Making our government’s IT work

I had a very interesting day yesterday I thought I’d share with you in two posts. This post is about my work.

First I had planned to go to The Hague but since there were accidents on every road surrounding our little town of Eemnes I decided to work from home. I’ve been working for Logius for 9 months now on standards for data exchange. In november and december I completed the new architecture for Digikoppeling (for the die-hards, the Dutch version is available on

I’m currently interviewing experts on the trends they see in eGovernment and specifically for data exchange. It’s interesting because the work is now moving from the “back-end” to the “front-end”. Where our eGovernment services have been focused on creating a services oriented architecture (an IT infrastructure for government organizations to work together), we’re now moving to creating actual value (smart services) for the end-users.

For those of you not in IT, a services oriented architecture aims to develop reusable building blocks (modules based on web services) so we don’t have to build entirely new systems every time the structure of our government changes. The experts I interviewed I have come to know over the past year (some longer) and when I see them they always inquire after my health. It’s very kind and makes me feel good. I often wonder what will happen once the medication stops working, but these thoughts never last long

Just a bit of background about what’s happening in our government. It is common in The Netherlands to move responsibilities and public services from one organization to another. This is of course an expensive solution to problems because organizations need to adapt to their new responsibilities and need to buy new IT systems. We are in the middle of new major changes in our public services.

The Revenue Service is struggling with the (re-)distribution of additional stipends for low-income households (the system for stipends for rent and health insurance doesn’t work and will be changed again soon).

Starting in 2015 all social services for children and youth, and healthcare services for the elderly and chronically sick will need to be organized by the local municipalities.

I’m a member of a team that is working on developing key IT services once and reusing them so that we can avoid buying huge closed IT systems which don’t work when things change. The trend now is towards smaller web services and dynamic data services. Many people (myself included) want to be able to do everything online and on the road using our smart phones and tablets.
But government services are very complex. The rules and regulations are complex and contain a lot of exceptions. This means that any time anyone needs something – a permit, information, or has a complaint – many types of information needs to be assembled from various sources and needs to be assessed. Besides being big administrative organizations, our government also has many laws, rules, exceptions and policies, which are not always “programmable” and which change frequently. Just think of the tax laws which are updated yearly.  This move to smart services will be an interesting development to follow. By 2017, all dutch public services need to be accessible online, so there’s not a lot of time left.

My assignment is to write a new vision for our data exchange standards but the real challenge will be to make this all work in a way that is much easier than it is now. It’s an interesting and dynamic area and it is rewarding to work for a public cause.

On a more personal note, I’ve been following the eHealth trends. On January 21st, Nancy’s b-day, I attended a seminar on giving patients access to their health records. It was an interesting day and I had the chance to talk with some colleagues from Logius, some people I knew from other projects, and with information managers from hospitals. There are still very few patient portals: Medische Gegevens and IedereDagBeter are examples of patient portals (Dutch only). Since it is a subject that combines my professional expertise and personal experience, I try to keep up to date. A project leader from Radboud Medisch Centrum explained the plans for Hereismydata (Dutch) in which your data from all sorts of sources – such as Runkeeper, wearable devices and more – are combined to create a dashboard for you (and your doctor). Monday morning I spoke with a former colleague who now works for a national healthcare organization about the developments in this field. It could also be a topic for further study. For now, I will stick to patient advocacy using social media.

Next: Our Zonta Children’s Concert is coming on March 9th! Please come!