Yesterday I attended a meeting where different European jurisdictions were describing their experiences and plans about government interoperability frameworks, to address the thorny problem of supporting meaningful and timely data exchange as well as coordination and synchronization of business processes across different agencies within the same or different tiers. There were several mentions of enterprise bus services, service oriented architecture, open standards, and the likes.
What struck me were the references to shared services and reuse that all speakers made. These came in two flavors: reusable components to support interoperability and shared services that would actually replace the need for interoperability.
The former category includes data transformation functionalities as well as identity and access management services. The latter would include application services, such as financials, accounting, payroll, base registries, that could be shared to basically reduce the size and complexity of the interoperability problem. It was interesting to hear that two jurisdictions that have been quite successful with their interoperability efforts also enjoy centralized base registries (holding people’s names and birth dates, lists of registered companies, as well as land and other real estate location).
It appears that interoperability is more important where there is limited ability to share and centralize. Establishing an interoperability framework is a way to overcome the insurmountable obstacles of rearranging data and applications in ways that make services truly citizen-centric.
On the other hand, implementing a framework and enforcing its use is not an easy undertaking either. It does require strong governance and ability to drive agency behaviors in the same direction. But, then, how much more difficult would it be to take an extra step and go for sharing or even centralization? Is interoperability just a temporary fix for a more sustainable solution based on rearranging competencies and responsibilities in order to manage information in a far more citizen-centric way?