Government’s plan to create an integrated online public services framework, but it has fallen behind schedule due to inter-departmental wrangles.
As reported by siliconrepublic.com in December, a rift between the Department of Finance and Reach, the cross-departmental agency responsible for developing the PSB, revealed a lack of confidence in the management of this online public services strategy and operating costs. Reach came under fire from the Department of Finance for the planning, management and excessive expenditure of the programme.
Reach has made its best-and-final-offer shortlist from the previous shortlist of six firms: Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, KPMG Consulting (now BearingPoint), Logica (now LogicaCMG), PA Consulting and Siemens. However, it has yet to be approved at government level. According a spokesman for Reach, it will be several months before an eventual winner is announced.
Regarding the target of 2005 for the delivery of online public services, the report states that that “there is now a need to refine this target to ensure that optimum results are now achieved in terms of effectiveness and impact”.
Some 14 projects outlined in the action plan have so far been completed – 83 are on target, 57 are falling behind and four are new developments, according to the report.
Completed online services include the Revenue Commissioner’s online vehicle registration tax system and the Central Statistics Office’s online data collection phase two, which was completed ahead of schedule.
Key points in progress report
The New Connections progress report outlines progress on all seven policy strands – telecoms infrastructure, legal and regulatory environment, e-government, e-business, R&D, lifelong learning and e-inclusion – of the Government’s information society action plan.
* Telecoms infrastructure: Phase one of the metropolitan area network is being rolled out in 19 towns nationwide. A private sector managed services entity (MSE) will market, maintain and administer access to the completed networks. A request for tender document for the MSE is expected to be issued within weeks.
* R&D: The Science Foundation Ireland is administering over €635m of the Technology Foresight Fund over seven years. Projects approved to date total €100m.
* Legal and regulatory: The Communications Regulation Act, 2002 was passed, which gave additional powers to the new Commission for Communications Regulation. Other legislation includes the Data Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2002, which is at committee stage in the Dáil and the Digital Hub Development Agency Bill, which is expected to be enacted within months. EU directives on electronic communications are to be transposed into Irish law by July this year. Also, a commercial e-court will be established by September 2003.
* E-government: The eCabinet project is expected to be deployed in 2003, while the Revenue On-Line Service project is continuing to achieve success, according to the report. All local authorities have upgraded their systems to support online planning application and development control process and have upgraded their systems to support online registration on the electoral register. However, a change in legislation is required before the electoral register can become a reality due to registrations requiring authentication.
* E-business: Forfás is due to publish an e-business monitoring report in the coming weeks and the Information Society Commission is reviewing the policy options for positioning Ireland as a significant global e-business player.
*Lifelong learning: The Department of Education and Science has created two posts within the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to focus on developing the delivery of curriculum using information and communications technology at primary and post-primary level and the Higher Education Authority has gone to the marketplace to investigate the potential for e-learning to contribute to the further development of higher and further education and training in Ireland.
*E-inclusion: A number of projects including pilots have been completed or have reached their evaluation stage, for example, the libraries initiative, Equalskills and the Cáit initiative. However, according to the report, the Information Society Policy Unit at the Department of the Taoiseach says it does not have a comprehensive picture of all State-sponsored activity in this area.