The EC's massive data interchange project, IDA, enters its second phase despite slow progress in its first three years.
The Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA) programme started in 1995 with the aim of creating telematics networks and services between member state governments, public administrations and EU institutions. The main goals were cost effectiveness and maximum interoperability.
The first programme was originally planned to last three years and now enters its second stage. New projects and budgets have been submitted, and IDA II is set to begin in early 1998.
Rainer Zimmermann, head of unit for the IDA programme, admits that progress has been slow, and perhaps more difficult than was first expected. But he remains optimistic that IDA can achieve its ambitious objectives.
"Sometimes it is difficult to see all that we do. We implement everything that goes beyond the Commission's telecomms center. What we have really achieved in the last three years is the bureaucratic framework to begin the real work," he said.
Zimmermann is proud of what has already been accomplished by the programme, and points to over 30 inter-administration information services already running as evidence of the its success.
"One telematics success story is the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products in London. It is easy to be cynical about virtual offices or companies, but the agency has become a virtual organisation," he said.
"It is easily accessible regardless of location, and it works in a coherent way. This is the kind of data flow and administration, which is a pre-condition for properly involving the citizen, we are aiming for," he said.
The plans for IDA II are based on a more slimmed-down and longer term model. Some of the 'sectoral' projects (customs and taxes) will no longer be funded from the IDA budget, but the 1995-1997 programme will remain largely intact. The draft budget is for Ecu24 million a year for five years.
Zimmermann's goals for the IDA programme remain unchanged from the optimistic forecasts of 1995.
"All European institutions using a common network totally independent of where they are, just as people use the telephone today. This will require a variety of services: authentication, access control, data management. But I am optimistic we will get there," he said.
As Zimmermann knows, if IDA can deliver the seamless network, the Ecu160 million already spent on the programme will represent enormous long term savings for all EU institutions.
Work within the Commission is more focused on establishing an efficient and homogeneous working environment. The IDA programme is also driving towards an IT standard for EU institutions.
Introducing electronic mail on the X.400 standard across the Commission, and the move to Windows NT servers, are examples of IDA initiatives.
A particular focus of the IDA programme, both in the past and in the future, is harnessing technology to improve committee work.
"We are spending a lot of our resources in helping committees become paperless and more efficient. The big argument a year ago was in what format do you send documents? But now we are all using PDF (portable document format), and there are no more problems," Zimmermann said.
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