Google to Help Israeli Government Upgrade Online Services

The U.S. Internet company signed an accord with the government to improve its free online services and promote Israeli startups.

Google will help Israel’s public sector improve and upgrade its online services under a memorandum of understanding signed with the government on Tuesday to provide a host of services for free.

The accord, which was signed in the presence of Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Google Israel CEO Meir Brand, aims to create a framework for fostering technological innovation, support open government, e-government services and promoting Israeli startups. The two sides will share ideas and insights on Internet infrastructure issues such as private and public data clouds in Israel, adapting government websites to the leading browsers used in Israel and use of open-source code for government websites and services.

While Israel is renown for its high-tech innovation, the government has lagged behind other advanced countries in adopting its services to the Internet era. But officials have in recent months been trying to change that, signing a cooperative agreement with Microsoft last May and preparing a program called “Digital Israel” that would set up a steering committee in the Prime Minister’s Office to lead the drive for better digital services in the civil service.

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development placed Israel 27th among 30 countries in the use of online services for communicating with government bodies and submitting forms online.

“We’re working on agreements with other companies,” said one treasury official. “The idea is to reach an accord with groups from whom we can learn, who represent global trends and know what other governments are doing. The essence of the agreement in sharing information and knowledge.”

Google will work with the public sector to promote the development of products for use in public services such as education, health and welfare in cooperation with local startup companies. The government and the U.S. company will hold meetings with developers called Meet The Gov, where officials will explain to startup entrepreneurs government policy and strategy to help in developing appropriate products and services. Additionally, Google will hold conferences at its Tel Aviv conference center to share know-how and software with developers working in the public sector in areas like cloud computing, the Android wireless standard and the Internet markup language HTML.

“System-wide innovation is the economic engine that will create an economy that has the middle class at its center,” said Lapid at the signing ceremony. “Linking Internet and government will reduce bureaucracy and make it more efficient for ordinary citizens and small and medium-sized businesses.”

Google is meanwhile sponsoring a scholarship program with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for students of engineering, computer science and public policy who are interested in developing innovative technologies for the public sector.

Eyal Toueg