Understanding The Building Blocks For Interoperability In Digital Government
May 25, 2023
In the context of digital government and interoperability frameworks, building blocks refer to software code, platforms, and applications that are interoperable, and provide a basic digital service at scale. They can be reused for multiple use cases and contexts:xxv
- Serve as a component of a larger system or stack.
- They can be used to facilitate the delivery of digital public services via functions, which may include registration and search, scheduling, ID authentication, payment, data administration, and messaging.
- Building blocks can be combined and adapted to be included as part of a stack of technologies to form a country’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI).
- Building blocks may be open source or proprietary.
Characteristics of building blocks:
- Autonomous – building blocks provide a standalone, reusable service or set of services; they may be composed of many modules/microservices.
- Generic – building blocks are flexible across use cases and sectors.
- Interoperable – building blocks must be able to combine, connect, and interact with other building blocks.
- Iterative evolvability – building blocks can be improved even while being used as part of solutions.
The most commonly occurring building blocks within interoperability and data exchange platforms are fundamental components of any government data exchange ecosystem: identity management, trust, data management, and secure data exchange.xxvi
- Identity – these are components or services that allow for user authentication. A digital identity can apply to either a person, or an organization, and the use of a digital identity allows for authentication. It also enables systems to trace back to see who interacted with what in a system.
- Data Management – Base registries are under the control of a public administration, government or government-appointed agency and refer to a trusted and authentic source of information. They hold information about persons, companies, vehicles, land etc, and are seen as authentic, reliable and a cornerstone for the delivery of public services. Open Data refers to information collected, produced, or paid for by the public sector which is then made available and accessible for reuse for any purpose.
- Trust – refers to electronic services that help parties make binding decisions and this category includes the building blocks of PKI and timestamping.
- Secure Data Exchange – which also includes API Management, refers to the ability to exchange data between different organizations in a way that maintains privacy and security, and ensures that data integrity.
Interoperability is particularly important as a core capability for connected government. The capability to connect governments across boundaries to share information and integrate service delivery is considered an advanced stage in e-government maturity.xxvii
Towards Register Interoperability
The authors recognise that the greatest effort and indeed investment in the implementation of interoperability between registers is by the registers themselves. That is, as weighed against the effort to implement the central orchestration/interoperable layer. The technical interoperability implementation must lower the cost and effort required for registers, as the participants, to integrate their internal systems. When looking to, invest in or continue the journey towards fully enabling digital government, our recommendations are targeted across key principles at both the Register and Interoperability Layers.
- Canonical – The register retains data only for the purpose that it was instantiated. It in turn consumes data held by other registers but does not retain it. This requires the register to seek interoperability between the register and other available data sources and relevant systems.
- Application Programming Interface (API) – The register platform itself is ‘API-first’ and can expose a set of easily consumed services to all stakeholders. The use of a COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf ) product in the technical implementation of the register will typically provide such capability and functionality.
- Extensible and Configurable – The register platform deployed is extensible (i.e., multiple registers can be deployed using the same architectural design and service modules) and easily configurable. Economies of scale are derived by deploying multiple registers on the same integrated platform with common shared services and a set of ubiquitous user interfaces.
- Cascading Data – data elements (e.g., a natural person, corporate entity, and a unique address or property identifier) are common and can be share these across all registers. Allowing changes and updates to cascade across all registers (where permissible).
- Shared Common Services – these services only need to be implemented once and then can be used across all interconnected registers (e.g., security and authentication, data validation, payment services, identity validation, etc.). Interoperability of registers benefits from defining a common registry service layer.
- Security Infrastructure – modern registers are required to deploy significant security infrastructure to protect the delivery of services to stakeholders in a secure manner but also more importantly in order to protect the reputation of the custodian of the register. Compliance with cybersecurity protocols and infrastructure needs to adhered to and directly aligned. Interoperability across registers should not afford bad actors an additional route for interference and manipulation.
- Domain Agnostic – the interoperability layer should be capable of transporting any message pay load for any domain. Thus, the investment can deliver a benefit for several varied domains. The message structure implemented should be flexible to allow for such.
- Centralised Architecture – a central hub or point of presence is required to orchestrate the interactions between the register participants. This is essential for the settlement of payments, reflecting a real time view of data between the participants and the effective governance and compliance.
