Public administrations, businesses and citizens across Europe have common goals to achieve. The most important of these, is the need to interact and share information and knowledge. An obvious approach to accomplish this is through the help of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), which provides recommendations on the "macro" interoperability aspects that digital public services should fulfil. The European Interoperability Reference Architecture (EIRA) details the "micro" implementation/ practical aspects of the EIF. “Especially when it comes to the public sector, interoperability is a MUST,” says Raúl Mario Abril Jiménez, EC Project Officer for the EIRA.
The European Interoperability Reference Architecture (EIRA©), a key part of the ISA² programme, documents digital solutions, identifies possibilities for reusing them, classifies and organises building blocks relevant to interoperability, all of which are used in the delivery of digital public services. It is a real interoperability booster for public administrations.
Don’t reinvent the wheel!
“Our challenge was to develop an architecture to help public administrations design their public services,” says Raúl. “I believe that everything we do is influenced by our previous experiences, our ‘back-pack’. Mine includes a huge and diverse experience in IT, gained through various senior positions in private companies in different countries.”
“And as an informatics engineer, I have a very simple principle,” he adds. “Never reinvent the wheel! It is just a waste of time and money. Member States cannot afford to pay for costly developments if these already exist somewhere in Europe. I feel it is my duty to respect the tax-paying citizens and make the best out of the allocated budgets.
Based on this principle -- never reinvent the wheel -- when I joined the Commission back in 2013, I decided to make the most out of my experience and of the comprehensive network of IT specialists I met throughout the years. I decided to simply contact the best IT people in Europe to help me make this a success story.”
EIRA is the result of a collaborative effort
“I managed to motivate these top IT people to work with me on this massive and crucial European-centred task. I set up a virtual team that includes some of the IT gurus of this world,” added Raúl. “The finest architects, our champions. These experts -- mainly from The Netherlands, Estonia and Denmark -- were conscious of the impact that our project would have on the quality of public services across Europe. I am proud to have their support.
Our challenge was to develop a reference architecture to be used by public administrations to design their digital services. We developed an alpha version of EIRA, the European Interoperability Reference Architecture, and received lots of valuable feedback from our virtual team. We started working hard, with lots of exchanges between us, to integrate our team’s feedback, improve, enhance, and validate the solution. What we have now is the result of a true collaborative effort.”
EIRA provides a common language of architecture building blocks for the design and comparison of the solution architectures of e-Government solutions;
It provides common interoperability specifications, a basis for stable interfaces between digital public services;
And, ultimately, it will provide to the Member States and Public Administrations huge cost-savings thanks to the rationalisation of the portfolio of solutions and solution building blocks (e.g. phasing out superfluous components; or making solutions more generic to be applicable and reusable in different domains);
EIRA© and TES Cartography also provide a consistent way to document and classify reusable solution building blocks, allowing reusable and interoperable solution building blocks to be found and understood more easily. EIRA is available on Joinup.
And it worked!
This strategy bore fruits! “Today EIRA is second to none in the whole world, from Japan to the United States. The European Commission is proudly leading on this front. And when I say today, I really mean it, because the world is constantly changing and we need to keep up the pace. We still have a lot of work to do, too,” Raúl adds. “We now know our shortcomings… and have identified the missing pieces, which was not the case when we started out. And, to discern what you don’t know is the key to success.
We achieved valuable results: we have today a professional, comprehensive solution, and at this stage, we know what to do and how to do it. I feel this is a big step forward!”
A moral obligation
“All Member States are not at the same maturity level,” says Raúl. “Some of them require much more attention and support: they do not necessarily have enough resources to attain the same level as our champion Member States. My moral, ethical obligation is also to support the less mature Member States and reduce the gap…”
Interoperability is not only about bits and bytes
“Coming back to interoperability, I think it is important to remind everyone that this is not only about bits and bytes,” Raúl adds. “In order for disparate and diverse public organisations and businesses to interact, and to allow the exchange of data between their respective ICT systems, there is an absolute need for well-formatted and structured data, well-organised business processes and coherent legislation among the Member States. The ultimate objective of EIRA is, of course, to support the creation and delivery of high quality digital public services to all citizens in Europe. This is why the European Interoperability Architecture action is of vital interest to policy makers, portfolio managers and ICT managers, and not only to enterprise or system architects.”
EIRA v3.00 almost ready to go
“The involvement, energy and time put in the project by our working group experts surpassed my expectations. And guess what: we received so much constructive feedback on the EIRA v3.00 that we decided to delay its launch by a few weeks, in order to have the time to properly integrate the precious feedback that we received from the group,” said Raúl.
Joinup, the platform for disseminating our solution
“Joinup is the channel that we chose for sharing our solution. Its importance is critical to us: it is the only place from which EIRA is availa ble. And if you propose a state-of-the-art solution, you better share it! Visit our pages on Joinup and also meet with our community of experts! said Raúl.
More to Come
This is surely not the end of the story! “We are currently working with the Joinup team to propose an easy way for Joinup users to link their solution with EIRA building blocks… More on this very soon, watch this space!” said Raúl.
To help policy makers, IT specialists in public administrations, and IT architects to better understand our project, we produced a video. I recommend you to have a look at it. “But beware! We wanted to have a neutral accent in English, but then something funny happened: because the pronunciation of EIRA had not been correctly done (sounded more like IRA instead of EIRA), it seemed like we were promoting a terrorist group! Fortunately, we managed to correct this quickly; after all, this is a peaceful initiative!” said Raúl.
Top reasons to use EIRA
✓ It operationalises the European Interoperability Framework from an architectural perspective
✓ It supports the design of Trans-European systems by highlighting the most salient interoperable building blocks
✓ It facilitates portfolio decision making, for example, rationalisation
✓ It promotes share and re-use of interoperability solutions
✓ It allows assessing the architectural impact of legislation