ISSA: New technologies play an increasing role in our lives, including in the provision of public services. What are some of the main global trends in information and communication technologies (ICT) in public services that you observe at the present time?
Dr. Yelmo: The provision of public services, or computerized administrative services, has much in common with ICT support for organizational management and the provision of services for organizations and enterprises of a general nature. As a speaker at the International Conference on ICT in Social Security, my paper will describe major trends at the organizational and technological levels. It will highlight the technological trends which I consider to be the most important in four sectors: the hardware platform, the Web environment, the software platform and the development process of software applications and information systems.
Hardware platform . The most promising trend in terms of reducing the purchase and running costs of hardware infrastructures is perhaps the technique of virtualization .
Virtualization is the creation of an abstract, virtual or simulated machine using software which hides the specific hardware resources of a real machine from the final applications including the operating system, thus enabling applications to be transferred to hardware which differs from that of its original platform or the use of a single physical machine by various virtual machines.
Virtualization reduces purchasing, electricity and running costs through centralized management of the hardware platform. It also enables earlier applications which would normally function only with previous versions of an operating system to continue to function alongside new applications using a new server.
The Web environment . In spite of the differences between telephone and internet networks, the explosive development of mobile networks has acted as a catalyst for technological convergence between voice and data networks. This convergence centres around a Web nucleus based on the IP protocol for the transfer of voice, data and multimedia flows.
Telephone networks, both fixed and mobile, and data networks, particularly internet, are not going to disappear from the scene, but will be converted into networks which provide access to a combined nucleus network based on IP technology. This architectural approach is frequently known as the Next Generation Network.
This is not an alternative, it is an inevitable trend. The new telematic services are convergent services which use an integrated interconnection network to provide basic data services, messaging, collaboration, voice, multimedia, etc. plus auxiliary services such as location, presence, identity management, etc.
Software platform . Software platforms and technologies are constantly changing with dozens of new design approaches, programming languages, development and operating environments, support mechanisms for the various activities involved in the life cycle of the software, intermediary platforms and an endless stream of technologies, emerging almost every day.
However, we can focus attention on a new design approach for applications which has major potential in terms of mastering the complexities and development and maintenance costs of applications and services distributed via Internet. I am talking about those Web Services known as SOA, Service Oriented Architecture.
Development processes . The development of systems software often seems to be a problematic and immature activity which combines a hotchpotch of projects destined for failure, critical basic decisions based on trial and error, lack of alignment with the commercial processes they support, problems meeting non-functional requirements such as security, reliability and availability, rocketing development and maintenance costs which always exceed budget estimates, management and operational problems, etc.
Some of these problems can be solved using new organizational processes for the development of systems software. In this area, two of the most interesting trends concern what are known as “agile" processes ( Extreme Programming or Scrum ) or the transformational processing model known as Model Driven Architecture.
How are these new information and communication technologies impacting public institutions?
ICTs constitute an indispensable enabling mechanism for most enterprises and organizations throughout the world, whether small, medium-sized or large, government administrative departments or major multinationals. Investment growth in information systems and ICT infrastructures is sustained and the sophistication and technical and organizational maturity achieved in its development, deployment and operation enable levels of productivity and efficiency to be achieved in social organization, economic activity, well-being and access to information and knowledge which are unprecedented in the history of mankind.
Several new technologies have had a major impact on the provision of public services in Spain:
What are the major challenges and risks associated with ICT developments, particularly for the public sector, including social security organizations?
The constantly increasing complexity of systems and technologies increases the risk of mismanagement of the technological infrastructure, leading to the weakening and eventual collapse of the very processes, enterprises, organizations and social structures that they are supposed in theory to assist and support. In fact, the main challenge is the governance of a technical infrastructure of increasing complexity which must respond to changing requirements in a constantly developing environment.
Are there particular risks or opportunities for developing countries, and is there a large difference compared with ICT trends in industrialized countries?
There are major differences in the ability of industrialized and developing countries to invest in ICT infrastructures and in the ability of the population to access and use ICT. In this context, it is worth consulting the IDI, ICT Development Index issued regularly by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and last published in March 2009.
The main conclusions of the report concern the observation of general progress in the penetration of ICT throughout the world (a 30 per cent increase in the last five years) with the most economically developed countries at the top of the list. The Northern European countries and South Korea head the list. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in ICT development by emerging countries such as China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. In all cases, the digital gap between rich and poor countries is disappearing only very slowly and the relative cost of access to ICTs is far higher in poor countries (20 per cent of revenue compared with 1.6 per cent in industrialized countries).
What would you identify as next generation technologies that may lead to fundamental changes for public service organizations?
The most obvious technological trends have already been mentioned. A technical and social phenomenon of universal impact which could be added to the list is the new Web (2.0 and above) with user-generated contents and services, new models of social interaction, Web semantics and new multimedia services.
Prof. Yelmo is Doctor of Telecommunications and University Professor in the Engineering Department of Telematic Systems of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. He has worked as a researcher and coordinator in numerous research projects of international and national scope in the areas of service engineering, digital identity and privacy, accessibility and usability in telematic services, distributed applications and middleware software.