The Future Tech Challenge (FTC) is a pilot initiative led by DPER to connect and collaborate across the wider ecosystem, and engage in transformative innovation by experimenting with, and applying new technology to address pressing public sector problems and opportunities that deliver improved services to the public. Drive innovation using emerging technology, enhance collaboration, meet National strategic priorities, generate knowledge & learnings and develop prototyped solutions.
The Irish Public Service Innovation Strategy “Making Innovation Real”, articulates the importance of promoting the testing of new technologies through collaboration across the Irish Public Service, and with others from outside the Public Service.
To devise a mechanism for the safe and legal application of new technologies through collaboration across the Public Service and with others from outside the Public Service.
Engaged with a number of Multinational Companies (MNC), AWS, Cisco and IBM, to understand how their experience and expertise could contribute to the Government’s ambition.
In addition, the Transformation Delivery Unit consulted with the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Government's Chief Procurement Officer, and the department’s legal advisor to coordinate the regulatory requirements of the challenge.
The TDU and all supporting stakeholders committed to coordinating a pilot competition among Public Service bodies and that each MNC would offer a prize (of work, product, materials or consultancy from the relevant MNC) up to value of €100,000 to the most worthy and impactful challenges posed by Public Service bodies.
In Q2 2021, the TDU issued a call for applications from public service bodies under three categories; cloud computing, remote connectivity, and artificial intelligence. The management and shortlisting of applications was coordinated through an independent panel comprised of experts from the IDA, Enterprise Ireland (EI) and MNCs. Senior technologists from each of the MNCs were assigned to mentor each project to further develop their proposal and project plan to a point where it was suitable for presentation. The TDU in collaboration with the three MNS hosted a final pitch event, where projects presented proposals and project plan to a panel comprised of experts from, OGCIO, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), UCC and IDA.
One winner was selected for each of the three categories. as follows:
- Cloud Technology supported by Amazon Web Services. Winner: Monaghan County Council (incl. DLRD, Mayo, Louth, Cavan, Sligo, Longford, Leitrim, Clare). Project MyCoCo – The initiative has enabled the project team to digitise circa 20 services provided to Contractors, Solicitors, Public Representatives and the General Public. Some of the impacts include the fact that users can now submit service requests, make online payments and communicate asynchronously with the local authority 24/7 rather than waiting to phone during office hours, posting letters and cheques, or visiting local authority offices. Further, the average turnaround time for service requests has reduced from 3 weeks to 24 hours and the number of daily phone/email and in person queries has dramatically reduced, hence freeing staff to complete other tasks. Lastly, in terms of scalability, there will be significant cost savings to the local government sector in terms of developing a national build-to-share solution hosted in AWS.
- Remote Connectivity supported by Cisco. Winner: Health Services Executive (incl National University Ireland Galway (NUIG) & Western Development Commission). Project: Clare Island Digital Health Living Lab. Citizens living on Clare Island who are part of the project are currently in the process of remote monitoring for specific health conditions. All patients involved in the project will begin to receive remote monitoring equipment in Q4 2022, with interventions to commence in Q1 2023.
- Artificial Intelligence supported by IBM. Winner: Department of Agriculture. Project: Better detection of Bovine TB using AI. All regional veterinary offices who are engaged in the project to implement technology to detect Bovine TD have been identified and will introduce the proposed solution at the end of Q4. A report on the predicted results and evaluation against actual cases of TB in the test and pilot periods will be provided in Q1 2023.
The winner of each of the three categories commenced a 14 month long project with the partnering MNC to develop and deploy their solution in a live environment. Specifically, 36 public service bodies submitted proposals that involved collaborating with industry. In addition to the 3 winning projects, all shortlisted projects further engaged with the partnering companies to explore the use of emerging technology.
A further 3 projects successfully secured funding through DPER national Public Service Innovation Fund. DPER will publish a series of case studies outlining how this technology performed in the challenge following the solution being put in place in Q1, 2023
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The aim was to implement a number of key strategic Irish cross governmental priorities. It succeeded in addressing Goals 3.1 and 3.2 of 'Making Innovation Real', which called on DPER to collaborate with industry to investigate better use of technology to solve problems facing the Public Service. It also achieved recommendation 5 of the Cruinniú GovTech report calling on Governments in becoming exemplar in the delivery of digital services and the adoption of innovation.
In relation to these priorities, the initiative devised a mechanism for experimenting with new technologies in the Public Service in a safe and legal manner. Provide solutions that are tailored to the needs and expectations of our public. Increased co-creation and collaboration through the establishment of new partnerships Leveraged the knowledge from public and private sector who have implemented successful innovations to assist those elsewhere.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The status of this project is currently active. The three winning projects are currently in a piloting/testing phase, whereby all initial development has been completed, and projects have been deployed to target user groups for testing and feedback. All projects are expected to be completed by Q1 2023.
In addition, work is underway for a second iteration of the Future Tech Challenge which seeks to enhance collaborations and partnerships with the strong SME sector in Ireland. The second iteration may feature adjustments to the administrative process, based on learnings and feedback received from the first iteration.
