A Workshop on SOA & Web Services for ICT Solutions for Tax & Public Revenue - 19 February 2009 - Brussels, Belgium

eGov Brussels Workshop Summary

OASIS eGov Workshop 2009
Note on Proceedings by Dr Carol Cosgrove-Sacks, eGov Convenor, OASIS


PUBLIC FINANCE – ICT Solutions using SOA & Web Services


Lively discussions took place in the successful eGovernment Workshop hosted by the Belgian Federal Ministry of Finance, SPFF, in Brussels, Belgium, on February 19th. The focus was on SOA and web services used in the public sector, especially regarding finance, revenue and tax. The meeting was organized by the OASIS eGov Member Section Steering Committee.

More than 90 participants registered, coming from more than 20 countries. Speakers came from several major international organizations, including OECD, WCO, the World Bank, the European Commission and from national and regional governments, including the UK, Germany and Switzerland, and from some major enterprises. The programme prompted exchanges of views regarding future directions for SOA and web delivered services in the finance sector, based on open standards. The hosts, SPFF, provided excellent facilities and generous refreshments. OASIS support was sponsored by IBM, Microsoft and ADOBE. The follow-up eGov Workshop will be on April 17th 2009 in Washington, D. C. hosted by the World Bank.

More than 90 people registered for this Workshop, hosted by the Belgian Federal Ministry of Finance, Service Public Federal Finance (SPFF) in Brussels. Mr. Louis COLLET, Director of the SPFF and Mr Peter BROWN, Director of OASIS, welcomed the participants.

Panel One was introduced by Mr John BORRAS, of the OASIS eGov Member Section Steering Committee. The Panel focused on Advancing Open Standards in eGovernment using SOA and the web.

Mr Reidar NYBO of  OECD explained the role of the OECD Committee on Fiscal Affairs and its main products and activities, including general tax reform principles, for fairer tax systems. He said that OECD promotes open standards and net neutrality, linked to free and open markets. The global financial crisis has prompted concerns for further reform of the tax systems in the borderless world of finance needing better and more effective regulation. ICT can improve compliance and deliver better services to tax payers and promote international cooperation and exchange of information on fiscal matters. SOA and web-enabled services require good definitions. OECD uses XML and Metadata is a necessity. But there are challenges with exchange of bank data; income and wealth information is not standardized and data exchange is complicated. OECD has a Task Group for tax and accounting software and is also working on a taxonomy for standard business reporting.

Mr Xavier FOURNIER-MOREL of SQLI Consulting explained how the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, deals with around 400,000 tax declarations a year using SOA. The web application takes account of evolution of technology, the relations between the Canton and the Communes, the impact of Federal requirements, and all the integrations that have to support the business flow. Problems stem from the diverse technologies, pressure for automation to speed up tax processing, and demand for better interfaces. “Cyber tax assessors” were hired to operate automated and semi-automated declarations, with amazing increases in efficiency. By 2008, complete tax auto-routing is in progress, based on a web application. The SOA work streams gradually build from the legacy system, defining how to re-use relevant data, and offering a service to the Communes in Vaud to monitor income changes. He stressed the need for agile SOA within a good governance structure and efficient business framework, backed up with the right kind of training and a positive approach to service and interactive communication.

Mr Frank STEIMKE of the City of Bremen Finance Senate introduced the issues relating to security and interoperability, based on XML technologies. The City of Bremen developed a “killer application” for connecting registries which is now used across Germany using OSCI Transport. High priority was given to security, using W3C XML Signature and Encryption standards, with open source/free of charge components. Bremen has developed web services systems and Bremen won the 2007 EU e-Government Award for effective and efficient administration. He explained that it is mandatory to maintain Civil Registries in Germany, based on more than 20 different legacy systems. Bremen developed the XML based open standard, OSCI XMeld, an OSCI XMeld message meets all requirements and it is mandatory. Since 2007, at the Federal level, each tax payer got a unique identifier. In terms of costs and benefits, the public sector invested heavily in standards development and maintenance. But the costs of data exchange have been hugely reduced, the data quality is much better, and the whole tax process is much faster and more efficient. The next priority is OSCI v2, based on open international standards, including OASIS WS Security, with some extra specs, and it will be offered to EU projects, including PEPPOL and SPOCS. Finally Secure Access for Federated eGovernment (SAFE) is under development.

During the panel discussion, Ms Anne Troye of DG Info Society & Media, European Commission, asked about OECD work to encourage open standards. Mr Nybo stressed that OECD is only a coordinator – the issue of open standards is more at the national administrative level.

