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Review - High Level Conference

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High Level Conference on Digital & E-Government, Vienna, 26 September 2018

On 26 September 2018, the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosted the High Level Conference on Digital & E-Government in Vienna, Austria. The conference provided an opportunity to experience a video message by European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel and an inspirational speech by Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of Digitaleurope. The conference programme consisted of a ministerial panel on challenges and next steps for the digital single market, a keynote by Luukas Ilves on the Tallinn Ministerial e-government declaration from 2017 [1] and another highlight, the stock-taking of the six policy action lines of the Tallinn Ministerial e-government declaration:

  • digital by default, inclusiveness and accessibility
  • once only
  • trustworthiness and security
  • openness and transparency
  • interoperability by default
  • horizontal enabling policy steps

Moreover, as the European Union is on the cusp of cross-border mutual recognition of electronic identification (eID) means, the last part of the conference focused on the practical implementation of the eIDAS regulation and the next steps. The German eID [2] is the first in Europe to be recognised cross‑border under the eIDAS regulation from 29 September 2018 onwards.

Vienna welcomed more than 250 participants from EU member states, EFTA states, the Western Balkans and Eastern Partner countries, as well as representatives from EU institutions, the OECD and participants from the private sector.

The following review aims at giving an insight into some of the conference highlights.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/ministerial-declaration-egovernment-tallinn-declaration

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/cefdigital/wiki/display/EIDCOMMUNITY/Overview+of+pre-notified+and+notified+eID+schemes+under+eIDAS

Official opening and welcome by Margarete Schramböck, Austrian Federal Minister for Digital and Economic Affairs

Federal Minister Margarete Schramböck welcomed the conference participants.

She considers the digital single market (DSM) and all the files contributing to its completion a top political priority for the Austrian Presidency. Austria remains committed to the goal of creating a digital single market which is fit for the digital age. Austria expresses its sincere thanks to its trio partners Estonia and Bulgaria and welcomes their hard work and the huge progress they have achieved.

One of the top priorities of the Austrian Presidency relates to a coordinated approach at EU level for a future EU industrial strategy. Substantial and impactful investments are necessary for research and disruptive innovation, digital innovation hubs, data sharing platforms, standardisation, high-performance computing infrastructure and the development of technical and entrepreneurial skills, while paying particular attention to start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. Key elements are the strengthening of the European innovation capacity, reaping benefits from the potential of artificial intelligence and robotics as well as the necessity to have the relevant skills for digital transformation. In the field of public services, a shift from e-government to m-government is crucial.

Keynote by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society

Commissioner Gabriel underlined the importance of modernisation of public administrations and the role of the e-government action plan and its implementation for the necessary digital transformation of governments. The once‑only principle is a decisive development which was introduced but recently by the new regulation on a single digital gateway (SDG). Major efforts have been made in order to strengthen users' trust, which is a precondition for countering online disinformation and enabling e‑payments, among other things. A major step in this regard was 29 September, as with the entering into effect of the obligation for mutual recognition of notified eIDs, a huge step towards a safer environment could be taken.

In order to reach the common goal, all member states should swiftly prepare the notification of their eID means. Furthermore, the private sector must use eIDAS in order to reap the benefits. The European Commission remains committed to working closely with member states on all levels, including local and regional level.

Regarding the user centricity principle, once only and one click administration as aims, governments, but also the Commission, should put into practice what we preach. Promoting good practises, fostering human rights in the digital age and putting citizens first are still crucial activities in implementing the Tallinn Ministerial Declaration.

Inspirational speech by Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of Digitaleurope

The biggest difference of this digital age is we have gone from the scale of production to the scale of market. The biggest companies of our time grew by the scale of market. They grew based on data. Our society is going through that transformation now.

Europe needs a whole market to grow within. We need a European market to go through that digital transformation. It means more innovation, more unfragmented markets for the European and non-European companies to grow. We need to digitalise in a responsible and good manner in the public and private sector.

The industry needs data sets across Europe to better predict markets such as public data. Scandinavian countries have made a progressive step forward towards opening up for open data.

