TEKenable: delivering digitally for citizens

Irish government and public sector bodies are rising to the challenge of digital transformation

Annette Soraine, Microsoft services director, TEKenable. Picture: Justin Mac Innes

Digital transformation has been the watchword for organisations of all sorts for some time now. With consumers constantly connected to the internet and expectations set by shopping with the likes of Amazon, everyone from banks to retailers has worked to deliver faster and smoother online experiences to end-users.

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Why it is in the news: Ireland is moving up the table of digitally-enabled governments in the EU

Government and the public sector, too, are under pressure to make services accessible online. The obvious question, then, is: is it more difficult for them?

Annette Soraine, Microsoft services director at TEKenable, which works with a range of public organisations, said that government and public sector IT differed from the private sector. While both have more or less the same goals, she said, public organisations had to approach things in a different way.

A large part of this was because governments are seeking to address citizens, rather than consumers, she said.

“Definitely, there are different expectations, and there is also a difference in terms of governance compliance. There is also more of a need for governments to provide services universally, whereas companies can go after certain segments of the market,” she said.

One example of an effect this focus on universality has is the need for digital services to be backed up with more traditional means of interaction.

“The channel you’re using to interact, be that chatbots or citizen portals, can be digitalised, but you have services that have to be delivered through, for example, the post given the profile of the user,” she said.

This does not mean that processes must remain manual and paper-based, though. Indeed, it is now possible to use automation to simplify things.

“You can use back-end services to digitise paper that comes in,” she said.

Among governments in the EU, Estonia has self-consciously forged a reputation for being the most digital. Indeed, a recent European Commission survey, the eGovernment Benchmark 2023, found it placed second in the bloc, just behind frontrunner Malta.

The technology solutions – the cloud, the low-code, the agile delivery have helped – you get it up and running in a short time

So how does Ireland compare? According to the survey, mid- pack, just ahead of France but behind Sweden.

However, Soraine said that Ireland is rapidly catching up with its EU peers.

“It’s worth noting that [analysts] Gartner said, in early 2022, that Ireland was the fastest growing in terms of digital government. Also, the Department of Social Protection said, in 2022, that over three million people had registered for an account with MyGovID,” she said.

“Estonia went far and fast, but in terms of citizens accessing government services and using digital accounts, we seem to be one of the fastest growing.”

Of course, connectivity is required, which remains an ongoing project in parts of rural Ireland.

“In Estonia, they have widespread access to broadband and good connectivity. They seem to have leapfrogged many countries in that, but we do have the National Broadband Plan being rolled out,” Soraine said.

Whether on broadband, digital transformation or, frankly, anything else, governments are also faced with the thorny question of funding. Necessarily transparent and taxpayer-funded, government IT projects demand clear value for money. That does not equate to penny-pinching, though, Soraine said.

“I think you always have a situation where the agencies and departments are under pressure, but there is a lot of investment out there. For instance, we are working on quite a number of national projects. I would say that, overall, we’re seeing good investment,” she said.

Of course, as the digital landscape shifts and grows, work will continue. After all, the one thing we know is that the digital

world is defined by changes, both in technology and expectations. For now, however, Soraine said many interesting changes were being made.

“MyGovID is obviously extremely important, but a lot of people are using the low code flexibility of [Microsoft] Power Platform for customer platforms and interact through a process flow, using things like Dynamics customer service in the backend.”

Historically, public-sector IT projects developed a questionable reputation with stories from abroad about systems that became money sinks making headlines in the tech press. Of course, in large part because we heard about them, whereas private companies could hide failures. In addition, large-scale tech failures are significantly less common today due to dramatic changes in the methodology for delivering projects.

Most notably, the move away from waterfall development and in-house infrastructure toward DevOps and the cloud, which allows for agile and iterative development, has been transformative.

Soraine said that this was only part of why projects were being better-delivered, though: process design and customer mapping were also having an effect.

“What we are seeing is a combination of things: firstly, there’s a much better definition of requirements. People know what they are tendering for. In just the last 12 months we’ve seen improvements in the questions being asked: ‘This is what we need from a portal, tell us how your example matches up’.

“Also, the technology solutions – the cloud, the low-code, the agile delivery have helped – you get it up and running in a short time, and you iterate and improve. The combination of much better-defined requirements and the technology really has resulted in a lot of successful projects,” she said.