Creating a digital government

Barry Lowry, Government CIO for Department of Public Expenditure and Reform discusses the concept of a smarter government, driven by digital, and Ireland’s progress on this journey.

Research firm MarketsandMarkets™ recently predicted that the global digital transformation market could be expected to grow to as much as $665.0 billion by 2023, at a CAGR of 18.1 per cent during the forecast period. This, they said, would be driven by organisational needs to serve changing customer preferences and enhance operational efficiency. They highlight the major drivers of this market as being the rapid proliferation of mobile devices and apps, the increasing penetration of IoT, the growing adoption of cloud services, and the need to improve operational performance to gain competitive benefits in the market. Given the recognised correlation between successful national digital economies and successful digital government services, most nations are tackling the challenge of seeking to do digital government smarter.

Gartner define smart government as applying and integrating information, communication and operational technologies to planning, management and operations across multiple domains, process areas and jurisdictions to generate sustainable public value.

In recent years, the European Union has fully embraced the potential of digital, stating that a fully integrated Digital Single Market (DSM) could grow European GDP by 415 billion per annum, and has used its Digital Economy Society Index (DESI) as a means of generating intra-union digital competitiveness. The EU ranking incorporates five key indicators of digital health including: connectivity; human capital; uses of internet; integration of digital technology; and digital public service. Lowry highlights Ireland’s impressive movement from ninth to sixth in the latest Digital Economy Society Index (DESI), leapfrogging the now seventh placed United Kingdom, but cautions the work that remains if Ireland is to break into the illustrious ‘top five’.

While Ireland’s overall performance is strong, deeper analysis points to a weaker performance in terms of digital public services than in the other key pillars, especially in areas concerning citizens.

“Ireland ranks 10th in Digital Public Services with no significant change in the rankings. It achieves top ranking in Open Data and an almost perfect result in digital public services for businesses. When it comes to services aimed at and used by citizens, the results are less impressive,” the DESI report states.

Similar results are evident in the Fletcher School Digital Planet 2017 Report, a more globally-focussed study, which shows that while Ireland ranks as one of the world’s best in terms of its digital economy, momentum is slow.

“The study indicates that Ireland cannot afford to be complacent about its high ranking but rather constantly seek ways to accelerate and improve how it does digital. Complacency would be a risk to us as a smaller country which is increasingly competing in a global market and which has benefitted so much from global investment in its journey to becoming a leading tech nation,” says Lowry.

“In many respects, given that we are still emerging from some seriously difficult years, ranking 10th in Digital Public Services isn’t such a bad result and the good news is that we know what we can do to improve.”

Pointing to the existing Public Services ICT Strategy as “the building blocks of transformation”, Lowry outlines that the ambition to provide greater mobile access to public services must be matched with the desire to enable this to happen.

“We’ve got to do that by making sure all of our digital services, meaning a cross-sectoral approach and not just in central government or local government or health, are intuitive and look and feel the same over time,” he adds.

“This requires collective and cohesive leadership. It simply cannot be left to one office, department of even minister. Everyone must put their shoulder to the wheel.”

Lowry highlights the growing evidence of this across the Public Service. “We now have a digital leaders’ forum across central government. This group is jointly chaired by two Secretaries-General and contains representation from every departmental board. We also have a cross-sectoral group in place solely focused on the acceleration of digital services, which contains senior representation from health, education, local government and the justice sector.

Complacency would be a risk to us as a smaller country which is increasingly competing in a global market and which has benefitted so much from global investment in its journey to becoming a leading tech nation.

“What is really pleasing is how our priorities are being developed. We don’t just talk about user-centric public services, we talk about user-driven services. In other words, we are actively engaging with the users of our services to understand what they like and what frustrates them and using that to prioritise our activities.”

Lowry highlights the extensive public survey carried out with IPSOS and the ongoing partnership with Trinity Business School as examples of this approach. “We were very keen to really understand the user experience when using our services and some of the evidence returned, even in areas where we thought we were pretty good, was sobering. But if a bit of ‘tough love’ is necessary for improvement, then we’ll welcome it.