The digital skills are extremely important. There should be a strong ability to change the educational system to a changing environment fast enough. That should ensure that Europeans are not only users of IT but also creators of IT. Therefore, they can really think how to integrate in any kind of function. Europe has lacked out on this skill. There is only one universal language: coding.

Digital is the only growth driver left. 15.5 percent of global economy is digital. 2.5x digital economy growth versus global economy growth. 6.7x digital investment ROI (return on investment) versus non-digital investment ROI shows clearly the importance of digital in the private sector. The four largest digital companies saw their revenue grow by 449 percent on average in the last 10 years. By comparison, the leading companies in pharmaceutical (+17 percent) and automotive sector (+40 percent) were left behind.

Europe still fails to consistently produce digital unicorns. 11 percent of digital unicorns are European. European unicorns only represent 6 percent of the total valuation. 50 percent of European unicorns are based in the UK. Scale ups are confronted with low possibilities to grow in Europe. Public procurement is one of Europe's leaderships. Europe should focus on that and start to make it possible for scale ups to fully benefit from public procurement.

Nothing happens without connectivity. It should be a citizen right to be connected to digital society. Investment in 5G could have a 2.5x multiplier effect and create 2.4 million jobs. An investment of 56 billion euros would be required for the full deployment of 5G in Europe. Such investment would result in a 141 billion euros value for the European economy – or a 2.5x multiplier effect and create 2.3 million jobs.

Ministerial Panel: Challenges and Next Steps for the Digital Single Market

Margarete Schramböck welcomed the panellists and focused on digital competences – one of the main Austrian digital activities to bring digitalisation closer to the citizens. "Digital competences are one of the key factors besides infrastructure, innovation and R&D investment", said Minister Schramböck. The development of digital skills is a necessary step for full inclusion and beneficial use of the internet. Therefore the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs has launched the "pact for digital competence" to foster digital skills at all ages.

Moreover, there is an interministerial digital masterplan in the educational system to make schools as innovative as possibleby following the goals of infrastructure and software in schools and training for teachers. At the beginning of 2019, there will be an Austrian digital competence scheme, based on the EU Digital Competence Framework, to improve citizens' digital competence. Furthermore, since the end of September 2018 young adults have been able to start an apprenticeship in coding.

Bernard Gršić, State Secretary for the Development of Digital Society of Croatia

Digital transformation is an opportunity for Croatia and the European Union to address some of their social, economic and structural challenges. Investments in electronic infrastructure generate in the short run spill overs for the economic sector. E-government and m-government are tools to facilitate administrative procedures, for the benefit of citizens and businesses. It fosters the social inclusion of, for example, people with disabilities or living in rural areas. Moreover, it reduces corruption, for example, in the health care system. Digital transformation is not only part of the multiannual financial framework of the EU, but can be a crosscutting boost to the transformation of the entire Union. Croatia wants to contribute to cross‑border infrastructure projects that enable better and secure data transfer and bridge the gap between communication infrastructure including cybersecurity and 5G infrastructure. The development of cybersecurity and infrastructure security is an important pillar for the trust of the people in IT.

Maria Manuel Leitão Marques, Minister of the Presidency and Administrative Modernisation, Portugal

The challenges of digitalisation in Portugal range from inclusion, high-level research, education and qualifications to better usability of the digital services. The biggest challenge is – as mentioned in the inspirational speech – using data science and artificial intelligence to develop protective services. Portugal has launched an initiative to encourage partnerships between academia, data science researchers in artificial intelligence and public service entities to develop the potential of artificial intelligence. In the past the Portuguese government supported projects in development, like skin cancer screening, predicting road traffic accidents and preventing mechanical failures of public transport. Artificial intelligence is a precise tool to tackling problems resulting from different regulatory and legal frameworks, language barriers and interoperability between systems. Artificial intelligence can also help recognising eID documents. The member states of the European Union must take advantages for these opportunities – not only for businesses and academia, but also for improving public services. This is one of the main challenges of the digital single market.

