Fieldwork for farmers

27 Nov 2002

In the last couple of years you could be forgiven for thinking that e-government was a new invention, dreamed up by IT vendors to create a market as other sectors stalled. They have circled around government departments like wasps around a jam jar. For Siemens, however, it was business as usual.

“We take the view that e-government, like e-business, didn’t just happen. Governments have been doing business electronically for 30 years, ever since the first mainframes were available,” says Barry Rooney of Siemens Ireland.

Rooney works for the company’s business services division, which employs 35,000 people worldwide. It’s one of three Siemens sectors that give the company a deeper skillset than most. There is also a networks company, ICN, and the mobile division that spans everything from handsets to network infrastructure.

Such broad expertise comes in handy when Siemens pitches for government work that frequently demands an end-to-end solution. “Larger projects require larger expertise,” says Rooney. “In some cases we just win project management, but often it’s the entire project.”

The business services division is primarily focused on finance and government _ two sectors where security is a priority. It’s no coincidence that the German company is a specialist in this field.

“Historically, Siemens has always been associated with security products. In Ireland we have our own security company _ Guardeonics,” says Rooney.

In its pitch for e-government business this is a valuable association. Across Europe the hottest of hot potatoes are privacy issues and managing the complex area of data interchange, be it across different government departments to different countries and even different continents.

“A key problem that the Irish Government faces is the interchange of data between local agencies,” explains Rooney. “There are legal issues as well as physical boundaries, which is why the Revenue Commissioners, for example, might not be able to transfer data to the Department for Social Welfare or vice versa.”

Security technology and privacy issues are a long way, however, from the biggest Siemens government ‘win’ so far in Ireland.

The Irish office was charged with implementing an upgrade to the Department of Agriculture’s animal health systems, used for monitoring the health of Irish cattle and assessing the risk of tuberculosis.

“There exists a vast legacy system,” explains Rooney, “used by vets and the department that goes back 15 years. Our job has been to deal with a system that was localised to the regions, implementing a way of testing animals and collating the data in such a way that farmers can receive appropriate grants.”

The basic mission _ centralisation of a database _ inevitably called for an Oracle solution, the masters of that particular space.

A priority was to make the system future-proof. “It’s a Java-based infrastructure,” explains Rooney, “which means it’s flexible for developing more applications on top of what exists already.”

“They’ve done the hard work, which is putting all the spatial information in a database,” adds Dermot O’Kelly of Oracle. “Because of the technology we’ve employed using our middleware it automatically makes it wireless-enabled. So, if they choose to, you could access it by a handheld device.”

Down the line it may be possible to allow farmers to dial into the database and look at their own records.