“It was also great to see the eGovernment Minister personally attend several of the events, wanting to hear for himself what was going well and what needed to improve”.

Like all the leading digital countries, Ireland recognises the importance of joining up data and providing safe user authentication as being key to smart digital government.

Lowry cites the passing of the Data Sharing and Governance Bill into law and the Government’s approval of the data strategy (Public Service Data Strategy 2019-2023) as providing a strong mandate and legal basis for the safe and transparent sharing of data to provide better public services. He also points to recent government survey feedback and the uptake of MyGovID accounts (approximately 300,000) as providing encouraging evidence that the public is supportive of the Government’s ambitions and wants to see progress.

He outlines the plans in Europe to initiate recognition of national e-ids across member states and describes progress as “critical” to Ireland in terms of European alignment, as well as its own digital business.

Lowry is part of the senior group reporting to the Taoiseach regarding the development of the new National Digital Strategy, scheduled for publication by the middle of the year, and has been involved in extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders including industry, health and education providers, and citizen and society representatives.

“I think there is a general view that Ireland will be best served by close partnership working with government, industry and academia working together in the deliverance of shared goals centred around the needs of our people.”

I think there is a general view that Ireland will be best served by close partnership working with government, industry and academia working together in the deliverance of shared goals centred around the needs of our people.

Lowry cites the example of Open Data where this approach has resulted in Ireland being recognised as the best in Europe. “It is a privilege to involved in the Open Data Board and get to be part of such an energetic and passionate group. We recently spent a day together planning how to maintain momentum and have already sketched out a list of priority outcomes for the next 12 months.”

Lowry concludes by emphasising the desire that this should be a journey that everyone can be given a chance to be part of. “The desire for inclusivity really excites me. In the last few months, we have worked with An Post to pilot Assisted Digital Services; we launched the first Government ICT Apprenticeship scheme just after Christmas with over 1,000 applicants; and the Future Jobs Ireland initiative has digital at its very core, including the ambition to develop a GovTech eco-system.

“Ireland has an uncanny knack at punching well above its weight in so many areas, including academia, sport and the arts. All the ingredients are there to be a digital exemplar for other nations, and we are certainly moving in the right direction.”

Barry Doyle

Since graduating with an MSc in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in 1994 Barry has worked as a GIS / IT professional and business consultant in various roles in both the public and private sector in Ireland. With over 13 years’ experience working as a Project Leader in the Irish Local Government Sector Barry has been responsible for leading and delivering various innovative projects at both a Local Authority and Sectoral level with a particular focus on Digital Transformation, Geographical Information Systems, Information Management and Open Data.

Prior to joining Galway County Council in November 2018 Barry championed, defined and led the Digital Transformation Programme in Roscommon Country Council with the overall aim of embracing opportunities presented by ongoing advances in the digital technologies, broadband availability and capacity, and Cloud based enterprise solutions to transform how the Council provides services to, and interacts with, the citizens it serves. In line with this Barry completed a Special Certificate in Designing Innovative Services with Cork Institute of Technology in 2018.


Gemma Garvan

Gemma Garvan is Director of Informatics at St James’s Hospital in Dublin which last year became the first digital acute hospital in Ireland, which is the start of a landmark change for how care is delivered.  Gemma is an experienced Health Informatics Leader with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and health care industry.  Prior to taking up her role at St James’s Hospital in 2018 she was Head of Access to Information at Healthlink. Gemma began work as an analyst programmer with The National Healthlink Project and moved into a project management role over a decade ago. Gemma has a BSc in computer science and software engineering and an MA from Trinity College in Dublin.

Barry Lowry

Barry Lowry is CIO for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, a position he was appointed to in 2016. He is tasked with delivering the Public Service ICT Strategy. Prior to 2016, he spent almost 35 years in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) on work ranging from the programming of mainframe computers to operating as a team leader in the design of client server systems. For the five years prior to his appointment, Lowry was the director who oversaw the establishment of ICT shared services in NICS. He also operated as the Head of Profession for ICT. In 2011 he was voted the Northern Ireland IT Professional of the Year by his associates.