Elijus Čivilis, Vice-Minister of Economy of Lithuania

Vice-Minister Čivilis agrees with the former speakers that digitalisation is not about hiding and protecting, but about enabling and opening up to the market to be competitive on the global market. The main challenge regarding the single digital market is the implementation of ideas. Think tanks are great for new ideas, but implementation is a problem. It is very important to not stay in a bubble of ICT people, but to expand horizontally to different industries. Digital skills are very important, but programming only accounts for 20% – people should learn soft skills and member states should be interested in the digital intelligence of society.

Petru-Bogdan Cojocaru, Minister of Communications and Information Society of Romania

The biggest ICT implementations in Romania are the governmental cloud and a contract for improving the digitalisation of SMEs. Europe needs a strong, consolidated and competitive digital single market, so it is necessary to invest in infrastructure and e-skills by creating conditions in all member states to innovate and acquire the benefits of innovation. "Europe has a great potential to develop, for example, in artificial intelligence, 5G and other new technologies", said Minister Petru.

Leon Behin, State Secretary at the Ministry of Public Administration of Slovenia

Leon Behin agreed with the inspirational speakers that the digital transformation is a very effective mechanism and that it influences not only the local market, but also citizens and their social lives. Slovenia strongly believes that it has to learn from 4k objectives of the digital single market. "When speaking about trust we have to keep in mind that we have different situations in the EU countries and low trust in governments and the EU institutions", said Leon Behin. Open data is very important in gaining the trust of the citizens, so Slovenia established an open data portal called OPSI. Smart solutions like artificial intelligence and big data tools will improve efficiency in public administration. Digital skills are needed, if citizens are drivers for digital transformation of society and competitiveness. Open education should not only be integrated in the formal way, but citizens should learn how to deal with the digitalisation and use the key drivers. International cooperation is important to be effective and successful.

Mahir Yagcilar, Minister of Public Administration of Kosovo

In the Western Balkans, there are serious challenges concerning good governance and youth employment. The digital area presents an opportunity to address those problems effectively. E-government is the best solution to bring the government closer to citizens, to improve public services and strengthen transparency and accountability of the government. Today digital government is smart government. Studies show that the internet penetration is close to 90 percent and 77 percent in rural areas and there are approximately one million smartphone users in Kosovo. Kosovo has adopted a digital agenda, a cybersecurity strategy and is doing a lot in the area of electronical identification, e-skills and open data. "The Western Balkans need to be part of this transformation, because it is important for growth, building new jobs, international cooperation and a growing economic sector", said Minister Yagcilar.

Elmir Velizade, Deputy Minister of Transport, Communication and High Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan

In September 2018, Azerbaijan launched its third satellite into orbit, to create conditions to meet regional and global demand. It is part of the digitalisation strategy to improve the country's infrastructure. Elmir Velizade agreed with the former speakers that the digital agenda is one of the main priorities for Europe. Therefore, Azerbaijan adopted twelve strategy roadmaps, covering all main economic areas in the country. "All activities are in accordance with European practices and we try to use European best practices and directives in our documents", said Deputy Minister Velizade. Azerbaijan is working on the digital single market initiative in the Western partnership programme in the main directions "innovation and R&D" and "Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE)".

Minister Schramböck thanked the participants and closed the panel with the words of Charles Darwin: "It is not the strongest species that survive, but the ones most responsive to change."

Taking stock of Tallinn Ministerial E-Government Declaration by Luukas Ilves, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, The Lisbon Council

Luukas Ilves gave an inspiring speech about the Tallinn Declaration. All the European Union member states and EFTA countries signed the e-government declaration in Tallinn on 6 October 2017 and committed to reach the following six goals by 2020: digital by default, inclusiveness and accessibility; once only; trustworthiness and security; openness and transparency; interoperability by default; and horizontal enabling policy steps.

Now there is an important time for e-government and the EU member states already have many legal frameworks, like the eIDAS regulation, the single digital gateway or the single procurement document. "There are many frameworks in place, but sometimes it feels like still building the foundation" said Ilves. Some of the implementation is not where it has to be, for example, mobile government or adopting technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics or quantum computers.

