Public sector takes first tentative steps into cloud

26 Apr 2010

While cloud computing in the Irish public sector has been a controversial topic of late, the first tentative steps have occurred with the Local Government Computer Services Board developing a cloud app linking together all local planning approvals on a single online map.

The new app pulls together all the data – until now only available county by county – onto a single map, by pulling all the XML data into one place.

The solution is set to be unveiled today by the head of the Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB), Tim Willoughby at a special Smart Economy in Action event hosted by Microsoft to mark the software giant’s 25th year in Ireland.

The uptake of cloud computing in the public sector is a bit of a hot potato after it emerged that the Chief State Solicitor in an email warned State bodies of the dangers of buying cloud computing technologies on the grounds of data protection and confidentiality.

The email was quickly shared among the many technology companies based in Ireland, causing consternation, and was at odds with the view that cloud computing was one of the six pillars the Government said would drive the creation of a smart economy.

Debate over cloud

Willoughby said the controversy has actually done some good insofar as it has led to more departments evaluating the cloud opportunity and debating it among themselves.

The LGCSB has already put a toe in the water by implementing a mapping solution that allows ordinary citizens to see on a digital map of Ireland where planning permissions have and haven’t been approved.

“The value of this is that before this existed you could only look county by county. If you lived on the edge of Waterford you couldn’t see that on the boundary with Wexford if an approval was made in the nearest field, for example. Because of cloud computing, that is now possible on one holistic map.”

Willoughby explained that every county and city council in Ireland has its own planning system. “What we did was take an XML data dump from the councils and brought it together intelligently onto a single internet map. The value of this is it is data coming directly from the local authority websites. Until now, it was impossible to manage planning from a central location.”

Willoughby describes the first move to cloud computing as tentative. “To understand how the cloud works we decided the best way to do it was to build a prototype.

“The jury is out on whether the cloud is a game changer or not. But the question is there; would we have gone and built it if the technology wasn’t there? Because of the infrastructure that would have been required the chances are we wouldn’t have done this as easily and fast as we did.”

The Smart Economy in Action event at the Burlington Hotel this afternoon will feature organisations from the public sector, private sector, education, entrepreneurs, the arts and nongovernmental organisations who will share their stories and experiences on how they have driven innovation in their organisations.

Participating organisations include the Local Government Computer Services Board; the Department of Social Protection; O2, the National Library of Ireland, Concern, Microsoft HR, start-up companies HR Locker, Tradefacilitate and Surfseeds, and innovative schools Meath VEC and Naomh Fiachra Primary School, Kilkenny.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The Local Government Computer Services Board has developed a cloud app that links together all local planning approvals on a single online map

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years