- Provision of Technical Artefacts – sample code, implementations to reduce the burden of integration for participants and widen the adoption of the interoperability platform.
- Integration/Compliance standards – a minimum set of requirements need to be agreed to integrate to the technical interoperability layer. This must be published and enforced. The EU requires Member States to implement Beneficial Ownership (BO) registers, however, there were no minimum standards on how they would be created in terms of the data set and what data elements if any, were to be made public. The Canadian federal initiative for implementing a pan-Canadian beneficial ownership regime is being developed, and in order to avoid the EU pitfalls, it must ensure adoption and compliance to a common BO data standard across all provincial and territorial boundaries.
- Governance – the governance model employed must confer trust, and reputation on all participants. The governing authority must certify participants and enforce the minimum rules of participation (SLAs - Service Level Agreements) and resolve disputes between participants. Most registers will charge for some services that are provided. The governing authority must find an equitable and easy way to settle the payments for these services between participants.
- Semantics – agreed semantic ontologies can take years to populate and become useful. They should never become a focus point in terms of minimisation. Participants should agree a structure, a means to populate such, and a repository to persist and share the ontology. Thus, participants can declare semantic definitions for the data set that they will share. The key is that the differences between participant registers are to be welcomed and shared, not to excluded.
Interoperability, even such that focuses on just the registry domain exposes a wide area of research and it is not realistic to expect that a single methodology or even suggest that a set of specific steps can be used to improve registry interoperability. Technical interoperability and data exchange across registries must be ensured because data used in one administration will certainly also be used by others and will have significant downstream benefits. As outlined above, there are common design and component considerations across registries that will help to improve both technical and process interoperability, support data exchange and the drive to improve digital government directives.
The authors set out in this paper to review and describe what modes of interoperability exist between registers, while clearly recognising that registers are the core repositories of government data. We conclude that the most practical and in many regards the easiest starting point towards enabling technical interoperability and data exchange, is at the register level. By leveraging new digitally enabled technologies and registry aware platforms we will be better positioned towards achieving the outcomes and benefits of an efficient and effective digital government, these would include:xxviii
- Better Public Services – connected government means better public services and more efficient public service as cited by the EC’s TOOP project.
- Increased Administrative Efficiencies – the corollary of better public services, means better administration by registration authorities, regulatory bodies, and across government as a whole.
- Data-driven Policy Making – the availability of connected government data, that is enabled by interoperability between registers, makes for better decisions by government, as the true reality for citizens of a jurisdiction is more accurately portrayed.
- Enhance Security, Data Protection and Data Privacy – connected government means the data within registers is triangulated, reviewed, and referenced more widely. Indeed, the principle of transparency of a register and thus the greater scrutiny of the register, increases the data integrity of the register itself. The persistence of data, particularly personal data, in a single place, rather than being replicated, increases security. The mere advent of interoperability for a register, demands that security is enhanced.
- Reduce Fraud, Waste and Abuse – a connected ecosystem or landscape of government means that data from many sources is used for validating entries on a register, identifying relationships between entities on a register and between registers, reduces fraud. The current Corporate Transparency Bill routing through the UK House of Commons clearly identifies the benefits of data validation across government and internationally, to improve data integrity, reduce fraud and provide benefits to the nationally economy as a whole.
Achieving interoperability at a government wide level is difficult, but not impossible. It presents a significant challenge, demands substantial resources and can take many years. However, governments can lay the groundwork for a fundamentally more effective and efficient public sector by implementing interoperability within their statutory registers.
This post is an excerpt from our white paper Enabling Digital Government: Interoperability and Data Exchange Between Registries where we examine the foundational constructs of public registers, the necessity of data exchange between registers, and the evolution and modes of interoperability.
The paper investigates key developments in Canada and the EU, and outline some of the key foundational building blocks towards achieving successful register interoperability in support of our digital government agendas.
- Cybernetica AS - Digital Government Interoperability Platform Reference Architecture Version 1.0 Taavi Toomere, Sujani Kamalanathan, Margus Freudenthal, Sandhra-Mirella Valdma, Keegan McBride
- Layne, K., & Lee, J. (2001). Developing fully functional e-government: A four stage model. Government Information Quarterly, 18, 122–136.
- https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/government-data-management-for-the- digital-age