The member states have been working hard, but it is a structural problem and it will not get easier in the following years. The speaker suggested the reuse of join-ups, working with local governments, new eID solutions and cloud computing to deal with the existing and upcoming challenges. In the end Luukas Ilves emphasised his point again: "The Tallinn declaration set a high bar and concrete measures. Member states have to keep the goals in mind and being more flexible on the methods."

Tallinn Ministerial E-Government Declaration – Policy action lines 1‑3 (Parallel Sessions)

Session 1 (room "K2") – Digital by default, inclusiveness and accessibility

The Netherlands puts users' needs first. User Central is a community for UX professionals who want a service-oriented and user-friendly digital government. This principle draws international attention to its efforts. In Switzerland, eMove had been installed as a best practice in a federal governmental structure. A key success factor for eMove is user-centricity. The service is easy to find, simple to use and only takes a few minutes to conclude. eMove saves costs for administrations and citizens. The UK gave an insight into their accessible services. By installing the new services, the government learned that a call back service might be helpful for user groups who haven't been in the actual focus (for example parents of small children). Hungary is becoming more open to digital interaction with public administrations. The e-administration act obliges practically all public administration bodies to offer digital interaction with their customers. The CEF (Connecting Europe Facility) building blocks were useful in bringing this into practice.

Session 2 (room "B2") – Once only

The project management team of the TOOP Project highlighted that once only is an important principle in driving cross-border data exchange. TOOP presented the current status of piloting, including pull and push scenarios and the reuse of existing building blocks. Work is being carried out in Germany in the area of single-sign-on and online access act and there isstrong support for once only, including through personal accounts ("Bürgerkonto"). From the Netherlands the Standard Business Reportingwas presented, which implemented the store once only, but report many idea with the aim of a zero click reporting for businesses. In Slovenia once only was implemented in 2003 with the aim of burden reduction and supporting strategic policy implementation. The single digital gateway is an important push to overcome the legal barriers to once only. The aim of once only is to avoid resubmission of information. There is a need for a federation of federations for once only in Europe. National implementation of once only helps building cross-border data exchange based on the once‑only principle, but a big challenge is the need for data mapping.

Session 3 (room "B3") – Trustworthiness and security

Portugal and Estonia spoke about their experiences with digital ID. Austria strongly focused on challenges with the mobile-first paradigm and Germany emphasised cybersecurity measures. All speakers agreed on the fact that citizen experience is customer experience and usability should always be kept in mind. Another point discussed was increasing the involvement of the private sector to use the eID. Financial and/or legal incentives, offering the rights of infrastructure components and figuring out their benefits can be the right measures. The usage of eID with smartphones is a current challenge faced by all countries. All of them must be aware that the mobile age calls for new solutions, for example in the fields of infrastructure, security, design and usability. The government's role is to ensure the security of framework and architecture. Accelerating the eIDAS notification in the EU member states was the last question to be discussed. All participants agreed that peer pressure would contribute to a faster implementation through peer reviews, but also through examples of the first countries on board, starting with Germany.

Tallinn Ministerial E-Government Declaration – Policy action lines 4‑6 (Parallel Sessions)

Session 4 (room "B2") – Openness and transparency

Session 4 covered the aspects of digital management of personal data (open government data and linked data) as well as transparency and user-centric access and use of public online services. One of the main principles of e-government in Luxembourg is transparency. Luxembourg presented "Guichet.lu", a central PSC tool for citizens and businesses to disseminate transparency. Belgium agreed with Luxembourg that openness and transparency is a prerequisite for making governments more efficient and effective, for improving citizens' lives and conditions for industry and for making society open. Therefore, Belgium presented good practices amongst all levels of government (for example, the open source web publishing platform "Open Police", "OpenFed" – a general-purpose, multilingual Drupal 7 and 8 distribution and "TERRASCOPE" – a user-friendly platform for access to satellite data). Italy pointed out that there are many public digital services all over the European Union, but there are too many hidden doors. Therefore, the services have to be more transparent and user-centric access is necessary for the use of public online services. Italy presented the public services App "IO Project". IO is the public project to develop an experimental application that will allow citizens to manage their interactions with public administration and access all public services directly from their smartphones. Every part of that project is completely open source. Switzerland presented "opendata.swiss", the Swiss authorities' portal for open (freely available) data and emphasised the need for linked data, because it allows data to be easily published, connected and reused.

