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Toward interoperability in EU-wide e-government

Overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to set up a company in your own country is complicated enough; doing it elsewhere can be even more difficult. An architecture that allows different public administrations in different countries to interoperate offers one solution.

"Interoperability is currently the hot topic in e-government," notes Themis Tambouris, the project manager of the IST programme-funded project "With our system a public administration would be able to integrate its services with those of other providers operating in other fields and in other countries securely over the Internet." With the potential to lead to an EU-wide secure intranet for public administrations, the architecture is defined as a Unitary European Network (UEN) bringing together the distributed and autonomous systems of different administrations into a common cooperative framework. Though the project is focusing on a usage scenario of public administrations dealing with companies that want to establish subsidiaries in other EU states, the potential benefits of the system are widespread for citizens and public administrations in general. "In essence the system enables one-stop, cross-border e-government services. Say you want to set up a business in another country, this would typically involve having to contact multiple public administrations in that country and your country to obtain the information and documents you need. With all of these services would be available over the Internet through an easy-to-use interface," Tambouris explains. "The system is designed to be easy to update for public administrations to provide services efficiently and easy for citizens to obtain them." By using open standards such as XML, the architecture overcomes interoperability problems between the proprietary and legacy systems of different public administrations. "There are three dimensions to overcoming interoperability problems: firstly at the organisational level, where public administrations need to learn to cooperate and end their insularity; secondly at the technical level by allowing different proprietary systems to work together; and thirdly at the semantic level by making different systems understand each other," Tambouris says. By the time the project ends in October, the project partners aim to have "achieved an architecture that solves many of the existing difficulties of interoperability. Trials in Italy and Greece over the coming months are expected to prove the functionality of the system ahead of plans to commercialise." The potential for it to be adopted by public administrations across Europe is high, given the increasing interest of EU Member States in applying e-government solutions. "Citizens are driving the rollout of e-government because they want to see the public sector provide services as efficiently as the private sector," the project manager notes. Contact:,Themis Tambouris,Centre for Research and Technology Hellas,Informatics And Telematics Institute (ITI),Km 6, Charilaou-Thermi Road,Po Box 361,GR-57001 Thermi-Thessaloniki,Greece,Tel: +30-2310-891588,Fax: +30-2310-891544,E-mail: tambouris@uom.grPublished by the IST Results service which brings you online ICT news and analysis on the emerging results from the European Commission's Information Society Technologies research initiative. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.