Irish Government in open standards push

23 Apr 2004

Reach, the agency charged with the construction and deployment of the Public Services Broker (PSB) that will power the Irish State’s e-government platform, has told that the service will be constructed entirely on open standards technology that will connect with all Government departments and State agencies.

In January of this year Reach awarded BearingPoint with the €15m contract to deploy and manage the Government’s online public services system. As well as BearingPoint, other companies expected to benefit from the contract include Esat BT, which will handle infrastructure and telecoms management outsourcing, as well as BEA Systems, Netegrity, Oracle and Sun Microsystems.

Almost a year earlier, BearingPoint succeeded in winning a contract worth €22m to modernize the Passport Office systems, which will also allow for biometric chips to be included in Irish passports.

The awarding of the contract came three years after the first tender went out due to inter-departmental wrangling. A rift between the Department of Finance and Reach revealed lack of confidence in the management of the online public services strategy and spiralling operating costs. As well as this, it is understood that the initial tenders were deemed unsatisfactory and all the bidders – including Accenture, Hewlett-Packard, BearingPoint, Logica, PA Consulting and Siemens Business Services – were told to bid again for the lucrative contract.

It is understood that one of the companies bidding for the contract proposed building the PSB on an exclusively Microsoft platform. However, Reach rejected this upon the grounds that it preferred an open standards approach to building the PSB. A spokesman for the agency told Knowledge Ireland: “The reason for this is that the broker is due to last the nation at least 70 years and should be something that we can continue to build upon. With open standards we are free to do that.”

The deputy director of Reach, Victor Galvin, told “Part of the procurement process was around the various consultancies’ response to a series of questions based around principles that the broker had to have. We wanted to see a sort of loose coupling in the construction of the broker – if it will be around for several decades we don’t want to be locked in with a specific technology. We wanted it to be open in terms of technology standards. There are other principles that underpin the broker architecture, including security, data protection and trust.”

Galvin also said that the project would see the deployment of web services. “The idea of the ‘vault’ [for the storage of a citizen’s personal information] was conceptual, but the more we looked at it we decided that instead of having a fixed repository of information it could take the form of web services that can trigger activity across various agencies.”

In keeping with the open standards push on the PSB system, the Government is compiling an online catalogue of all open standards used in the project to be published online under what’s known as the Service and Data Exchange Catalogue.

In order to improve the process of “joining up” between various Government departments, Galvin said that the construction of a common communication system was vital. To this end, Reach developed a centralised reliable messaging service called the IAMS (Inter-Agency Messaging Service), which brokers the exchange of customer-related information between agencies on the Government’s virtual private network (GVPN).

The first IAMS service, launched mid-2003, centres on services surrounding the birth of a child. Using IAMS, the General Register Office (GRO) notifies Client Identity Services (CIS) in the Department of Social & Family Affairs about a birth. CIS then assigns the newborn baby with a PPSN. GRO also uses the IAMS to electronically send statistics on births, deaths and marriages to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

By John Kennedy