Artificial Intelligence, robots, drones. No, it’s not a robots convention, it’s the Ireland eGovernment Summit. On 26th May at eir Dublin headquarters, the great and the good of the Irish public sector gathered to hear how these technological trends will make an impact on the delivery of public services.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD set the scene in his opening remarks when he said “technology has the potential to transform how we deliver services to our citizens”. Keynote speaker Pastora Valero, VP of Government Affairs at Cisco, echoed the Minister’s comments and outlined the key benefits of digital in the public sector: economic value through the streamlining of processes, societal benefits through the delivery of enhanced services, and improved citizen experience as citizens are able to engage with government using a variety of channels.
Data privacy a key concern in the digital age
Implementing true eGovernment will involve many fundamental elements, including the safe and accurate management and use of data. “Good data management is a clear and necessary part of all digital development in public sector,” said Minister Harris. We heard from data specialists Wendy Carrara of Capgemini, Fiona Morley Clarke for the Irish Government’s Open Data Initiative and William Flanagan of OpenskyData who were clear that trust is a crucial factor in the success of open data. Panellists Mary Colhoun of eir and Joseph Nugent from An Garda Síochána carried on this conversation, saying that effective data privacy will need to strike the balance between individual’s rights and societal rights.
Healthcare leading the way in digital
One of the sectors leading the charge in digital adoption is healthcare and we heard from panellists Anthony Dooher of Kainos and Richard Corbridge of the HSE who warned that “without digital solutions, healthcare will grind to a halt”.
For these digital solutions to work, patients need to be put front and centre, and there needs to be a large degree of change management according to Maria O’Loughlin of eHealth Ireland. We heard how it took two years of assessing electronic health record technology before it was implemented, and that change management was vital to the project’s success.
What about the robots?
As we move towards this digital future, robots and AI will become more prevalent, but that future is still a way off. According to Martin Moran of Inside Sales, who sat on a panel with Wendy Belloumini of IBM Research and Maedb Corcoran of Accenture Dock, “we’re now at a stage where we’re working to make artificial intelligence, intelligent”.
While there will be jobs within the public sector that will performed by AI and robots in the future, Andy O’Kelly made the argument that the human aspect of how the public sector interacts with citizens cannot be automated.
Another key theme that permeated throughout the Summit was the issue of regulation: we heard much discussion about the impending GDPR (data governance regulation) legislation, and the regulation of robots, AI and drones too. There was general consensus from all panellists that certainty and responsibility is key to the successful implementation of these technologies.
eGovernment in practice
When we moved to Dublin Castle for eGovernment Awards we got to see first-hand how digital technologies are being used in innovative ways by public sector agencies and departments. One by one the winners in categories such as Health & Medical, Marketing & Social Media, Mobile and Open Source took to the stage to collect their deserved awards.
What was noticeable was the level of innovation we witnessed and the clever use of digital technologies to streamline processes and make them more efficient. This was perhaps most evident in the Overall Winner of the afternoon, An Garda Síochána and its eVetting service, which has transformed a labour-intensive, paper-based system where people often waited weeks for Garda vetting approval, into an efficient online process that delivers results in a matter of days. Truly a shining example of eGovernment in action.