Implementing Interoperability in the Government

Crishantha Nanayakkara
10 min readApr 1


A critical evaluation

Digital Government Strategy

In government digital transformation efforts, most of the government institutions tend to build their own digital transformation efforts / strategies rather thinking on the “Whole-Of-Government” aspect. There is a limited collaboration among them and usually they are reluctant to share the information to other external parties. This is purely due to lack of strategical thinking in most of the e-Government efforts.

In a typical Digital Government journey, any country should be backed by a proper Digital Government Strategy with a long term commitment and a vision. Almost all countries (174 out of 198 [1]) in the world have adopted a Digital Government Strategy according to 2022 World Bank Gov Tech Maturity Index (GTMI).

Government Enterprise Architecture (GEA)

As we leverage reusable frameworks these days for almost everything, the Digital Government Strategy too can be built on one of the existing popular Enterprise Architecture frameworks (EAFs) such as TOGAF, Zachman, FEAF, DoDAF and Gartner (See Figure 01). All these EAFs are having its own evolution, purpose, scope, principles, structures, and approaches.

Figure 01: EA Frameworks

According to e-Government research, most of the countries in the world, whom have been maintaining top UN e-Government rankings for sometime, have leveraged a proper established GEA framework and has shown higher EA maturity during the past decade (See Table 01).

GEA is basically the core strategy that can facilitate the government digital transformation. It is a comprehensive process, which needs a long term commitment to be successful [2]. Though it is a comprehensive and a long process, these frameworks are always subject to be customized and localized to the country requirements allowing to have a more agile approach.

Sri Lanka Government Enterprise Architecture (SL-GEA)

Sri Lanka Government Enterprise Architecture (SL-GEA) [3] is the Sri Lankan government version aligning to the well known TOGAF EA Framework [4]. It has mapped most of the foundational architectural components in their Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to the current Digital Government Strategy. In 2009, Sri Lanka was one of the first few countries in the world, which adopted the Service Oriented Architectural (SOA) concepts in the Digital Government space [12].

However, due to various factors along with lack of Interoperability Standards across the government have hindered its progress while dropping its UN e-Government ranking to the 95th place overall in 2022 from the 74th position in 2014 (See Table 1).

Table 01 — EA Maturity vs UN E-Government Rankings

Cross Governmental Coordination and Inter Ministerial Arrangement

Considering some of the government use cases around the world, it is quite evident that unless there is a proper institutional arrangement at the top level of the government hierarchy, the “Whole-Of-Government (W-O-G)” approach will be just a dream.

Cross governmental coordination is a vital factor for the e-Government Interoperability. To govern this, it is important to identify an entity, which can force all government ministries. Most of the countries have formed an inter-ministerial committee or a similar agency to enable this.

For example:

Australia -> Digital Transformation and Public Sector Modernization Committee

Spain -> Central Administration Coordination Commission for ICT Strategy

Sri Lanka too formed an Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) a few years back, but it has not been fully functional for quite some time now. This has clearly delayed the much wanted strategic direction for some of the key government initiatives. However this year, there is an effort to re-establish this committee again to improve the situation.


Standards enable software that is designed by different vendors to understand how to exchange data among different computer systems and interpret complicated technical domain concepts in the same ways humans do. They often used to allow products and devices to work together. There are many practical examples you may see in your daily life.

For example, nowadays with the Bluetooth technology, we can connect many devices together, like a smartphone to a fitness tracker, printers, or even a car. These devices are all able to connect to each other because they use a standard that tells the devices how to connect.

Another example is that nowadays Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) can be used to withdraw money regardless of the bank that issued you the card. When ATMs were first introduced, customers could only use the ATM at the bank that issued their card.

What is Interoperability?

The Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations globally.

Interoperability in the Public Sector

Interoperability in the public sector is all about enabling connections between ministries, departments, agencies, sectors, government levels and counties through data, information systems, legal agreements, organizational processes and shared values and customs [5].

As per the European Interoperability Framework, there are four (04) key layers (See Figure 02).

  1. Technical Interoperability
  2. Organizational Interoperability
  3. Semantic Interoperability
  4. Legal Interoperability
Figure 02 — Layers of Government Interoperability

Sometimes, the layer names could be different to one another in different literature. But it does not matter how they are being categorized as long as they are in the same scope.

The above layers, clearly indicates that the Interoperability is not only a technical matter. It is just one layer out of four key layers. Even if you fulfill your requirement technically, you may not be 100% successful in your total interoperability effort.

Before you embark on your organizational level digital transformation journey, it is paramount to address a proper business alignment to the required organizational level and inter organizational level requirements. Doing a proper BPR (Business Process Re-engineering) is a key to achieve this goal.

Meantime, it is required to identify any legal barriers in order to fulfill the business alignment. For example, if a country is introducing electronic payments to the government, it is required to enact an act similar to Electronic Transaction Act before anything.

Once the organizational and legal interoperability are addressed, it is quite important to identify a common data / information schema within the government domain in order to minimize the data sharing issues. Building domain level data/ information vocabularies or dictionaries are important in this process. In this process the Once Only Principle could be helpful to identify data owners primarily and to define the required data registries as primary data domains. This is primarily known as semantic interoperability.

After all above three key interoperability layer were fulfilled, it is quite straight forward to define your interoperable interfaces, data formats, open protocols, etc. As an e-government practitioner this is the easiest step in my opinion. But, the way e-government projects are implemented, it is hard to see all four layers are operated in tandem due to project deadlines. This has been a key aspect of e-government project failures in general.

The Interoperability Frameworks

In order to execute all above four interoperability layers, it is essential to have a proper defined plan in operation. The Interoperability Framework is one such effort, which most of the successful countries have adopted.

