When Irish eyes are sharing

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Irish officials are allowing agencies to share information while ensuring that they retain their autonomy by using a central Web portal for citizen services.

"The idea is agencies don't talk directly to each other," said Sean McGrath, chief technology officer of business integration company Propylon, speaking recently on a panel at the Government CIO Summit in Amelia Island, Fla. "They talk to a single hub."

That hub is at the heart of the Public Services Broker, which provides Irish citizens with one point of access to government services and allows for data sharing governmentwide. Rather than share information directly, agencies provide data to a central location, which packages and disseminates the information when users request it.

The broker is being developed and managed by Ireland's Reach agency, a cross-departmental organization developed a couple of years ago by the Irish government to improve citizen services and help agencies work together. The Public Services Broker portal will go live next month, said Oliver Ryan, director of Reach.

The broker will bring together highly autonomous agencies with different levels of technology platforms and long-standing cultural boundaries, Ryan said.

Irish officials tested the plan for the portal though a project with the Interagency Messaging Service, built two years ago. The service created a messaging hub that transported data using an Extensible Markup Language message envelope. The test proved the architecture of the idea, Ryan said, which "is beginning to gather legs and develop."

Rather than having to build a new automated process to allow communication with other systems, agencies rely on standards to send data messages relayed from the hub.

That means innovation can take place on the edges of the hub rather than at the center of the equation, McGrath said. "All the clever things happen on the edge," he said. "That's why the Web works."

This approach, he said, is faster and cheaper than distributed architectures and allows for flexibility and ownership among agencies. He said the architecture that supports this portal is scalable and can be deployed now, without waiting for the development of new standards or upgraded technology.

"We are putting down some plumbing for Ireland incorporated for the next decade or two," McGrath said.

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