ERCIM News No.48, January 2002 [contents]

Cooperative Processes for e-Government

by Carlo Batini and Massimo Mecella

The Italian approach to e-government is based on (i) the development and deployment of a nationwide Public Administration Network, a ‘secure Intranet’ interconnecting all the public administrations, and (ii) an overlying common Cooperative Architecture, a distributed computing model in which each administration offers its services through Cooperative Gateways. Recent experience shows that the design of these services should be based on co-operative processes.

E-government is the civil and political conduct of government, including service provision, using information and communication technologies. The modernisation of government using new technologies should follow three main directions:

  • Electronic Service Delivery: provision of services to citizens and businesses; this often requires the integration of different systems, in ways that are possibly more complex than in other application domains.
  • Electronic Democracy: online polling; eg, the new legislatures in Scotland and Wales are experimenting with electronic voting systems in their chambers.
  • Electronic Governance: digital support for policy and decision making, group work between ministers and senior civil servants working on policy formulation, development and management, and with policy advisors.

E-government systems targeted to Electronic Service Delivery are currently being investigated by both researchers and practitioners, as they constitute the basis for supporting efforts in all other directions.
In Italy, the need for a better coordination of efforts and investment in the area of government information systems led the Italian parliament to create, in 1993, the Authority for Information Technology in the Public Administration (AIPA). More recently, the Italian government has activated the e-Government Action Plan, with the aim of achieving inter-administration co-operation for Electronic Service Delivery by the end of 2002.

The architecture of the nationwide Public Administration Network; the gray elements (Transport service and Basic service layers, and some CIS’s of Area) have been implemented; the white elements (Cooperative Service layer and the nationwide CIS) are in the design stage.
The architecture of the nationwide Public Administration Network; the gray elements (Transport service and Basic service layers, and some CIS’s of Area) have been implemented; the white elements (Cooperative Service layer and the nationwide CIS) are in the design stage.

As shown in the figure, the initiatives undertaken by AIPA and by the e-Government Action Plan include:

  • The definition, design and deployment of a nationwide Public Administration Network to connect public administrations and enable the development of cooperative applications. The network architecture consists of three layers offering Transport Services, Basic Services and Cooperative Services. The term Cooperative Architecture refers to the distributed computing model on which the development and deployment of all new cooperative applications among administrations will be based. Each administration will be able to exchange services with other administrations through Cooperative Gateways. The Cooperative Service layer will offer a set of technologies, application protocols and services (eg, repositories, gateways, cooperative process managers, etc) enabling effective co-operation among administrations. The design for this layer has not yet been completed, as a number of initiatives are now experimenting with and validating different solutions.
  • The launching of pilot projects, adopting different technologies, architectures and approaches to co-operation, in order to develop specific cooperative information systems (CIS’s) in various areas (eg, territorial and cadastral systems, services to enterprises, etc). It is expected that these systems, and others yet to be implemented, will later be integrated. The main technologies that have been evaluated in these cooperative projects are OMG Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), SUN Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), Message Oriented Middleware and SUN Java Message Service (JMS), Microsoft .NET, traditional technologies (eg, file transfer, message switching) and web technologies (eg, servlets, script server pages, HTML/HTTP, XML).
  • The definition and (imminent) deployment of a nationwide Cooperative Information System. The nationwide CIS will be developed on top of the Cooperative Service layer based on the Cooperative Architecture. From our experiences so far, we are convinced that a viable approach to the design of public administration services implies macro-process technological improvement instead of deep business process reengineering.

In a deep business process reengineering approach, redundant processes in specific organisational units would be eliminated, and some activities would be re-assigned to new organisational units: this would eliminate many information exchanges, thus addressing the main issue of the excessive fragmentation of responsibilities among administrations. Unfortunately, certain issues hamper large-scale radical changes in the short and medium term, such as the impossibility of assigning new legal responsibilities to given organisational units (due to the difficulty of changing existing laws), the lack of specific skills and resources in some public administrations, the time needed to create such skills, and so on.

In the technological improvement approach, technologies can be used to (semi)automate macro-processes through cooperative applications, thus obtaining cooperative processes. An approach of this type does not necessarily require initial radical changes, neither in the macro-process structure nor in the internal processes. Each administration interfaces the others by offering specific services, independently of their realisation, and therefore internal changes do not impact on the macro-process, as they are hidden by the service interfaces presented to other administrations.

Separate administrations are thus loosely coupled, and each can reengineer its own processes without impacting on the cooperative process and related applications. Later, when the internal processes have been improved and new services are ready to be offered, the cooperative process will be modified, thus obtaining global and more substantial improvements through a more radical macro-process reengineering.


Please contact:
Carlo Batini, AIPA (Authority for IT in the Public Administration) and University of Milan ‘Bicocca’, Italy
Tel: +39 06 8526 4310
Massimo Mecella, University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’, Italy