Interoperability and the exchange of good practice cases


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Authors: Sylvia Archmann Immanuel Kudlacek

To achieve an open and competitive digital economy, public administrations have to be linked together and therefore need to be interoperable.

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Interoperability and the exchange of good practice cases

  1. 1. Interoperability and the exchange of good practice cases The exchange of good practice is a valuable tool to boost eGovernment services across Europe’s public Sylvia administrations. To achieve an open and competitive Archmann digital economy, public administrations have to be European linked together and therefore need to be interoperable. Institute of Interoperability, the ability of ICT systems to Public Administration communicate, interpret and interchange data in a meaningful way, is one of the main challenges for successful, efficient and citizen-centred eGovernment Immanuel Kudlacek applications. European Institute of The MODINIS Study on Interoperability is a state of the Public art analysis of key success factors and barriers to Administration interoperability, using good practice cases as a reference framework. Over the past few years, good Keywords practice cases have been identified, analysed and discussed. Achievements and results have been Interoperability, Good continuously disseminated and communicated to the Practice exchange, Success public, thus creating a well-informed community of Factors, Barriers, eGovernment experts interested in interoperability. Recommendations, MODINIS Study, Input received by the experts has been included in the eGovernment, public study and subsequently recommendations have been administrations drafted providing a manual for public administrations (at national, local and also European level) on how to successfully implement eGovernment solutions. Interoperability requires the use of metadata This article provides a general overview of the and technical standards so importance of good practice cases and briefly that different infrastructures describes the results of the study, especially focusing can be linked together and on the main recommendations for public data can be exchanged. administrations. European Journal of ePractice · 1 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  2. 2. 1 Introduction Over the past years, interoperability has become highly significant for public administrations as increasing attention is being paid to return on investment, citizen-centred government focusing on customer needs, and effective and efficient government services. At European level, the i2010 Action Plan is of great importance for developing eGovernment strategies and promotes an open and competitive digital economy emphasising information and communication technologies (ICT) in public administrations as a driver of inclusion and quality of life (European Commission, 2005). To achieve an open and competitive digital economy, public administrations should be linked to share experiences using common methodologies and interoperable solutions for exchanging data. Interoperability is not only one of the main challenges to be addressed by public administrations at national level in the future development of eGovernment; it is also an important element in connecting public administrations of different countries. “Interoperability is not an end itself, but a tool to solve the problems of different stakeholders” (Archmann & Nielsen, 2006). The importance attached to interoperability in a European context is illustrated by the 2003 eGovernment Communication, which points out that the “exchange of good practice has already demonstrated its usefulness” (European Commission, 2003). Besides the portal, several other actions promote interoperability, such as the IDABC1 and TerreGov2 projects as well as the eEurope 2005 Action Plan (now the i2010 Programme) and the Ministerial Declaration following the high-level Ministerial eGovernment Conference in Como (IT) held in July 2003, which recognised that the “...cooperation required to develop pan-European services depends partly on the interoperability of information and communication systems used at all levels of government...” (Ministerial Declaration, 2003). Furthermore, as stated by Viviane Reding, Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media “ICT is the bedrock of the modern economy, a major source of innovation and an increasingly important sector […] accounting for 40% of EU productivity growth” (Reding). This article underlines the importance of exchanging good practice cases, particularly focusing on interoperability by addressing the results and achievements deriving from the MODINIS Study on Interoperability at Local and Regional Level3. 2 Exchange of Good Practice Cases The MODINIS Study was carried out in a consortium consisting of three well-qualified partners involving two centres of technical excellence, the Institut für Informationsmanagement Bremen (ifib) attached to the University of Bremen, and the Centre for Research and Technology Hellas and the Informatics and Telematics Institute (CERTH/ITI), as well as the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) acting as a hub in Europe for the collection and dissemination of knowledge in order to support and promote the i2010 objectives. EIPA had the lead in conducting the MODINIS Study, the main objectives being (Tarabanis & Tambouris, 2006): − To analyse and collect case studies of successful interoperable applications at regional and local level and to feed them into the portal4; − To study these cases and identify the main challenges and key success factors in terms of interoperability; − To organise workshops so as to boost the exchange of experience; 1 IDABC – Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to Public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens: 2 TerreGov – 3 MODINIS Study on Interoperability at Local and Regional Level: 4 European Journal of ePractice · 2 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  3. 