Collaborations & Partnerships
All three MNC's, IDA & Enterprise Ireland, SFI and UCC provided subject matter experts to evaluate projects throughout the selection process. Consultations were held with the Government's Chief Procurement Officer/Legal Advisor to overcome potential challenges in bringing together the public and private sector for this initiative. The Government CIO was consulted to ensure the initiative could also fulfil the recommendations of the Cruinniu Govtech report and other relevant strategies.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The FTC was the first public service initiative of its kind to use a cross governmental approach to solve technology related problems through collaboration with the private sector. It introduced a range of new technologies in the Public Service and provides guides to their potential application in the Public Service. The TDU were able to devise a mechanism for the safe and legal application of new innovative technological solutions and an opportunity for public/private sector collaboration.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The Future Tech Challenge directly contributes to enhancing the innovative capacity of the Irish public service through collaboration and engagement with the wider innovation ecosystem. The Clare Island project, (HSE in partnership with Cisco), seeks to use technology to proactively monitor the health of islanders with non-communicable disease, such as diabetes. This project also seeks to improve access to quality essential health care services to the island population, and aims to reduce unnecessary travel to the mainland for essential healthcare. The project will develop capacity to create further e-health solutions using emerging technologies to support early warning signs, risk reduction and management of health risks. BovineTB can significantly Impact the economic security and stability of the agricultural sector. This project works in developing knowledge and associated tools to support farmers to Identify, mitigate and reduce the Impact and spread of BovineTB on their farm.
Challenges and Failures
Perception of indebtedness or of unfair future market prevention, restriction or distortion: Overcome through a number of solutions, including:
- Comprehensive consultation with the Government Chief Procurement Officer and its own Legal Advisor to ensure the pilot's legality and propriety compliance.
- Development of terms of engagement which included a number of specific stipulations to ensure the initiative maintained transparency, equal treatment and value for money as core principles.
- Commitment to publish case studies online in respect of all attempted solutions, to outline how the problem was framed and step by step, how the relevant technology was used to solve the problem.
Potential criticisms regarding the exclusion of SMEs: Overcome by upfront commitment to a further iteration that would invite collaborations with Small and Medium Enterprises. DPER are currently in discussions with Enterprise Ireland and OGCIO in this relation to this.
Conditions for Success
DPER has set the mechanism to enhance the probability that sustained benefit will be derived by the Civil and Public Services from this initiative. DPER have committed to publishing case studies online in respect of all attempted solutions, to outline how the problem was framed and step by step, how the relevant technology was used to solve the problem. It will coordinate further iterations of the challenge, which seeks to create further collaboration support with Small and Medium Enterprises, and are currently in discussions with Enterprise Ireland and OGCIO in this relation to this. Specifically, out of the nine shortlisted projects, six are still engaged with industry to find digital solutions to address identified. Additionally, it encouraged co-creation, and helped establish new partnerships, while leveraging the knowledge from public and private sector who have implemented successful innovations to assist those elsewhere.
The overall aim of the Public Service Innovation Strategy is to embed innovation in the public service. To this end, all initiatives coordinated by DPER are planned in anticipation of it being replicated across the public sector. A key feature of the project is to encourage the initiation of projects within organisations and this allows DPER to identify projects that have scaling potential and replicability potential in other areas of the Civil and Public Service. This will enable value for money by preventing a fragmented approach to project creation ('mushrooming'). In a similar manner, the competition itself sought projects that had significant potential to scale across the sector and/or transfer to other sectors.
The FTC the initiative introduced a new mechanism for innovation to public service that emphasized collaboration with the wider public service and with private industry. The lessons learnt from this will support the second iteration of the challenge. The variety of projects submitted by applicants resulted in the project team considering expanding the project category to include additional specific emerging tech solutions such as Internet of Things, VR/Solutions, NLP AI solutions, mHealth and robotic process automation. An alternative approach to the application & evaluation process is being considered, which would include public/civil services bodies submitting a problem application and SME pitching to develop the solution to a panel of senior experts.
The MyCoCo project offers an online platform to provide diverse services that can be scaled up with an extension of services. In addition, the solution can be moved to a national platform to deliver services. To date, the project has already scaled to now providing circa 20 services. It has also been implemented across 13 other local authorities.
The Clare Island Digital Health Living Lab project aims to prove the system success and then create a design pattern for replication to other islands and remote communities. As the proposed technologies and solutions are modular, they should be readily scalable.
The project to better detect Bovine TB will be the first such animal disease risk protection system in Ireland. Once established, the department are looking to apply the methodology to other infectious diseases of livestock, whilst the system will be applicable to other bovine diseases in other species and other exotic diseases.
- Identifying or Discovering Problems or Opportunities - learning where and how an innovative response is needed
- Generating Ideas or Designing Solutions - finding and filtering ideas to respond to the problem or opportunity
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
5 January 2023