One announcement that may have slipped under your radar recently was that the Office of the e-Envoy has awarded a contract to establish and operate the e-GIF Accreditation Authority Programme to the National Computing Centre (NCC). e-GIF is the framework that the Government has put in place for public sector organisations to follow in order to deliver on-line services.
The question is, is this a framework which it is worth the private sector adopting as well?
e-GIF stands for Electronic Government Integration Framework. At its heart are four broad principles, which, if adopted by every company, and every IT department, could revolutionise the ease of delivering advanced and integrated public and private services.
The e-GIF standards are divided into four main areas: Interconnection, Data Integration, Access and Content Management.
The Interconnection standards describe how different computer systems should talk to each other. They say that all systems should support the basic Internet protocols such as IP and HTTP, and where appropriate the more advanced web services protocols such as SOAP.
The Data Integration standards prescribe the use of XML in moving data from one system to another. XML is revolutionising data formatting, since it is both human and machine readable. Presented with an XML data feed from one system it is relatively trivial to parse the data and put it into another system. Joined up government, and joined up business, finally becomes a possibility.
The Access standards don’t dictate that applications should only use a web browser, but they do say that a browser interface must be available. For a start browsers simplify remote access (e.g. from home or a Wi-Fi hotspot). Taken together with XML they also allow content to be served to different devices (e.g. a PDA or mobile phone). And through the magic of URLs they also allow one programme to easily call another to provide added functionality – such as displaying a post code location on Multimap. Ten years ago this would have taken hundreds of thousands of pounds and months of work to implement. It can now be done for a few hundred pounds and in a matter of minutes.
The Content Management standards direct the use of metadata to describe the data in government information systems. Here applicability to the private sector is less obvious, but the general idea is still right. If a set of XML standards exist for your industry to describe invoices or customer data or inventory then use them - don’t invent your own.
So e-GIF tells local and central government to use internet protocols, use XML, use a browser and follow meta-data standards. Shouldn’t the private sector do the same?
As I see it the key task of IT for the next few years is integration. It’s about making systems talk to each other and deliver the integrated service that customers want, not the piecemeal services that application vendors and programmers create. If every new IT development followed the broad e-GIF principles of IP, browser, XML and meta-data then this integration task could become an order of magnitude simpler, and cheaper.
The new e-GIF Accreditation Authority aims to reduce risk to public sector IT projects by certifying e-GIF Practitioners and accrediting organisations delivering e-GIF projects. As a result many IT companies already supplying the public sector will need to get e-GIF accreditation. Given the wider potential for e-GIF such certification shouldn’t be looked upon as a burden. Instead it should be seen as a real opportunity to gain significant competitive advantage in supplying e-GIF based solutions to the private sector as well.