3. − To provide a forum for researching and discussing interoperability issues at local and regional level; − To identify key stakeholders in interoperability and learn about their experiences; − To provide a mechanism for encouraging the exchange of experience and knowledge gained by other interested parties in the European local and regional context so as to support further actions and improve cross-border and pan-European interoperability; − To conduct a study on good practice in interoperability, taking case studies and workshops as a baseline to determine the current status, to identify key success factors and barriers, to analyse areas where benefits can be gained and technologies that have been successfully used, and to provide recommendations to stakeholders. Stakeholders Parties Interested in IOP Workshops Champions in IOP Good Practice Cases Study Portal Figure 1. Workflow MODINIS Study The consortium had to identify good practice cases of eGovernment, feed them into the portal and promote and disseminate them at several workshops. The methodology used is described in Figure 1. Feedback for the study and the descriptions of good practice cases were gathered from stakeholders (all parties interested in IOP and champions in IOP already extensively involved in the implementation of good practice cases) in personal interviews and several workshops. All findings and conclusions were fed into the portal. Furthermore, the good practice cases have been used for identifying key success factors of and barriers to interoperability and additionally to make a list on recommendations for building up IOP architectures. A comprehensive list of these cases has been stored in the ePractice portal, which serves as a knowledge database for sharing experience and supporting administrations in the development and reuse of good practice. In addition, each case identifies at least one, but mostly several experts. These experts can be contacted and used as a network on different aspects of eGovernment. A template and several guidelines support the access to the database by providing a standardised layout and a common way of describing cases. Already existing and implemented cases may be European Journal of ePractice · 3 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  4. 4. easily adapted and failures that occurred in the past can be avoided, thus saving time, money and energy. All of this supports the penetration and comprehensive implementation of eGovernment services. Public availability of good practice cases is a way to successfully accomplish transparent and competitive eGovernment services through sharing experiences, creating synergies and building cooperation between public administrations, not only in a national but also in a European context so as to provide interoperable eGovernment solutions. Short profiles of 18 good practice cases presented at the MODINIS workshops have been added to the MODINIS Study. These profiles especially analyse interoperability issues and are aligned with feedback and results from the discussions with workshop attendees and other experts on interoperability (Tarabanis & Tambouris, 2006). To provide an overview and to discuss several aspects on interoperability, these cases have been chosen according to different topics as for instance eIdentification (eIdentification in Estonia5 and the Finnish Address System6), eInvoicing (eInvoicing in Finland – the example of the Region of South Karelia7, eInvoicing in Denmark8), eProcurement (e-Bourgogne – Regional Shared eGovernment in the Region of Burgundy/France9) or good practice examples on platforms for eGovernment services (the Hamburg Gateway10). Other short profiles of cases are also listed in the MODINIS Study and are available in greater detail on the ePractice portal. All these cases have been analysed according to several aspects on interoperability. According to the results, key success factors and barriers to interoperability have been identified. Subsequently, recommendations have been built upon those key success factors. 