An updated information systems strategy for the Northern Ireland Civil Service has taken stock of some the major trends which are likely to affect online public services over the next three years. Published earlier this year by the Department of Finance and Personnel, the strategy replaces a previous version which was agreed in 2011.
It explains that “the recent political refocus” on efficiency and reform has “given an added impetus” to update policies. The cloud, mobility and the increasing demand for internal and external social networking are “particularly significant areas of likely future change” along with open data, big data and the need to manage organisational information. Ideas from staff and citizens will be welcomed.
Government’s procurement power should also be harnessed better to deliver improved value for money. The strategy is underpinned by the following principles:
• reducing business costs;
• leveraging investment in shared services;
• improving operational effectiveness;
• improving the quality and accessibility of services to citizens;
• embedding information assurance;
• sustainability (i.e. reducing waste); and
• taking advantage of UK and other European policy developments.
The principles are not listed in any specific order, but are interlinked and support each other and apply to all departments. As a result, these should drive all ICT projects – and the outcomes of all ICT projects and investments should be able to link to at least one of them.
Significant progress has been made on reducing the amount of paper consumed by the Civil Service but there is much more scope to go further and take up unified communications technologies, which will reduce the need for travel time and cost. Officials will consider how social networking can be best used as a channel to connect with citizens.
The Northern Ireland Civil Service is seen as a UK leader and an exemplar across Europe in shared services. More of these services can be rolled out by sharing code, human resources, data and infrastructure across the organisation. A public sector data centre is therefore planned.
NIDirect will increasingly mean that citizens will use the website as an online “self-service” point for accessing public services. Some of the savings can then be directed into improving access to services for citizens who do not use the internet.
Implementation of the strategy will be constantly reviewed by the department’s Enterprise Design Authority with the help of the Civil Service’s IT Innovation and Delivery Council. The strategy will run until 2017 but its authors recommend a formal review in 2015-2016 to keep pace with changes in technology and public services.