“If you were to ask me what was the big issue in e-government right now, the short answer would be the public services broker. We need to get it in place as fast as we can,” says Colm Butler, principal in the Department of the Taoiseach.
Described as “the brains of the information society” by no less than the Minister for Information Mary Hanafin TD, Butler’s views carry weight. Right now he’s concerned that the e-broker tender process is falling behind schedule .
“In my personal opinion it has taken longer than we originally hoped and we’re pushing all the time to make progress on that front. Once we’re happy that the broker is in place, and people throughout the public service look on it as a shared frontend service, we can then move on,” he continues.
Delivery, policy and internal administration are the three recognised strands of e-government, but the emphasis is starting to shift as Butler and his colleagues plot the best way forward.
“The focus has been on the delivery side and there’s still a huge amount of work to be done in that area but we’ve got to look beyond it to the way we work and collaborate in the background processes. That is the next e-government frontier we have to face up to,” he says.
In his travels around the globe, Butler can confirm that governments everywhere are looking beyond delivery to collaborative environments. There is a general reappraisal of the potential impact of technology, looking at what sectors are actually doing rather than the way they are doing it.
“Greater levels of connectivity give you the concept of virtuality. It doesn’t matter where you are _ it changes the playing field. It adds up to a different way of addressing the citizens,” he says.
Anchoring such broad concepts to a tangible roadmap is the challenge. It has started with the policy department in the Taoiseach’s office and the Department of Finance coming up with a vision of how an e-enabled bureaucracy would actually function.
“Finance is the technical wing and the policy department is the philosophical side,” says Butler, “but this is just the start. We would engage with all levels of public service.”
By this time next year the goal is to have created a corporate portal accessible to all public servants.
“Street level bureaucrats are disconnected from policy makers,” says Butler. “There is no excuse for that because the technology is there.”