3 eGovernment Interoperability Interoperability, the ability of ICT systems to communicate, interpret and interchange data in a meaningful way, is one of the main challenges for successful, efficient and citizen-centred eGovernment applications. Interoperable solutions need to overcome organisational, administrative and even national boundaries. The MODINIS Study took the European Interoperability Framework of the European Public Administration Network (EPAN) as a reference (IDABC, 2004; European Public Administration Network eGovernment Working Group, 2004). The framework is displayed in Figure 2, connecting the organisational, semantic and technical layers as well as the governance aspect of interoperability. The customer-centred approach of eGovernment – providing government services according to the needs of the citizens in line with their life situations – is based on these layers of interoperability. Citizens want to access eGovernment services without bothering about competent municipalities or public administrations. In the Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment issued in Manchester (UK) in 2005 (Ministerial Declaration, 2005) the importance of “No citizen left behind”, “Using ICT to make a reality of effective and efficient government” and “Delivering high impact services designed around customer’s needs” was pointed out and subsequently included in the i2010 programme. To achieve these goals, services have to be widely available, to be secure via mutually recognised electronic identifications and to be interoperable. 5 6 7 8 9 10 European Journal of ePractice · 4 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  5. 5. Figure 2. Interoperability Topology According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2007), most of the governments have finalised the design of national eGovernment strategies and are implementing priority programmes. Unfortunately though, those implementations do not necessarily lead to efficient and effective eServices, as the required attention has not yet been paid to the collaboration between public administration and sharing and exchanging of data, which is key for “one-stop-shop” eGovernment services. Nowadays data needed is usually available but inaccessible. Public administrations vary and are diverse in structure. Interoperability will facilitate not only the internal collaboration within public administration on a local, regional and national level but also ease the external access to data by citizens via “one-stop-shop” eGovernment services. Furthermore, the international aspect will also be facilitated as cross-border applications, especially within the European Union, and it will become more and more important to share and exchange data for a citizen-centred approach without any national boundaries. European Journal of ePractice · 5 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  6. 6. 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Republic of Slovenia Latvia Slovak Republic Iceland Ireland Italy The Netherlands Austria Chile Croatia EC Estonia Finland France Greece Lithuania Luxembourg Poland Romania Spain Sweden Portugal Belgium United Kingdom Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Germany Hungary Norway Figure 3. Workshop Participants Within this context of the MODINIS Study, eight workshops took place from 2005 to 2007, gathering information on key aspects and barriers to interoperability from stakeholders such as experts from the IT business and academia, politicians and other decision makers from all levels of public administration across Europe. At these workshops good practice cases were analysed and discussed in regard to interoperability, and participants were asked to provide feedback. All in all, more than 320 participants from all over Europe attended the workshops and gave valuable feedback (see Figure 3 for the geographical spread of workshop participants), mainly through interactive and face- to-face communication (e.g. discussion forums and plenary sessions, question and answer sessions) as well as through assessment and evaluation forms. The feedback gathered was taken into account in the MODINIS Study and then fed into the portal. Usually good practice cases presented were discussed, but in addition a great emphasis was put on key success factors and barriers to interoperability and recommendations. The main interoperability barriers identified included sensitivity of data, cultural differences between governmental departments, issues of trust, timing, collaboration between agencies, organisational and technical problems, unsatisfactory workflows, convincing stakeholders of the importance of the system, legal issues and also the importance of political support and funding. On the other hand, key success factors that have been analysed on interoperability are the wide use of digital signatures, commitment at all political levels to interoperability projects, engagement and involvement of all stakeholders from the very beginning and time constraints. Summarising issues on semantic and organisational interoperability have been considered of utmost importance and relevance for future actions to be solved, while technical interoperability does not seem to be the highest priority (Tarabanis & Tambouris, 2006). 4 Results, Key Success Factors and Barriers to Interoperability The main aim of the MODINIS Study was to identify key success factors and barriers of interoperability and subsequently recommendations for public administrations on how to successfully implement eGovernment applications. Therefore the MODINIS Study focused on these aspects. The European Journal of ePractice · 6 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  7. 