Saturday, August 08, 2015

Tools for a New Ireland

The challenges Ireland faces in the modern world are new and daunting. Technology and the Internet have created conditions within which Ireland is competing with Singapore, threatened by ISIS, and selling to China.  Multi-national corporations that are based on technology and the Internet are both threats and opportunities, yet they operate at a level that is completely alien to the state administration functions that we operate today.

This is not to say that the current administrative functions are remaining idle. There are pockets of capability, projects underway, and champions of innovation across the public sector that are all attempting to bridge the gap between legacy service delivery, and the changing environment within which we operate. What we need to do is to recognise and harness those islands of capability, amplify them, and extend them across the public service.

I recommend the establishment of 'Executive Independent Functions' (EIF), most likely in the Department of the Taoiseach, run by technology professionals (not civil servants) outside of the pay scales and career structures of the civil service. Three functions that should be established immediately are a Chief Data Officer, Chief Information Security Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. The existing office of the Chief Scientist should be incorporated into it.

  • The Chief Data Officer would be responsible for the data protection commissioner, but also for the data protection practices of the public service such as the HSE and An Garda Síochana. The CDO would also be responsible for advising on commercial data strategies related to FDI. 
  • The Chief Information Security Officer would be responsible for 'cyber security' both in government, in the state, and on the island.  She would be responsible for advising on security related foreign relations, cloud strategies, threat management, the development of both offensive and defensive capability in cyber security.
  • The Chief Marketing Officer would be responsible for Brand Ireland, unifying messaging and imaging across Bord Bia, Bord Fáilte, and the IDA amongst others. There would be a strong emphasis on digital marketing - social, online, and video.
The centralisation of these functions would ensure that Ireland could attract top talent for the administration of these critical domains.  Their funding levels would be relatively small - €10m for each EIF should be adequate, as the execution of their strategies would be within existing departments and budgets.  It would be imperative that statutory rules were established where these Executives retained signoff power over all function within their domains, in order that they are not toothless.  In order to preserve the 'interests of State', the Taoiseach could overrule them.

There may be other functions - but increasingly the apparatus of State needs to stop acting like a Victorian leviathan, and develop more agile capability.

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