Kieran O’Hea

A native of Cork, Kieran O’Hea is Leicester City Council’s Head of Smart Cities, where he is leading the implementation of a Smart City Strategy that is city-needs led and demand-driven. He was formerly Chief Digital Officer of Brisbane, where he led the development of the city’s digital economy strategy. Before focusing on city strategies, Kieran led the development of digital strategies for a number of government agencies in Dublin. He has also worked for the European Commission, developing funding programmes in the area of digital content.

Donal Spellman

Donal Spellman is Principal Officer, Digital Services Channel at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. He joined the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in 2010 working initially in employment support policy and then as a Divisional Manger before moving to the Digital Service Division in 2016. Donal has a keen interest in service design & building online services around customer need.  Experience in other Departments including the Department of Finance, Agriculture and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General concentrated around policy formation and public policy and expenditure evaluation.

Tim Willoughby

Tim Willoughby is Head of Digital Services and Innovation at An Garda Síochána. He was formerly CTO of the LGMA, with over 20 years in a number of Senior Management and Technical Roles in the Local Government Sector. He has been working in the Public service for almost 28 years. Tim has a Civil Engineering Degree from TCD and a Masters in Innovation from the University of Ulster.

Moyagh Murdock

Moyagh Murdock has been in the transport sector for over 20 years in various capacities. Currently, Moyagh is the Chief Executive Officer at the Road Safety Authority. In her early career she spent 10 years in the airline industry having worked at Bombardier in Belfast as an aircraft systems engineer. She was then Chief Operating Officer for Bus Éireann having joined the Company in 2007 as the Deputy Chief Mechanical Engineer with responsibility for the fleet maintenance and garage operations. In 2012 she was awarded an MBA from Dublin City University (DCU) and holds a Certificate of Professional Competence in Road Transport Operations Management.

Caron Alexander

Caron Alexander is Director of Digital Shared Services at the Northern Ireland Civil Service.  She has more than 30 years of experience in the UK public sector.  Caron is responsible for providing ICT shared services to 27,000 staff, for the NI citizen portal and contact centre services, delivering the NI Digital Transformation Programme and driving forward the NI Open Data agenda.  Previously Caron held a number of senior technical, programme and change management roles in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

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Michael Redmond

Michael Redmond is Chief Operating Officer at the Office of the CIO/eHealthIreland. A highly experienced leader within eHealth and Digital, Michael has a reputation for delivering results, driving excellence and building capability in each and every one of his career roles to date. Hugely experienced across the public sector, he is known to be acutely customer focussed; his strategy of simplifying the digital agenda resonates with the C-suite, staff and the general public alike. As COO, Michael manages the largest ICT investment budget in the whole public sector. Also a qualified and certified CIO, Michael studied Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin.

Stella Power

In 2008, Stella founded Annertech, Ireland’s leading open-source digital agency. Since its inception, Annertech have grown to become the "go to" Drupal experts in Ireland and work with a variety of clients in both the private and public sectors. Stella is an active contributor to the Drupal open-source content management system, and maintains many modules including Commerce Realex, Commerce Donate and Code Review. She is a member of the international Drupal Security Team, and was recently chairperson of the Drupal Ireland Association.

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne is Head of Information Technology with Fingal County Council and has 26 years’ experience working in IT.  He holds a Degree in Information Technology and a Masters in Internet Systems.  He is responsible for managing the provision of IT services in Fingal County Council and his current interests include Digital Government, Smart Cities and Civic Tech.  He is a member of the Smart Dublin Executive Committee and the Public Bodies Working Group on Open Data.

Bill McCluggage

Bill McCluggage is Managing Director of Laganview Associates Ltd. He became the first CIO for the Irish Government in 2013 and was CIO for the Northern Ireland Civil Service (2005 – 2009). He joined the Cabinet Office in 2009 as deputy UK Government CIO. While in the Cabinet Office he was the Executive Director responsible for the UK Government’s ICT Strategy and was instrumental in the development of the Government G-Cloud, and was SRO for the Identity Assurance Programme, now GOV.UK Verify.

