4,000 websites into just one: Mexico to launch ambitious citizen service portal with OpenStack.

Two steps forward, three steps back.

The paperwork for opening a business or getting unemployment benefits often feels like a game of red-light/green-light. For every bit of progress, you get pushed back to collect more documents or show those same documents to a different agency.

That’s where OpenStack comes in, says Victor Lagunes, CIO, office of the president of Mexico. About 18 months ago, the Mexican government started on a path to consolidate a staggering 4,000 federal websites for 6,500 services into a single portal to rule them all.

OpenStack helps provide the orchestration behind deploying those services, uniting the different agency IT systems with an API. At http://www.gob.mx/, Mexican citizens will eventually be able to start a business, find the closest health care and check their tax payments as well as access information about work, education and the environment. For the August 2015 rollout, a limited number of services will be available but that includes access to birth certificates. That’s the single most requested document, Lagunes says, adding that for the circa 30 million Mexican citizens living in the United States online access is crucial.

The portal can’t come soon enough. Mexico has a reputation for red tape so sticky there’s a healthy job market for "tramitadores" who grease palms and get things done for harried citizens. The citizen info hub, part of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform plan to merge the “two Mexicos,” comes at a time when the country has taken one step forward and two back in the quest to become more business friendly. In 2010, Mexico was the most straightforward country to do business in Latin America, according to the yearly “Doing Business” World Bank survey. From 2010 to 2014, Mexico slipped in the rankings from 35 to 43, putting it behind Colombia and Peru.

Lagunes, who spent most of his career in the private sector before jumping into government, admits the project is ambitious.

“Mexico is a big country and a very complex country,” Lagunes told Superuser in the above video interview. Government operates independently at the state and federal level, he added. The portal will make documents like birth certificates accessible to government agencies that need them — so instead of eight office visits where you have to show that same document, you can sort things out in just one or two.

Security questions are what’s keeping him up at night, he said, but added that the because the information isn’t being aggregated into one single place, it provides a measure of security against data theft and meets Mexico’s stringent privacy laws.

Lagunes said that government has a lot in common with hungry startups and enterprise in general.

“We go through the same challenges and we need to find solutions for them. Government being very complex and having limited ICT budgets [we] need to be very creative and innovative with how we deploy.” The move to open source was more about establishing a practice than selecting a technology or getting locked in to a vendor, he added.

You can hear more about Mexico’s roadmap to the cloud in a 45-minute session led by Lagunes at the recent OpenStack Summit Vancouver.

Cover Photo by Communities UK // CC BY NC