7. following brief abstract will describe the main findings. Information in greater detail is available in the MODINIS Study11. The key success factors and barriers have been grouped according to the four layers of interoperability (as described in figure 2). To start with technical aspects on interoperability, key success factors for this layer have been grouped by core technical and supportive technical interoperability aspects. To support interoperability, already existing technologies should be used to facilitate the exchange, common understanding and usage of data. Technologies considered for core technical interoperability on the one hand (data schemes and definitions, workflows, semantic web which are necessary for understanding the data, syntax or semantic as such) are for example xml12, RDF13, OWL-S14. Supportive technical interoperability key factors on the other hand are for instance accessibility, multilingualism, security and privacy and cover broader technical issues (Tarabanis & Tambouris, 2006). Semantic interoperability key factors are drafting, agreeing on and using common definitions. Therefore a wide and high commitment and support at all organisational levels is essential. The promotion and dissemination of these common definitions are further steps in this process to attract the public’s interest. The modelling and visualisation of public administration processes and services is essential at the organisational layer. Users have to be integrated and involved by setting up communities. Multi- channel solutions and a customer-centred approach are crucial to be successful. The Governance layer on interoperability describes four types of key factors: Political, legal, managerial and economic. The political level relates to broader policy and institutional issues (e.g. developing national eGovernment strategies). Legal issues deal with intellectual property rights or the diffusion of digital signatures and electronic identities. Willingness for cultural change and staff training related to interoperability aspects concerns the managerial level, and last but not least economic issues deal with funding and financing schemes. On the other hand, the recommendations build on these key success factors have mainly been drafted by international experience, feedback received at workshops and good practice cases. Furthermore a different structure has been used to group the results, namely along two dimensions: Firstly, according to the level of action (local, national, and pan-European), and secondly regarding the area where a recommendation should be applied (legislation, funding/financial, policy/management, technical) (Tarabanis & Tambouris, 2006): Local public administrations should follow the legislative standards given by national authorities and to communicate any encountered obstacles to superior authorities. As local authorities have only limited capabilities and influence to deal with obstacles, national authorities should take them into account and assist local public administrations in dealing with and overcoming them. Additionally, the promotion of eServices is key to success. The pan-European level might be responsible for the harmonisation of national eGovernment strategies, but also for coordinating strategies for protecting and dealing with intellectual property rights when exchanging data between public administrations in a European context. Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are one way to promote and fasten eGovernment strategies and projects. Such partnerships are worthwhile for both partners, as local public administrations can use latest technologies and funding from the private sector. The private sector on the other hand benefits from the cooperation with authorities, and will be encouraged and entitled to improve technology and 11 MODINIS Study on Interoperability at Local and Regional Level: 12 xml: Extensible Markup Language 13 RDF: Resource Decription Framework 14 OWL-S: Web Ontology Language for Web Services European Journal of ePractice · 7 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  8. 8. take part in the modernisation process. National authorities therefore should promote such funding schemes and try to find new ways for financing, by increasing flexibility and reducing any limitations to achieve common infrastructures and agreements on standards already given and accepted. Study research and support of following interoperability projects in any field (especially for semantic and organisational issues as technological aspects have mostly been solved) should be financed in a broader way by the European Union. To avoid stand-alone solutions eGovernment strategies and visions should be provided at a national level and subsequently taken up by local authorities. For the take-up of eServices it is recommended to start with services which can easily be provided online, and at the same time with economic results obvious and transparent to communicate to the citizens and decision-makers. Identifying, documenting and communicating good practice examples assist in fulfilling the eGovernment strategy by sharing and exchanging experience to avoid failures made in the past. Currently there are more than 750 good practice cases available on the portal containing eGovernment, eInclusion and eHealth topics. Additionally, contact persons are also of great importance. Therefore the MODINIS Study identified numerous experts and has invited them to the project’s workshops (see figure 3) and added to the project’s website. This initiative has been taken up and currently contact details for more than 11,800 members are available on the portal. Besides, national eGovernment units meetings and collaboration between these experts is crucial for the ongoing success of eGovernment. The MODINIS Study has been a first effort by inviting experts, decision-makers and other stakeholders to the workshops. There is a great demand for such initiatives and opportunities to meet, share experience, discuss and get to know experts from several nationalities. Such networks of experience are crucial and have to be continuously maintained for the ongoing eGovernment development throughout Europe. Technologies already exist for a great variety of services, solutions and applications. Interoperability requires the use of metadata (definitions which have been commonly agreed upon) and technical standards so that different infrastructures can be linked together and data can be exchanged. There are several possibilities for solving this problem, but as technologies already exist, organisational, political or legal issues have to be prepared for providing interoperable environments. 