Charlie Weijer

Charlie Weijer is Area Vice President for DocuSign.  He is an experienced business leader, with proven sales and business development abilities. He has developed and executed growth strategies across EMEA in multiple high-tech organisations. He specialises in Sales, Sales operations, pipeline development and management. DocuSign is a hyper growth “startup” of over 300 people, Charlie has been responsible for scaling and leading the EMEA continental sales teams since 2015. He combines strong interpersonal, communication and negotiating skills, with a highly analytical mind. He completed an Executive MBA in 2013 at Smurfit School of Business to complete his academic profile and further complement relevant business experience. Charlie is passionate about coaching people.

Jane Carolan

Jane Carolan is National Director for Health Business Services at the Health Service Executive.  Jane is particularly focused on maximising digital business transformation within the health sector. She was instrumental in driving forward the national Electronic Health Record for Ireland. She is a member of the HSE Leadership Team and previously held the positions of Head of Planning and Corporate Performance and also Interim CIO of the Office of the CIO for six months.  Jane has over 20 years of experience in senior management roles within the health system. Jane has recently won two awards; IT Professional of the Year 2018 and was recognised as one of the CIO 100, 2019.

Dr Finn de Brí

Dr Finn de Bri is Chief Information Officer for the Houses of the Oireachtas, with responsibility for the Oireachtas Digital Transformation, which is a multi-annual transformation, incorporating 7 programmes of development and over 100 projects. Prior to this he was head of Taxes and Customs software application development in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. He holds a PhD in Information Systems from Trinity College Dublin.

Dr. Aileen McHugh

Dr. Aileen McHugh is Head of Operations at the Property Registration Authority (PRA) with a broad brief which includes overall responsibility for functions including HR, Finance, ICT, Corporate Services, Casework and Customer Service, Spatial Data and Mapping, Quality, Governance and Compliance. Since 2011 Aileen has gained expertise in embedding strategic workforce planning in the PRA.  PRA teams have been shortlisted and won several national awards for spatial data collaboration, diversity and inclusion initiatives, workforce planning, and most recently for the PRA’s innovative Property Alert Service.  The PRA is custodian of publicly valuable data assets and with the  rapidly changing global data landscape  Aileen’s interest has been focused most recently on issues relating to  emerging technologies and Data Governance, privacy and public registers.  Aileen holds a primary degree in Public Administration, a Masters in the Management of Change and a Doctorate in Business Administration. 

Cormac Murphy

Cormac has been involved with helping organizations transform digitally for over 10 years with experience at market-leading cloud organisations including Sage and He has developed a strong understanding of change across a wide range of industries, regions and viewpoints.

Currently responsible for Major accounts at DocuSign, Cormac leads the development of the Agreement Cloud community in Ireland. He holds a B.A. in Applied Languages from Technological University Dublin and speaks French and Spanish.

K Ananth Krishnan

As the Chief Technology Officer, Ananth directs Research, Innovation and Co-Innovation in TCS.  Under his leadership, TCS has created significant IP with business impact.  He has architected an industry-leading agile delivery model and has scaled innovation deep into business units.  He travels extensively to share his perspective on emerging digital trends with senior client teams in the public and private sector.  He also supports clients to implement the appropriate response to the threats and opportunities which these trends present. Ananth has been a member of the TCS Corporate Leadership team since 1999 and has led many strategic initiatives.  He has served on various Governing Councils of Academia, Industry Advisory Boards, and Government and Alumni committees.  He has previously been listed in Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders and in Infoworld’s Top 25 CTOs.

Damian Griffin

Damian is the Chief Technical Officer at the Defence Forces. Commandant Damian Griffin has successfully translated technology to the Defence Forces for over 20 years. Never one to accept the status quo, Damian is continually motivated to ensure the Defence Forces progress secure technology solutions in the right areas and for the right reasons. His current areas of focus are the umbrella of technologies required to deliver Digital Transformation with a close alignment to design thinking methodologies.