Monday, February 23, 2009

Standardization of IT in GOM

Recently the cabinet of the present government decided that they will ensure that within 3 years all government offices will use licensed software. This was a good start, maybe technology was not the main reason behind the decision but it was a good move in the right direction.

Furthermore I was told that there were discussions on “Developing standards and guidelines for system procurement based on need, OS to be installed, basic criteria for websites – to enable easy procurement and significant savings, as well as harmonization” and “Full assessment of ICT capacity, capability and competency (equipment, systems, software and liveware) of all GOM”

We must again welcome this. I feel having standards for procurement purposes is good but based on what? I feel what is lacking is some kind of government IT Interoperability Standards which very clearly defines and supports the fundamentals of e-governance and general IT standards to be deployed government wide. Such standard should be recommended in all public sector procurements and major upgrades to other legacy systems.

Some of the focus of the technical policies which are essential for such standards/policies should be Interconnectivity, Data Interoperability, and Information Access. However again considering the evolution of technology the main thrust of the specification should be to adopt Internet and World Wide Web standards for all Government systems. While we are going ahead and deploying the present “e-government” systems we should also be discussing and looking at data coherence across Government. The ministries along with NCIT need to agree upon data schemas for use throughout the public sector. Maybe as of now these are dictated by the NCIT (In reality the vendor(s) from Singapore), but I feel these should be open for discussions and views outside the vendors and NCIT should be considered. As discussed in a previous post the e-government project should not be limited to NCIT alone. Successful deployment of e-government is the responsibility of all government ministries, state owned organizations and citizens (stakeholders); should not be limited to one or few departments/Ministries. This is a complex task and an on-going process. The technical standards must not only support and enhance government’s business processes, but must also ensure that new technological advances and innovations are leveraged to their full advantage. Maybe the best approach should be to review and update such standards on an annual basis.

While formulating such standards we should also consider Interoperability, Market support, Scalability, Security and Open Standards. Key emphasis should be put on open standards. Definition of open standards may vary, however most commonly standards maintained by a non-commercial organization are considered to be open which are possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost. It is also important to consider standards which have multiple implementations and are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached. Maybe the best approach is to follow standards set by standards development organizations (SDOs) like ISO, IETF, OASIS, W3C, ITU, IEC, ECMA, IEEE, ANSI, OGC, FIPS, ITU-T and ETSI.

After such standards are set then funding and purchasing of IT products and solutions should dependent on compliance to these standards. Making sure the compliance of these standards are met should be the responsibility of the Finance/IT departments in the individual Ministries/Departments and the Auditor General.

Finally standards for what and where might be the question. The answer is simple. It’s for everything from Security, Network, e-Mail , Directory , Domain Naming, FTP, Terminal Emulation, Data Interoperability, Content Delivery, Web-Services, Enterprise Architecture, Digital Signatures, Encryption algorithms, Document formats, Character sets and alphabets are a just few examples.

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