Belgium used cloud computing to collaborate with partners during EU Presidency
The Belgian Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment used a cloud-based storage and collaboration environment to ensure that its own staff as well as external users could jointly manage the European Presidency.
Situation: Internal staff and external partners across Europe needed to work on the same documents.
Solution: Microsoft offered a cloud-based platform to access, edit and share documents.
- Users have unlimited access to the most up-to-date versions of documents;
- The platform can be accessed anytime anywhere via the Internet;
- Only authorised personnel can view files;
- It took only 9 months between initial discussions and full deployment;
Between 1 July and 31 December 2010, Belgium took on the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Over the six-month Presidency, the Belgian Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment (FPSH) organised nearly 50 events with national health ministries, the European Commission, the World Health Organization, and experts throughout Europe. To accomplish this, it needed to regularly communicate and exchange information with people dispersed across all 27 member states.
The FPSH had to ensure that users had access to the most up-to-date versions of documents. The Belgian Presidency would require much work on text documents to prepare a strategy for each issue on the agenda. This included presentations, background literature and especially policy briefs. “If someone forgets to mail back new versions, everything gets mixed up,” says Jan Eyckmans, Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the ministry.
With other ministries using their own tools and the FPSH’s staff frequently working in other countries, the FPSH recognised the need to offer its own staff as well as external users a shared storage and collaboration environment—a platform that could be accessed anytime, anywhere. Having heard about SharePoint Online from some of their partners, the FPSH joined forces with Microsoft to attain the functionality it needed by moving to the cloud.
Cloud computing is a new way of working whereby data, software, computing power and storage—a whole range of infrastructures and applications—reside off the local premises and are accessed via the Internet. It allows users to stay focused on their own core business instead of diverting resources to support functions such as purchasing servers and managing software.
SharePoint provided the FPSH a single infrastructure to share information with others and manage documents from start to finish. They had a full set of collaboration tools—from wikis to workflows and from team sites to tagging. Users could access the latest version of a document through their browsers, edit it, and then save it to the shared site, where the other collaborators would find the updated document.
Preparing for about 50 events, the FPSH often cooperated with people within the European Commission, other member states and foreign universities. With each project involving a different set of collaborators, users wanted to work on a document with an exclusive group of people, without giving everyone else with a licence access to their file. SharePoint’s built-in granular security and privacy controls ensured that only authorised personnel can view files.
Cloud computing helps the public sector to save money mainly through the economies of scale achieved by using shared servers in remote computing sites. But that can also raise data protection issues, particularly if data are exported outside of the European Union. “Our security officer brought our attention to the fact that our data went out of our computer room,” said Lieve Deschoolmeester, acting CIO of the FPSH. Although initially concerned, the FPSH was reassured when it learned that Microsoft’s data centres are located in Europe—in Dublin.
Time to launch was critical. Without the in-house competency to build a collaboration platform in time for the Belgian Presidency, the FPSH needed a supplier with the capacity to deploy a solution in less than eight months. Thanks to cloud computing, the FPSH could embark on a vast and complex infrastructure that had already been designed, programmed, tested, and implemented. “The solution was already there; the technical platform was already there. That was the opportunity for us,” says Deschoolmeester. Discussions started in November 2009, the parties came to an agreement in mid-December, employee training began the following April, and the Belgian Presidency started on 1 July 2010, with SharePoint Online fully deployed.
To Deschoolmeester, the advantages were clear: “We had a lot of space; we had the assurance that the platform would be online the whole time...ICT was happy. The business was happy too. They had what they asked for.” And going forward, “Every time we look at a situation we think whether the cloud could help.”
About the Belgian Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment:
The Belgian Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment is the branch of the Belgian government that addresses the competencies of the former Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, and Environment and the regionalised Ministry of Agriculture. Its mission is to develop a transparent, dynamic and scientifically based policy that takes care of people’s health, provides a safe food chain and a better environment for everyone, both today and in the future. To find out more about the FPSH, visit: www.health.belgium.be/