July 19, 2021

Donatas Zaveckas: Registry Office, The Customs – What’s Next?

When last summer the systems of the Registry Office “were floating”, the country’s technology community didn’t just blindly criticised the moldy public sector but also proposed several rational solutions.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Registry Office, the data was only transferred from one “warehouse” to a similar one, located in the premises of the former Vilnius University of Educational Sciences.

It has a signboard announcing “New Data Center”. Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

It is clear that such changes were not planned by technology professionals but by state “professionals” ‘wandering’ the corridors of public institutions. They rarely invest in increasing their competence, using up-to-date practice or raising general understanding of  current technology trends and the changes of infrastructure management paradigms.

The wave of data theft across the country raised businesses’ concerns withfinding security solutions and doing everything they can to close potential loopholes and eliminating possible threats.

The Registry Office case was an excellent opportunity for other government agencies to ask themselves a simple question: “What threatens our IT infrastructure? How do we manage it? ” However, the public sector is run according to some incomprehensible standards. It is no longer possible to write them off as a regular part of  a flawed public procurement system.

Folk wisdom says – trouble loves company. A couple of days ago, the Customs Information System crashed. It didn’t just crash – it has been down for three days now. As a result, there are kilometers long queues of trucks at the border, drivers stuck in cabs, disrupted flow of goods. On top of that there is the  ecological loss – the engines are kept on due to the cold weather outside.

The report distributed by the Lithuanian Customs states that the failure was caused by a problem with technical infrastructure triggered by the technological and moral depreciation of the Server.

I wonder which was morally worn out first – the server or human resources?

If this systemic failure happened in business, it would simply go bankrupt. What should be done so that the practice of managing state technological infrastructures catches up with the ones used in business?

1. Managers of state-owned enterprises must have at least a basic understanding of what constitutes their technology infrastructure, be able to build the right team of specialists, or ask preventive questions promptly.

2.The institution’s technology manager (CTO, CIO) must be selected with the help of professionals, and the salary must match the market price of such specialists. No professionals will work for the state for the money they could earn in a week in a public sector. .

Another destructive thing is that such an expert, whose salary varies several times in the market, will open the doors of corruption to compensate everything employer doesn’t pay.

3. The technology manager should report directly to the institution manager and not be hierarchically pushed to the end of the human resources chain, somewhere near the housekeepers and cleaners. He must be given authority to make decisions and opportunities to be accountable. Often, public sector problems lie not in poor financial situation but poor decision-making. It is also influenced by the internal culture, the fear of the security services (there is no need to be afraid if all is well), and the fear of making decisions. The state does not need cowards. It needs leaders.

4. The criterion of the lowest price is the constant robbery of the state. The state has a habit of buying not what it needs but what costs the least. In the case of IT services, this approach is pure evil. If I were to work in the civil service, for advice on how to balance the public interest and possible corruption threats  I would turn to Diana Vilytė, the former head of the Public Procurement Office. She is currently supervising certain areas in the Registry Office and should by now be familiar with the specifics of the issue.

5. When planning IT budgets, the costs of daily infrastructure maintenance must be separated from the project funds. There must be a line for training and switching to different payment models. As technology professionals’ prices rise, it is necessary to provide adequate budgets for human resources to attract professionals to the public sector. Otherwise, we will never emerge from this hell.

6. Lithuania is shining brighter and brighter on technological world maps, but for some reason public tenders are only held in Lithuanian language. Do we not want to invite international suppliers who already have representative offices here? I would also allow them to implement projects to demonstrate good IT project implementation practices.

7. State institutions should be more confident in choosing external service providers, be it communication, marketing services, or IT infrastructure management. It is crucial to purchase goods and services from multiple suppliers. There are some cases where 80% of the IT budget is directed to one supplier or brand and this enables corruption..

8. The Committee for the Development of the Information Society under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania must rediscover its clear mission, oversee the most significant state projects.

Because when a carriage is pulled in different directions by a swan, pike, and crayfish, the carriage stays in its current position.