Mr Pim van der EIJK of OASIS introduced the second Panel, focusing on security and identity. Mr Frank LEYMAN, Manager of International Relations of the EU STORK project, explained that the goal is to deliver identity services for citizens, enabling citizens of third countries to use their home ID card in their country of residence, defining common rules and specs to assist mutual recognition across borders. The STORK project embraces 13 EU member states and Iceland. The results will be available for all in the EU. The divergent legislative environment is causing problems. He explained that the STORK project will launch a series of pilots to promote cross-border authentication, student mobility, e-delivery of docs across borders, and a pilot about change of address. Levels of trust are an issue. The project is still in early stages.

Mr Dirk Van ROOY of the European Commission, DG Info Society & Media, talked about the work of the DG in “Trust and Security” in the information society and the knowledge economy. Trust becomes an increasingly important issue. IT supports the implementation of the “4 freedoms” in the EU, and especially the free exchange of data and knowledge. Security, Privacy and trust issues could risk the full exploitation of the info society, and could be a threat to democracy. SOA and web-delivered services support a huge range of collaborations, but trustworthy ID management under the individual’s control is a key issue. The 1995 EU Data Protection Directive focused on privacy protection, and the EU FP7 Research Programme has a big section on Trust, including risk management and governance. The DG has called for proposals in ID management and trust/privacy/security. He explained also the EU ICT Policy Support Programme, which tries to bridge the gap between technology development and actual deployment, promoting best practices and public-private partnerships.

Mr Tony ROWLEY of the British HMRC talked about gaining shared services momentum. In UK, government gives high priority to shared services. A major example is the UK Government Gateway, which successfully processed more than 5 million self assessment tax returns in 2008. He explained how HMRC is moving from business strategy to IT delivery, and the challenges of mixing projects and real strategic change. He focused on enterprise architecture and how it contributes to strategic solutions, with a powerful component applications model. Legacy systems represent a major challenge, and how to move from the real “brown field” of the present to the SOA future. Virtualised systems offer big advantages. The Transformational Government Strategy Agenda, with shared services, is generally supported but there are many difficult challenges.

The Chairman asked the speakers to explain how they see standards in their work. The speakers were cautious; they agreed that standards are vital to support interfaces and component interactions, stressing the core requirement of supporting interoperability.

Panel Three on the theme “International Cross-Border Use Cases regarding SOA in Tax & Revenue” was introduced by Dr Yann BURTIN of the World Bank. He explained the role of the World Bank in eGovernment and the investments in transformational government in Africa and other developing countries and emerging markets. He stressed the view of the Bank that investment in automation is part of its commitment to “transformational government”, securing more transparency in the public sector and promoting efficiency and effectiveness.

Ms Mariette LOKIN of the Netherlands Ministry of Justice was regrettably not able to travel, as a result of a train breakdown, and she was on a train that was blocked on the line. Her presentation would be distributed online.

Mr Satya Prasad SAHU of the World Customs Organization spoke about technical work underlying the operation of the Harmonised System of tariffs, the WTO Rules of Origin and related tariff and customs matters, especially the automation of processes for cross-border trade. SOA is a key enabler of the “single window” as a means for customs and trade data management, and taking care of their requirements, e.g. security, .public health, quarantine, quantitative and tax issues. Modern customs services are an enhancer of competitiveness and trade facilitation. He explained C21, the customs regime for the 21st century, to support security and trade facilitation, adopted in WCO in 2008.Coordinated border management is increasingly important and increasingly automated, but there are significant organizational, legal and technical challenges. WCO is developing its customs data model v.3.0, with messaging implementation/XML guidelines. Mr Sahu explained the services provided through the Single Window and how SOA could drive future evolution.

Mr Jan AUGUSTIJNEN of IBM Belgium spoke about the Multi-Annual Strategic Plan (MASP) of the European Commission regarding the movement of all goods in and out of the EU and across the territory, in transit, or temporarily in the customs union, such as trade samples. The MASP is about coordination, and interoperability is to key to success.

It is desirable to have all the data exchange based on industry/consortia standards, but many countries use different standards, and even different ports in the same country use different standards. The European Commission (DG Tax and Customs) has designed its own data model, but it is different from WCO and different again from IATA for air freight. In his view, SOA offers the tools for an eCustoms framework, in an enterprise application that is standardized and open, compliant with the EU requirements and based on a “build once, use many” approach. But on a technical level, is the OASIS WS stack sufficiently well-defined? How can OASIS and WCO cooperate more effectively?

