The IST programme-funded INFOCITIZEN project addressed the challenges posed to public administrations working within and among countries in today's pan-European context. Significant differences exist between administrative procedures and often authorities at municipal, regional and national levels provide the same service. Yet different handling procedures can result in non-standardised outputs.
The INFOCITIZEN system significantly improves the electronic information exchange between public administrations in a user-friendly manner that also reduces costs, improves efficiency, and is more transparent. This is of growing importance as Europeans are increasingly on the move. For example, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, within Europe 17 per cent of working age people would like to live and work in another European country.
"The simple scenario of moving from one country to another poses a complex administrative procedure for the citizen," explains project coordinator Dirk Werth, from the Institute for Information Systems at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Saarbrâ╝cken. "More sophisticated actions, such as marriage or adoption requires the interaction between public administrations in two or more countries. This isn't manageable without specific knowledge and exchange of many paper documents."
Several scenarios provided a test-bed to check the viability of the INFOCITIZEN model with public administrations in Schmelz, Germany; Tres Cantos, Spain; Colliferro, Italy, and Thessaloniki in Greece. In Schmelz, for example, four services were tested involving certificates for residence, birth, civil status and citizenship. Because birth certificates are kept as paper documents, an asynchronous mode was developed to handle partially or fully paper-based documents that involved offline data support. In Tres Cantos, the census process was addressed, while in Colleferro, the system addressed marriage between Italians and non-Italians. The Greek showcase was based on the adoption application process.
Project results provide a "valuable showcase" by illustrating how to overcome the limitations of exchange within the current European legal framework and outlining opportunities for future harmonisation.
"The project has clearly demonstrated successful collaboration within a multinational consortium," says Werth. "The high quality of the very complex system produced provides an excellent model of how to address interchange of data between administrative authorities while respecting subsidiarity and important differences in regulations and administrative procedures in Member States."
The software is illustrated on the project website through a series of animations that shows how a European citizen called Marco moves from Schmelz to Tres Cantos. The films show how the INFOCITIZEN system simplifies the process of obtaining residency certificates and explores the technological processing of pan-European public services.
The 11-member INFOCITIZEN consortium worked for two years to develop an architecture that supports interoperability and transparent service provision among European public administrations. Reducing red tape by streamlining this interaction, coordination and communication was achieved using leading-edge information technologies.
The INFOCITIZEN infrastructure is designed to support any type of pan-European service provision. However, in the demonstration scenario, project partners implemented and demonstrated the services of movement, registration and civil status.
The project resulted in guidelines and software packages for public administrations in Member States. A cross-border demonstration showcase was installed in four EU countries, represented by one local authority each.
"The project finished at the end of 2003 with outstanding results," adds Werth. "It is considered a true IST success story."
INFOCITIZEN enables public administrations to collaborate more efficiently. Paper-based procedures are replaced by a software system that handles the information exchange automatically. Electronic documents are retrieved from and distributed to any public administration connected to the INFOCITIZEN network.
This at once improves the quality and the economies of public services by accelerating them, increasing reliability and fostering transparency. Citizens can access public services more easily with faster, better quality results. "Services enhanced by INFOCITIZEN are integrated, citizen-centric and can be combined to life-event-specific service bundles," he says.
The INFOCITIZEN architecture is divided into three parts:
- The INFOCITIZEN Conceptual Architecture defines business processes, information objects and the basic interoperability mechanisms. It addresses the needs of Europe's public administrations.
- The Technical Architecture defines the structure of the INFOCITIZEN Platform, including its various components and the interrelationships among them. It transforms the conceptual solution into a system-level architecture.
- The System Architecture describes the system to be built. It is the blueprint of the INFOCITIZEN software solution based on an appropriate selection of state-of-the-art technologies.
The main challenge of the Conceptual Architecture was managing the control knowledge for the interaction. Both the inputs needed for processing the service as well as the outputs produced had to be respectively received and distributed transparently for the citizen.
As a result, the service has to deliver both a "pull and push' strategy for information retrieval and delivery among public service administrations. Werth describes an "agent-based system", where software is composed of modules each with its own behaviour, or rules to follow: "Because agent-based systems are especially appropriate for supporting decentralised structures, we chose this solution as the technological base for our INFOCITIZEN Interoperability Platform."
The INFOCITIZEN consortium is looking to continue research and development of the solution and is setting its sights on the emerging e-government market for interoperability in Europe. A follow-up action plan has been developed, which signals the willingness of project partners to make the baseline vision of INFOCITIZEN a reality.
This involves both political and commercial promotion activities, commercialisation efforts, examining future national of European funded research and development projects, and a broad market study investigating mass deployment.
"The European market for cross-border interoperability solutions is immature," he adds. "Wider deployment and mass studies are needed to better explore the market."
Institute for Information Systems
German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence
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