Dr Sak Segkhoonthod, President and CEO of Electronic Government Agency (EGA) shares his vision in an exclusive interview with FutureGov on how Thailand would implement G-Cloud and further integrate e-Government.
This April, up to two hundred public sector organisations in Thailand will start to move their IT needs to the Government Cloud (G-Cloud) system.
The Electronic Government Agency (EGA) is gearing up for a ‘Smart Thailand’ campaign nationwide by piloting a three-month G-Cloud programme early this year. This aims to encourage state agencies to use IT on demand and reduce cost, paving the way for the government’s biggest IT revolution in decades.
An overwhelming response from up to thirty agencies participating in the tryout has delighted Dr Sak Segkhoonthod, President and CEO of EGA. The EGA only expected to host about ten organisations at this stage.
Training workshops, technical advice and support have been furnished by the EGA during the trial to untangle problems and improve the performance of the EGA’s helpdesk for the coming national roll-out.
The government has budgeted THB 50 mil (US$ 1.64 mil) for the development of G-Cloud. The EGA is hoping to seek a higher amount from the next fiscal year to upscale its cloud platform, and ensure all state bodies run their IT operations on the cloud, and develop innovative applications.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
Some of the thirty pioneers that have embarked on the G-Cloud venture include Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development (GISTDA), Office of Civil Service Commission and Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.
The cloud journey has been turbulent from the start. The challenges include simple selection of devices, configuration of networks, customisation of services, and the management of ‘big data.’
Segkhoonthod admits that ‘big data’ worries him the most: “We did not expect to encounter GISTDA’s large-size satellite pictures that need to be uploaded on G-Cloud.” According to Segkhoonthod, cloud specialists were sent out to tailor solution for GISTDA on how to upload large-size pictures efficiently. Similarly, other units have been taken care of with a careful and segregated solution to meet their requirements, Segkhoonthod says. He points out that each agency needs to prepare adequate bandwidth before implementing the cloud.
“With the previous on-premise hosting model, the government’s IT officers did not have configuration or specification confusion for their devices and systems, as the vendors would handle that. With the cloud, it’s the first time that end users have to identify their own devices and network specifications that best suit their needs.”
Segkhoonthod says the trial enables each adopter to become accustomed to the new paradigm. They can also see how their system would fit into the cloud model, and experience the different functions this platform can offer.
For the EGA, the testing period enhances its expertise to realise problems and difficulties in technology adoption. This stage helps end-users understand the exclusive needs within different parts of the public sector, and also better streamline the G-Cloud master plan.
With government’s complicated tasks and requirements, only private cloud has been adopted during the initial pilot scheme, while public and hybrid models are scheduled for later.
The EGA can ensure different agencies over the system security with Government Information Network (GIN), the existing network that connects all state units nationwide.
“We are now in the process of turning GIN into the Government Intranet which will be a total private network within the government,” Segkhoonthod insists. “GIN will no longer open as a normal internet network, it will be used exclusively by the government.”
In addition to having its own cloud, he EGA will create inter-cloud with providers to reduce the risk of having cloud in one place. The security issue will be ensured and service-level agreement will be accredited.
“We will form a cloud alliance among service providers to set up regulations, standard of services, and a security framework. The EGA will also push forward toward a cloud auditing system that ensures the reliability of the service,” he says.
The future of Thailand’s G-Cloud
After the introduction of G-Cloud, the EGA plans to create a cloud market platform, the concept is envisaged to support Apple’s App Store or Android Market. This means the private sector can also co-create the software with the government and relevant authorities procuring cloud services.
“Let me call it Government Application Centre,” says Segkhoonthod.
According to him, the EGA will invite software developers — both big software houses and individual talented programmers — to develop cloud-based applications, software and services - from office systems to payment engines that meet the needs and have been accredited for government use under a pay-per-use concept.
“It is a value-add of the G-Cloud,” says Segkhoonthod. He explains that this plan will help the government cut down software spending, reduce IT development cycle and maintenance time, and foster an IT eco-system for the government.
“Public sector will not only enjoy the suitable applications, but also be able to stop using that software at anytime without much loss, as it will only pay for monthly operational costs,” he says.
According to Segkhoonthod, the EGA is now co-ordinating closely with both international software companies and local software authorities. All of them agreed on the concept of the cloud market, saying that this is the way the G-Cloud should move forward which would create win-win situations.
“In my opinion, I would like to welcome all software developers, big or small, to use their creativity and imagination to build innovative software for the government. The government’s tasks are large scale and very complex. If you can produce only one basic application that all agencies countrywide can rely on, it would generate a huge profit,” he notes.
Segkhoonthod also explains that a committee led by his agency will supervise the regulations and criteria used to select cloud services, which service providers will need to comply with.
Segkhoonthod admits that inter-departmental electronic correspondence management system (eCMS) is top on the list of most wanted applications.
“Currently, all agencies already have their own eCMS system. The EGA will not encourage them to use the new system, but will establish the government interoperability framework to bridge these different systems to foster effective inter-departmental commuications,” he says.
The other application that would be highly-needed is basic office work flow management including project tracking system, human resource management, and disbursement, among other packages.
Segkhoontod would like to see shared data on G-Cloud being used smartly to serve people and improve citizens’ quality of life.
The question is: “How can we have citizen’s registered ID on the G-Cloud so that agencies can use it instantly to improve their services to people?” Better information access enables agencies to streamline data management, while delivering better services to people. This clarity also saves time spent in asking people to fill in forms at a service counter. It also means citizens will no longer have to bring copies of registered documents with them, among other errands.
“Actually, the EGA already spoke with Ministry of Interior about this concept, and received agreement as everybody wants to see the concept of smart ID card being adopted widely,” Segkhoontod reveals.
Visions and Difficulties
As the EGA’s CEO, Segkhoonthod has a dream to deliver e-government to all citizens as he believes this will improve peoples’ quality of life and improve the country’s economic well-being. “I do not dare to hope that all citizens can access all e-services from home, but at least they should be able to do some, such as electronic tax filing.”
However, the obstacles of G-Cloud deployment is the attitude among the authorities over the “openness” of data and shared information.
“They just don’t want to share their information with other agencies,” he admits, and says “The EGA needs to promote and change this attitude by convincing them that sharing information will benefit both government and citizens.”
“The more we share, the better we are,” he affirms. “With the benefit of G-Cloud technology, I believe that government agencies can focus on their mission, not a complex IT anymore. Their work to serve citizens will be faster, and smoother, and improve the quality of their lives.”