Digital ambitions vs dubious infrastructure

Cantillon: State has goal of leading private sector online. But what of data and trust?

Government aims to be the leader in a brave digital world, encouraging private sector companies to follow suit.

Government aims to be the leader in a brave digital world, encouraging private sector companies to follow suit.

 

Turning Ireland into a digital society is an ambitious aim. Although the Government has often stated its support of such propositions, the reality often moves slower than we would like.

The State doesn’t fare too badly in benchmarks, scoring a respectable 16th in the Fletcher School’s Digital Evolution Index. But is the Government happy with a “satisfactory” rating on its digital services report card? Apparently not.

A report from the Office of the Government chief information officer, Enabling Digital Ireland, makes that clear. The CIO, Barry Lowry, is optimistic about the State’s prospects, as is Microsoft Ireland, who helped produce the report. Its managing director, Cathriona Hallahan, said securing this digital leadership is an economic and social imperative for Ireland, particularly in the post-Brexit landscape.

The report laid out a number of recommendations, including trialing digital postboxes to deliver information to citizens, and making data more open to facilitate its reuse and avoid duplication.

Increasingly pushing society and its services to a digital, cloud-based offering makes sense, in theory at least. There are many benefits to this, including better information management, lower costs and more efficient public services.

Decent broadband

However, one elephant in the room is the state of the country’s infrastructure. While getting the Government on board in a push to digitise services is to be commended, that is little use to the areas of the country where decent broadband is still some way off. Bearing that in mind, it seems a little premature to start talking about becoming a digital leader.

This particular report concentrates more on dragging Government departments into the 21st century. But that is just the beginning. As the report says, the Government is set to be the leader in this brave digital world, encouraging private sector companies to follow suit.

Of all the recommendations in the report, the one that would be key for citizens is building trust in digital services. While a push to have government services delivered online is welcome, it is imperative that it is done in a manner that ensures the safety and security of citizens’ data.

Given events in the past, from the public services card debacle to the misuse of the Garda Pulse system, that trust may be harder to win than the report estimates – even with GDPR on the consumer’s side.