5 Summary and Conclusion ICT is an enabler for eGovernment, providing the technical background. More important, however, are the changes involved in restructuring back offices and tailoring public services to citizens’ needs. Nowadays, “the question is no longer to be or not to be “e” ... but the emerging need seems to be the requirement for a new set of skills in the public service – both at the organisational and personal level – to cope with the structural challenges of modernisation and transformation against the background of socio-economic considerations” (Leitner, 2005). Europe’s rich diversity in culture-defining unitary processes, which are required for pan-European eGovernment services, forms the main challenge. Learning from good practice cases instead of reinventing the wheel will become increasingly important. As stated above, the portal already contains more than 750 good practice cases of eGovernment which can be accessed, analysed and adapted to public administrations’ individual needs. Nevertheless, local and regional peculiarities have to be prioritised and taken into account. The MODINIS Study has been a first effort in analysing good practice cases and disseminating the results of interoperability throughout Europe and drafting recommendations on how to successfully implement interoperable eGovernment solutions analysing different layers and aspects: − National authorities should provide legislative standards to be followed by local public administrations − Promoting eServices − Protecting and dealing with intellectual property rights European Journal of ePractice · 8 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  9. 9. − Funding projects via Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and further co-operations between the public and the private sector − Funding schemes for interoperability projects − eGovernment strategies and visions should be provided at a national level and subsequently taken up by local authorities − Using good practice examples to exchange experience − Using already existing technologies and avoiding stand alone solutions − Using metadata to overcome semantic interoperability obstacles − Creating and maintaining eGovernment communities − Identifying and communicating good practice examples − Creating and disseminating visions on eGovernment However, further ongoing activities in this field are necessary to stimulate a comprehensive take-up of eGovernment initiatives in a European context. References Archmann, S. & Nielsen, M. (2006). Interoperability at Local and Regional Level – A Logical Development in eGovernment, EIPASCOPE 2006/1, p. 39 European Commission (2003). The Role of eGovernment for Europe’s Future, COM(2003) 567, 26.09.2003, Brussels (BE) p. 21 European Commission, (2005). i2010 – A European Information Society for Growth and Employment, SEC (2005)717, 01.06.2005 COM(2005) 229 final, Brussels (BE) European Public Administration Network eGovernment Working Group (2004). Key Principles of an Interoperability Architecture, Luxembourg (LU) IDABC (2004). European Interoperability Framework for pan-European eGovernment Services, European Communities, Luxembourg (LU) Leitner, C. (2005). Organisational Changes, Skills and the Role of Leadership Required by eGovernment, 9 June 2005, Luxembourg (LU), p. 13 Ministerial Declaration (2003). eGovernment Conference 2003, 7-8 July 2003, Como (IT), p. III Ministerial Declaration (2005). Ministerial eGovernment Conference 2005, Manchester (UK): Reding, V.: Tarabanis, K., Tambouris, E. (2006). MODINIS Study on Interoperability at Local and Regional Level, Final Version, 31 December 2006, Thessaloniki (EL) UNDP (2007). United Nations Development Programme. eGovernment: Interoperability Overview, UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok 2007. European Journal of ePractice · 9 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X
  10. 10. Authors Sylvia Archmann The European Journal of Seconded National Expert ePractice is a digital publication on European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) eTransformation by, a portal created by the European Commission to promote the sharing of good practices in eGovernment, eHealth and eInclusion. Immanuel Kudlacek European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) Edited by P.A.U. Education, S.L. Web: Email: The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 2.5 licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast provided that the author and the e-journal that publishes them, European Journal of ePractice, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. The full licence can be consulted on nd/2 5/ European Journal of ePractice · 10 Nº 2 · February 2008 · ISSN: 1988-625X