Sri Lanka Government too has envisioned this early part of its e-Government journey. It is known as Lanka Interoperability Framework (LIFe) [6].

However, the progress of completing this Government Interoperability Plan has been relatively slow in Sri Lanka compared to some of the other countries in the region. Only three (03) domains (Land, Personal, Vehicle) are so far documented [6].

A Modular Approach to Government Interoperability

Recently, in 2022, World Bank released a different approach towards government Interoperability, which consist of eleven (11) key modules. These modules are primarily divided into two main categories namely Non-Digital and Digital (See figure 03).

Figure 03 — A modular approach to Government Interoperability

Interoperability and data governance are closely interrelated. Without a clear strategy and leadership on the data governance, it is quite impossible to achieve interoperability in the public sector. At the same time, having a clear interoperability strategy or a plan can certainly boost the possibility of a good starting point for scaling up the data governance efforts.

Enterprise Service Buses (ESB)

To implement the Data Governance, a Service Bus implementation is instrumental.

In Sri Lanka, an Enterprise Service Bus has been deployed and maintained since 2009 under the Lanka Gate project by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (Figure 04). This implementation is based on the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) architectural concept supported by advanced API Management.

Figure 04 — The SOA based Whole-Of-Government Approach

Any legacy or green field application back-end could be connected via this approach allowing citizens, businesses or government organizations to have more seamless approach with a Whole-Of-Government (W-O-G) experience.

Figure 05 — Connecting Legacy and Greenfield back-ends via Service Bus and API Gateway

However, it should be noted that the complex orchestration and the business logic implementation at the mediation layer should be avoided and it is an anti-pattern in the modern enterprise integration practice. Hence, it is advisable to have complex business mediation logic off-loaded to a Service Mesh, where inter-service-communications are handled off-line to the business service logic.

Digital Public Infrastructures (DPI) and Digital Public Goods (DPG)

Highly mature Gov Tech countries have come up with multiple open source initiatives to setup multiple building blocks for the government sector allowing to share similar product standards without getting vendor locked and to use them in an open manner. Countries such as Estonia, Singapore, India are in forefront in these initiatives and have come up with open source product portfolios by opening some of the their successful open source building blocks / products to many other countries.

  1. Estonia — Gov Stack [8]
  2. Singapore — Open Government Products [9]
  3. India — Digital Public Goods [10]
  4. Korea — e-Government Standard Framework [11]

In addition to that, global initiatives such as Digital Convergence Initiative (DCI) has presented number of different initiatives to develop software that reduces the burden of data exchange and reuse among government systems supporting foundational identity, social registries, payment platforms, data analytics platforms and GIS platforms.

The Government Service Blockchains (GSB)

With the advent of the Blockchain technology, most of the governments with an advanced digital government infrastructures in the world considering to have their government back-ends with a more secure decentralized approach.

However, these Government Service Blockchains (GSB) still needs some maturity and trust to be built in. Over the past few years, governments in several countries have been experimenting with the application of this novel technology to a wide variety of functions and services, including land registration, educational credentialing, health care, procurement, food supply chains and identity management [13]. It has indeed shown some immense potential and would be there to stay in years to come.

I am listing down multiple references below, which could be useful, if you are into the domain of e-Government and its technical advancements. Some of them were directly used in this article and some of them were listed down for your reading purpose. Hope these will help you as much as this article.

Thank You!


  1. “Dener, Cem; Nii-Aponsah, Hubert; Ghunney, Love E.; Johns, Kimberly D.. 2021. GovTech Maturity Index : The State of Public Sector Digital Transformation. International Development in Focus;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
  2. Enterprise Architecture for Connected E-Government — Practices and Innovation [Book] — Pallab Saha
  3. Sri Lanka Government Enterprise Architecture (SL-GEA) (2022) —
  4. TOGAF —
  5. “World Bank. 2022. Interoperability : Towards a Data-Driven Public Sector. Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions Insight — Governance;. Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”
  6. Lanka Government Interoperability Framework (LIFe) —
  7. Enterprise Architecture for Connected E-Government (Book): Pallab Saha
  8. GovStack:
  9. Open Government Products:
  10. Digital Public Goods:
  11. E-Government Standard Framework —
  12. e-Sri Lanka shines at Future Gov Asia 2010 :
  13. Blockchain technology has the potential to transform government but first we need to build trust:
  14. The European Interoperability Framework —
  15. OECD Digital Governance Policy Framework —
  16. Andrews, Donna L. Zahid Hasnain, Joanna Watkins, Arsala Deane, Anne Marie Colgan, Nicole
    Renee Goldin, Ramy Y. M. Zeid, Galileu Kim, and Wouter Van Acker.2022. Tech Savvy : Advancing
    GovTech Reforms in Public Administration. Equitable Growth, Finance & Institutions Insight.
    Washington, DC: World Bank.
  17. UN Statistics Data Interoperability Guide:
  18. United Nations World Data Forum:
  19. Digital Public Infrastructure:
  20. ID4D World Bank:
  21. Singapore Government Tech Stack:
  22. Singapore National Digital Identity Stack:
  23. India Stack:
  24. World Economic Forum (WEF). 2020a. “Bridging the Governance Gap: Interoperability
    for blockchain and legacy systems.” World Economic Forum Center for the Fourth
    Industrial Revolution.
  25. UN Innovation Network for Blockchain:
  26. World Economic Forum for Blockchain:
  27. What is Metaverse? :
  28. Emerging Architectures for Modern Data Infrastructure:
  29. Mediated APIs: An essential architecture for Digital Business:
  30. Digital Public Goods for Education — The Indian Experience:



Crishantha Nanayakkara

Enterprise Architect, Consultant on Interoerability and EA at FAO (UN)