Dr Burtin explained that the EU MASP is mandatory, calling on the participants to take note that SOA is no longer optional. Andreas Ebert of Microsoft asked about the lifecycle of nomenclatures and components, and the speakers explained about WCO conformance testing. All the speakers pointed to ebXML as a useful element of an SOA solution. Regarding ebXML, Dr Cosgrove-Sacks commented on the role of the eBusiness MoU, the contribution of OASIS to it, and the need to ensure effective interoperability. Dr Burtin mentioned the need for governance structures to also be considered when adopting SOA and the opportunities to exchange experience and best practices among countries at differing levels of economic development.

Panel Four on “Citizen-Centred Solutions for SOA and Web Services” was introduced by Dr  Aniyan VARGHESE of the DG Info Society & Media from the European Commission. Dr Varghese talked briefly about the DG Info Society projects, including SOA to support cross-border transactions.

Mr Andreas EBERT of Microsoft raised the issue of how efficient are tax offices, offering some interesting data and some observations. He spoke about the concept of “citizens” and the issue of trust between different groups of citizens in their public administration and the willingness of different age groups to adapt to the digital world. A modern tax system needs to be inclusive, meeting the needs of non-digital users as well as those ready to go online. Microsoft has developed a Citizen Service Platform, with several layers, which is an SOA application framework, addressing municipalities and regional governments and agencies from the public sector. Standards for SOA are important, particularly to support interoperability, especially the OASIS WS stack. What about “cloud computing”? Software as a service (SAAS) and SOA go together in the practical development of cloud computing.  Open standards have been used from day one in the development of cloud computing platforms, especially from OASIS. Finally he talked about the Document Interoperability Initiative, with implementers’ guides to both ODF and OOXL.

Mr Ronny Van de MAELE of iDA Media Foundry/ADOBE addressed the issue of on-line tax filing and how it benefits the citizen. He recalled the recent evolution of tax forms, “clever” PDF forms based on XML, and the rich internet applications currently available together with the many web 2.0 ideas for much more user-friendly forms. There are also many attractive off-line solutions. He explained the extent to which the PDF format is trusted and secure, based on ISO standards (ISO 32000), and easily searchable which gives good ease of use. He gave the example of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), responsible for collecting tax and customs revenue. SARS runs its collection services on ADOBE technology, with simplified tax returns and modernized PAYE rules. The future? What about the “cloud”? ADOBE has developed systems  permitting “occasionally connected filing”, allowing intermittent internet connections. This is highly relevant to the future of cloud computing, especially where broadband connectivity and even electricity supplies are less than 100 per cent. Scalability, ease of use, and interoperability are keys for the future of web services.

Mr Pim van der EIJK of OASIS kindly delivered the closing presentation, in place of Mr Labiouse who was unwell and could not participate in the Workshop. He talked about convergence in messaging frameworks across organizational boundaries, and here interoperability is a key requirement. ebXML provides technical and semantic interoperability, based on OASIS, UN/CEFACT and ISO standards. ebXML is widely deployed, e.g. Norway’s social security, UK NHS and Netherlands Justice Ministry. AS2 offers a framework for the use of EDI, and governments in Germany, Sweden, and others have developed Web Services based frameworks to meet government requirements. The new ebXML messaging 3.0 OASIS Standards is compatible with WSI interoperability profiles and supports most SOA applications, now called ebMS3.0. The OASIS WS* standards work with ebMS3.0.

In the Closing Session, Dr Carol COSGROVE-SACKS, the eGov Convenor of OASIS, thanked the participants, speakers and moderators for their contributions to the success of the Workshop. She briefly summarized the main issues that had been raised by the speakers in each of the Sessions, highlighting some of the topics where open standards may be particularly relevant. She thanked the Belgian Federal Ministry of Finance SPFF for their generous hosting of the Workshop and the excellent facilities and refreshments.

Mr Mohammed KAMMACHI, President of the OASIS Group in the SPFF, gave a closing address, explaining the role of the OASIS Group within the SPFF of the Ministry of Finance and his Ministry’s commitment to open standards. He thanked OASIS for the excellent cooperation in making the eGov Workshop in Brussels a success. Finally, he encouraged the participants to note the follow-up eGov Workshop that would be organized by OASIS in collaboration with the World Bank in Washington D.C. on April 17th 2009, where video links and video streaming will be available.

Further information on the eGov Workshop in Washington will soon be available on the OASIS Events website – www.oasis-open.org/events.

Carol Cosgrove-Sacks
February 20 2009

Copies of the slide presentations may be viewed at: eGov Brussels Workshop Proceedings