Interoperability is broadly defined as the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together. However when interoperability of IT Systems is considered it is defined as “the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged” (IEEE Glossary).
From the users (citizen, business and government) point of view, they need government services to be delivered form a single window regardless whether the service is provided by a single organization or with the involvement of many organizations. When more than one organization is involved in service provision process, interoperability and collaboration become the most important key words. Interoperability also became a corner stone of eGovernment since the concept of Gov 2.0 was introduced as it completely relies on interoperability for collaboration between government and other stakeholders. In simple terms, interoperability is a MUST for providing complex government services on line.
The approach adopted by ICTA for achieving interoperability is more concentrating on Semantic Interoperability.
“Beyond the ability of two or more computer systems to exchange information, semantic interoperability is the ability to automatically interpret the information exchanged meaningfully and accurately in order to produce useful results as defined by the end users of both systems. To achieve semantic interoperability, both sides must refer to a common information exchange reference model. The content of the information exchange requests are unambiguously defined: what is sent is the same as what is understood.” (Wikipedia).
Therefore the interoperability framework adopted by ICTA more relies on defining what is sent through the links rather than the format of what is sent.
ICTA has been working on Interoperability of government IT systems since 2006. This initiative was named as Lanka Interoperability Framework (LIFe) and ICTA has so far defined Interoperability framework for 4 business domains, by collaboratively working with government, private sector and user communities. All the process standards, technical standards and data standards which have been agreed upon by the stakeholders through the consensus are given through the website www.life.gov.lk which is dedicated for interoperability of Sri Lankan government IT systems. Currently LIFe website provides details on relevant standards on the following business domains.
The following domains are expected to be completed by end of year 2013.
In order to achieve the interoperability between government ICT systems, the eGovernment Policy has mandated the use of “Open Standards” by all government IT systems. ICTA adopted the principles of Open Standards for ensuring that LIFe standards can be accessed and used by all.
As per W3C the Open standards should adhere to the following principles.
- Transparency (due process is public, and all technical discussions, meeting minutes, are archived and referencable in decision making)
- Relevance (new standardization is started upon due analysis of the market needs, including requirements phase, e.g. accessibility, multi-linguism)
- Openness (anybody can participate, and everybody does: industry, individual, public, government bodies, academia, on a worldwide scale)
- Impartiality and consensus (guaranteed fairness by the process and the neutral hosting of the W3C organization, with equal weight for each participant)
- Availability (free access to the standard text, both during development, at final stage, and for translations, and assurance that core Web and Internet technologies can be implemented Royalty-Free)
- Maintenance (ongoing process for testing, errata, revision, permanent access, validation, etc.)
When formulating standards for LIFe, ICTA follows an approach which meets above requirements.
Benefits of using Open Standards
- Avoid vendor locking; Since the standards are open any vendor or product who could match the open standards based requirements can provide the service or products.
- Use various products or technologies to provide integrated services by achieving interoperability
- No obsolescence of out put data files
- Open standards will improve the vendor competition as more vendors can meet the open standards
- Convenience in changing the application platforms as skills needed are same for maintaining the systems in any of the open standards based platforms.
In order to meet their specific requirements, citizens, business and various communities expect government services to be tailor made to make the service delivery process seamless. Citizens expect government to leverage on the advancements of ICTs to make the otherwise complex and cumbersome government services user friendly and simple. Specially, when more than one organization is involved in providing a single service, citizens expect those services to be delivered through a single window, thus making government a “One-stop-shop”.
In order to do so government organizations need to work across organizational portfolio boundaries to achieve shared goals through an integrated government. This concept of working across organizational boundaries to offer shared and integrated services is called “Whole-of-Government”. This concept is closely associated with the concepts such as “Connected Government”, “Joined-Up Government” etc.
In order to provide “Whole-of-Government” services, the following requirements should be fulfilled.
- Consensus among the participating government organizations about the shared goal to provide integrated services
- Understanding of responsibilities of each organization to achieve the shared goal
- Working under a common leadership which shares the common vision for achieving the goals
- Improving collaboration between organizations while maintaining accountability to project owners such as Secretaries to the ministries
- Adherence to LIFe standards and Open standards
- Delivering services in a coordinated way to the public while keeping down costs and improving the performance