The Portuguese government is working to make Portugal one of the world’s leading information societies. The Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration (AMA) is chartered with leading digital initiatives across Portuguese society, including introducing e-government services. The agency worked with Microsoft, Accenture, and Siemens IT Solutions and Services to create an interoperability framework that allows multiple, incompatible government information systems to communicate with one another and share citizen-submitted data. The new framework is a critical first step in enabling the AMA to simplify citizen interaction with government. The framework will also reduce information processing time, lower the cost of government services, and enhance citizen data security.
Portugal is strongly committed to developing an inclusive information society where knowledge is a fundamental ethical, cultural, social, and economic value. Toward this goal, the Portuguese government created the Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration (AMA), tasked with planning, coordinating, and developing projects that support an information society, including electronic government services. The AMA operates within the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of Ministers.
||We can now build a whole new generation of Internet-based services on top of existing systems that previously couldn’t interoperate with each other. This gives us unprecedented agility....
Project Manager, Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration
One of the agency’s first goals was to simplify citizens’ interaction with the government. Historically, accomplishing something as simple as notifying the government of a change of address or reporting a missing wallet required that citizens visit multiple government agencies and fill out redundant paperwork. Such routine processes typically took weeks. The AMA wanted to allow citizens to contact one agency, online or over the phone, identify themselves electronically, submit the necessary information, and have the information automatically distributed to all relevant agencies.
“The AMA seeks to not only move many public services to the Internet but to simplify public services by streamlining the bureaucracy and providing citizens with one-stop service wherever possible,” says Pedro Nunes, a Project Manager for AMA.
However, standing in the way of this goal was a host of older information systems at public-facing government agencies that could not communicate with one another, because interoperability was not a requirement when they were built. Some examples:
- The healthcare and social security systems are based on the Oracle database, Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) development environment, and Windows® operating systems.
- The tax system runs on IBM AS/400 systems and the AIX and HP/UX operating systems.
- The voting system runs on the Linux operating system, an Oracle database, and the J2EE development environment.
AMA needed to create an operating environment that would enable these diverse government systems to communicate effectively with one another. “We realized that it would be impossible to roll out unified citizen services without such a platform that could reach across and work with all our existing systems,” Nunes says.
In 2005, the Innovation and Knowledge Society Unit e-government group, which is now part of AMA, put out a public tender for an interoperability solution. The project objectives were to design and implement an interoperability framework that addressed application integration, citizen authentication, and citizen privacy. The agency put no stipulations on the technology other than that the solution be deployed on both the Java and Microsoft® .NET platforms and use Web services as the medium for information exchange.
Solution Partners Accenture, Microsoft, and Siemens
After considering many solutions, AMA awarded the contract to a team consisting of Siemens IT Solutions and Services, Microsoft, and Accenture. Siemens was the primary contractor, responsible for overall project management, Java and .NET code development, and hardware. Accenture was responsible for process and functional specifications and development. Microsoft supplied the base software, solution design and development, and development services.
“Microsoft software is interoperable with a wide range of other applications and supports open standards, such as XML and SOAP, which were critical to the success of this project,” Nunes says. “Microsoft is also active in the larger community of vendors working together to solve interoperability problems, which reduces the risk associated with such a complex project. It’s also far easier to find partners and programming talent familiar with the Microsoft environment.”
Common Services Framework
|AMA's Common Services Framework|
During the seven-month project, AMA worked with Microsoft, Accenture, and Siemens to design and implement the Common Services Framework, which provides authentication and identity management, and overall transaction control, for citizen transactions that traverse multiple government systems. The key design principles were:
- Services integration. This gives citizens an integrated view of public services.
- Simplified identification. Citizens only have to identify themselves once to use multiple e-government services.
- Privacy and security. Both citizens and public agencies will be able to feel confident that their data remains private and confidential.
- Immutability of existing information systems. Existing agency systems do not need to be changed or restructured to be accessible for e-government initiatives.
The joint development team implemented the Common Services Framework using the following Microsoft programs and technologies:
- Windows Server® 2003 operating system and the Microsoft .NET Framework version 3.0, which includes Windows Communication Foundation, Active Directory® Federation Services, and the Internet Information Services 6.0 Web server
- Microsoft BizTalk® Server 2006, a business process management server that provides messaging capabilities
- Microsoft SQL Server™ 2005 database
- Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 as the management infrastructure
The Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) is a set of .NET technologies, built around Web services, for building and running heterogeneous systems. Using WCF, the development team was able to unify AMA’s diverse distributed systems with a single extensible architecture, spanning transports, security systems, messaging patterns, encodings, network topologies, and hosting models.
Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) provides an extensible architecture that supports the Security Assertion Markup Language, which allowed developers to share digital identity and entitlements rights across multiple enterprise boundaries. ADFS enabled the development team to easily create single sign-on functionality, which gives citizens a streamlined user experience when accessing government applications.
The .NET Framework is an integral component of the Windows operating system that provides a programming model and runtime for Web services, Web applications, and smart client applications. Its broad support of Web services made it an ideal technology for building an interoperability framework.
Key Interoperability Capabilities
The Common Services Framework provides the following capabilities:
- Data integration. The AMA adopted a standard data model that allows diverse government systems to exchange data. Using this data model, all government agencies can accept a single citizen data submission—such as a change of address or name—and eliminates the need for citizens to fill out redundant paperwork.
- Application integration. The AMA can use Web services to connect any applications, regardless of the programming languages in which they are written.
- Simplified identification. Citizens only have to identify themselves once to the Common Services Framework to submit information to multiple government agencies, although citizens continue to have distinct identities with each agency.
- Privacy and security. Active Directory Federation Services helps ensure that no identification information flows across the public network; only encrypted tokens traverse the Internet, to help prevent the interception of citizen identity. In addition, agencies may also send encrypted messages over this framework whenever needed, ensuring that privacy concerns are also respected inside Common Services Framework.
Portugal can use its new interoperability framework to simplify public service delivery to citizens, lower technology costs as its develops new e-government services, and enhance data security as it replaces paper-based systems with digital interactions with citizens.
Simplified Public Services
||Microsoft software is interoperable with a wide range of other applications and supports open standards, such as XML and SOAP, which were critical to the success of this project.
Project Manager, Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration
The first use of the Common Services Framework was the Citizen’s Card, a universal citizenship identification card that was introduced in early 2007 and will be distributed to all Portuguese citizens through 2008. It takes the double form of a physical document (smart card) that visually identifies the citizen and also a digital document that citizens can use to identify and authenticate themselves online. The Citizen’s Card replaces five existing identification cards: identity card, taxpayer’s card, social security card, voter’s card, and healthcare card. Through digital signatures, citizens will be able to use it for multi-channel identity authentication in person, online, or by telephone (with one-time passwords generated with the card).
To report a missing wallet, file for unemployment payments, report a name change, or initiate any number of other government processes, citizens will simply pick up the phone or go online, authenticate themselves using their Citizen’s Card, and submit the necessary information. The interoperability framework will distribute the relevant data to the appropriate agencies.
“The Citizen’s Card will slash citizen/ government interactions from weeks to minutes, by reducing footwork and paperwork in dealing with government bureaucracy,” Nunes says. “By streamlining bureaucracy, we hope to help citizens feel closer to government and less frustrated by complex procedures. Plus, citizens can interact with the government any time of the day or night.”
Lower-Cost Government Services
“We have no metrics, but we know that we are saving money in the areas of paperwork, new solutions development, and streamlined process flow across agencies,” Nunes says. “By adopting and enforcing technology standards at the interoperability layer, we save money and ensure flexibility in rolling out new services.”
Plus, by deploying more public services through several channels, including the Internet, the Portuguese government will save money by allowing public agencies to align their business and technological processes, simplify communication, and eliminate data silos. The new interoperability framework also eliminates the need for agencies to purchase point-to-point telecommunications bandwidth and equipment to communicate with each other.
By using Web services to connect government systems, AMA can easily connect any agency system to the Common Services Framework at any time. “We can now build a whole new generation of Internet-based services on top of existing systems that previously couldn’t interoperate with one another,” Nunes says. “This gives us unprecedented agility in introducing new services.”
Enhanced Data Security
Digitally encrypted information is more secure than data recorded on paper forms and passed among people and agencies. Since citizens will no longer have to repeatedly fill out forms, there’s less chance that they, or government employees, will make a mistake. “Citizen data privacy is very important to us,” Nunes says. “It’s very easy to enforce security using standards supported by Microsoft software.”
With its interoperability framework in place, the AMA is moving forward with new e-government services focused on citizen needs.
Microsoft and Interoperability
Microsoft delivers interoperability by design. Microsoft’s approach to interoperability helps customers focus on the issues most important to their business and operational needs, such as improving business processes, increasing productivity, connecting with customers, reducing costs, and collaborating with other organizations.
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