Ministry promises to remedy public sector IT problems with new agency

Workstation.
Workstation. Source: ERR

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (MKM) will create the State Information and Communications Technology Center to jointly manage public sector IT and communications base services. The goal is to cut costs and achieve a higher quality of service.

A report commissioned by the Ministry of Finance last year highlighted several problems in public sector digital services base solutions, such as workstation services and server infrastructure.

For example, the workstation base service includes LAN and workstation software management. Sever infrastructure covers hosting, cloud computing and data services. These are services the end user usually has no direct contact with but that are nevertheless crucial for IT solutions to function.

The report suggests sufficient resources to ensure funding of base services have not been allocated. The state has no overview of how much the base services cost and how to plan relevant investments. Existing solutions also do not facilitate effective cooperation between agencies.

The public IT sector has been underfunded for years. While ministries and agencies in their administrative areas have requested additional funding to maintain and update base services, such applications are usually ignored.

Siim Sikkut, MKM deputy secretary general in charge of digital development, said that the field requires an extra €60 million a year.

A so-called technological backlog has been created, and while €30 million have been allocated in next year's budget to remedy the problem, this will not go all the way.

"We will postpone some updates. We will replace servers later than we should, we will take that risk so to speak. We will also be adopting new software versions behind schedule. Incidents have grown more frequent because information security work is outstanding in places that have lacked resources. Or because systems are patchy for the same reason," Sikkut said.

The new State Information and Communication Technology Center to be created should help alleviate these shortcomings. The economy ministry says the new agency will help save money, boost quality of service, improve efficiency and offer specialists a more motivating work environment.

"We can get more done with less by working together," Sikkut said.

Former Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology Kaimar Karu described the creation of the center as sensible and able to solve quite a few problems public sector IT has been having.

"Addressing these things can be seen as hygiene. Improving base services management creates premise for addressing the rest of the tech backlog. Consolidation of base services is sensible either way. Different services will remain with agencies – services development, life cycle that does not concern base infrastructure – that will remain or move closer to the customer. While problems everyone shares will be taken care by this one center," Karu explained.

Karu believes general expenses would not fall as a result of the new center. However, it would help dial back spending on insensible activities. The money left over could be used to improve services.

Karu said that the people behind Estonia's digital state have done good work in the conditions of limited resources.

The State Information and Communications Technology Center is set to start work on December 1.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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