Social Policy Ministry IT boss Neil Miranda is putting his hand up to take a lead in development of the country's e-government infrastructure.
Miranda says there's a ready-made infrastructure in place among the Social Policy Ministry, the Department of Work and Income (DWI) and the Child, Youth and Family Service (CYFS), and it could be extended to e-government.
Part of the platform is an internet protocol-based data and voice network, provided by Cisco in cooperation with a Wellington firm, serving all three departments. Miranda controls the infrastructure for all three departments, but not the applications; these connect to intra- and interdepartmental networks through standard IP interfaces. MoSP's IT team also coordinates a data warehouse, known as IAP (Information Analysis Platform), in which the social agencies and the Ministry of Education already put their records.
Miranda advocates any e-government initiative should proceed on the basis of a common IT infrastructure within and among government departments, down to the level of common data formats and a common style for email addresses.
“Large commercial multinationals are doing this, trying to make sure everyone uses standards. It reduces costs, improves efficiency and makes the organisation look like a single entity. Government is no different. A common infrastructure and common data across government departments is very important.” If you apply for a driver’s licence online, and then you come to apply for an employment benefit, he says, you should be able to put in the same personal data fields in the same format – or indeed, not have to put them in at all, because the system “knows” you.
Likewise, a lot of government departments see the value of a data warehouse, and more could profitably put data in and use data from the IAP warehouse run by MoSP, he says. Both individual and aggregate data is kept there, but “[agencies] will only be able to [share] the full detail of a person if privacy problems are overcome.”
The head of the State Services Commission’s e-government unit, Brendan Boyle, said in an MIT thesis on e-government that people may have to accept a rather more “flexible” attitude to privacy in order to derive fuller benefits from government services delivered electronically. Interviewed by Computerworld last year, he said the New Zealand government is still conscious of the need to protect privacy on this front. “These issues have to be discussed with citizens. But both citizens and government have to come to grips with the privacy implications of the e-world.”
However, Miranda sees a bigger threat to a consistent infrastructure in the difficulty of “breaking down territories” among vendors and international consultants.
“If someone else’s infrastructure wins, then my vendors lose out, and their business in New Zealand could be in trouble. If you’re a vendor and you have a big contract with me and you see that could be lost, you’re going to lobby. Those forces are bigger than any IT manager.”
Already government has backed down from complete uniformity in one direction – the award to three companies of contracts for a secure email system, part of the secure email environment (See) project. This was done to give department heads their traditional prerogative of choice in providers of service to their departments.
Meanwhile, Miranda refuses to confirm or deny widespread rumour that he will be leaving his position in the next few months.
MoSP chief executive Dame Margaret Bazley is due to leave in June. The two have long worked closely, through the days of the Department of Social Welfare and Winz. Miranda says his current priority in IT is to put the finishing touches to the social agencies’ IT infrastructure before Bazley leaves, “because Margaret has driven this strongly and she seems to understand it”.
Asked if he too would leave, he says: “There’s a widespread perception that Margaret and I go together, and that when she leaves, so will I. But that’s not necessarily so.”