A conversation with Barry Lowry, Irish Government CIO
Let’s call out two stereotypes that many people seem to have lodged in their minds. Firstly, that technology leaders care more about technology than people, and secondly, that public servants care more about government rules and regulations than making the average citizen’s life easier.
What then, can we make of Barry Lowry, who is a technology leader in government, but who, by both his words and actions, seems to care primarily about making the average citizen’s life easier and sees technology as just a tool to achieve that outcome?
The NearForm team has had the pleasure of working closely with Barry on a range of high profile digital projects in the last few years, and we wanted to dig a little deeper into his thoughts on the purpose and future of government digital services.
His guiding principles? Some very simple ones.
If citizens don’t want a digital service or can’t use it easily, then it won’t be widely adopted. Barry loves to be involved in the user experience design sessions that kick-off modern software development projects. They focus on the user journeys that drive high levels of interaction, positive outcomes and strong adoption. The Irish Covid Tracking app, with one of the most successful launches in the world, is just one example of the power of human interaction with technology.
GDPR can be your friend.
Many technologists see GDPR as an onerous compliance step and see a risk of being challenged by privacy advocates. Barry, takes a different view. He says, for each new service, be very clear upfront on why you need data, for what purpose, for how long and when it will be retired. If you are showing genuine and proper consideration to these points and adopting a privacy-first approach when designing a digital service, then you are collaborating with privacy advocates and de-risking the entire project.
Digitising versus digitalisation.
Some really interesting thoughts from Barry on this topic. Simply digitising the services you already have does provide more automation, but it may miss bigger opportunities to imagine completely new services that are only possible with digital. He cites a day he saw two elderly Irish citizens entering a cafe during a period of Covid restrictions and pulling out their mobile phones to show QR code proof of vaccination. A great example of combining new technologies to create a new digital service that just works.
“There will be more time to look after those who can’t go on the digital journey..”
The good of the many outweighs the good of the few?
Barry’s thoughts are different. Why not make things work for both the many and the few? If the government can create compelling and useful digital services to help 90% of citizens self-serve, then that frees up government staff to give face-to-face help to those few who are unable to come on the digital journey because of advanced age or accessibility challenges. This kind of thinking promotes a positive culture of innovation to get to that 90% mark far faster.
Credentials driving services.
There is always lively debate about how much information governments should or should not hold about citizens. But again, there is an interesting and positive angle from Barry. He feels that the majority of citizens are happy to be identified and identifiable if it means they can get easy access to the government services their taxes are paying for. Indeed, Barry sees credentialing as a core strength of government that will allow more and more services to be made accessible. He sees huge potential to combine these credentials with biometric access in your mobile phone for fully authenticated, seamless access to important services. He gives the example that, within five years, you should have your European driver’s licence on your mobile phone along with a host of other services and identifications.
“Everybody benefits from government’s investment in digital”
Barry oversaw the rapid roll-out of a range of digital services to combat the Covid pandemic. He says that the learnings from that are clear; firstly, that government, given the licence to do so, can innovate at speed and with great success, and secondly, taking the digital Covid certificate as an example – has created a strong template for future services, i.e. proof of an event, combined with identification on a mobile phone.
This is a strong foundation for the future, and with Barry and his colleagues steering the way, we can rest assured that it will be a human-centric and citizen-centric future.
Interested in finding out more? Read the full story to discover how NearForm is helping to innovate and roll out new digital government services fast.