Session 5 (room "K2") – Interoperability by default

"Impact is clear – but how do we get there?" was just one of the manifold aspects raised during the session on "Interoperability by default". In a number of keynote speeches, the panellists from the European Commission, Denmark, Italy and Malta agreed upon the fact that defining a theoretical framework such as the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is actually the easiest part of the common endeavours to foster European public services. It is, however, the practical implementation within the EU member states of all of its bits and pieces that presently requires our full attention and close cooperation between the various administrative levels – on member state- as well as on EU-level. Therefore, the discussion on interoperability of public services needs to be elevated to the next level, going beyond the sole technical details and resulting in policies and guidelines supporting public administration to actually implement design principles, architectural concepts and interoperable building blocks. A strong focus on open source can contribute significantly to achieving interoperability by default. By fostering the reuse of what is already there, public administrations can profit from the work of others, hence saving costs on the one hand, and facilitating interconnection of technical solutions on the other.

Session 6 (room "B3") – Horizontal enabling policy steps

In the first part of the session, the European Commission described the different layers of the interoperability model of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) that focuses not only on the technical level but also on legal and organisational issues. The technical level of the digital transformation comprises building blocks and enablers like eID, eSignature, eInvoice and eDelivery which are helping to make the Tallinn principles a reality. For the future development we must tackle and respond also to new emerging technologies (such as big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain) and provide solutions for these fast evolving trends. Hungary presented a common solution on national level where it followed a centralised approach to cover the municipality level. This was the only durable way to bring the more than 300 municipalities to the e-government family and to provide them with a single portal for their services. The second block of the session covered solutions with emerging ICTs (big data, blockchain). Slovenia presented findings from a big data pilot on human resources management in public administration. The results showed that big data and the implemented tools could be useful for decision makers and management on different levels. But to develop concrete tools more data must be available. The most important lesson learned by the pilot was that it is crucial to build trust among IT people and data owners. Sweden gave a presentation on the first blockchain property transaction. Sweden's land‑ownership authority, the Lantmäteriet, started testing a private blockchain system in 2016 that should improve the function of land property management. One of the main outcomes was that the implementation is less of a technical problem and more a challenge of good governance when conducting such a complex pilot and solution. Decision-makers must be aware of the need to invest money, resources and staff to experiment with new technologies.

Summary by the Hosts of Sessions

In accordance with the abovementioned outcomes of the respective sessions, the session hosts briefly presented their main discussion points and take-aways from each session.

Digital transformation in the European Commission: plans and next steps by Gertrud Ingestad, Director General DG DIGIT, European Commission

A year ago, EU member states and EFTA states signed the Tallinn Ministerial Declaration on e-government. Remarkable steps in concrete projects or even towards new eID schemes have been taken. Many good things are already happening in reality. On a European level, the European Commission drives the digital transformation so everybody can benefit from it. The Digital Europe Programme will complement the investment in digital and related fields. Reusable solution such as the CEF building blocks, that where developed for the actual usage in a European dimension will be put forward and support the digital single market.
Within the Commission, the term digital government is seen as a service transformation and innovation. Digital government relies on the use and reuse of data. A digital government creates information from data and enhances decision-making processes. The Commission is drafting a digital strategy for the first time. The strategy is still on the adoption route.
The Commission has three key messages to work on in this strategy. How will the Commission deliver the co-creation? What will be modularly delivered? Harnessing the potential of data and artificial intelligence.
Gertrud Ingestad offers as much help as possible to all stakeholders and stresses that the European Commission is a vital player in digitising Europe.

Panel Discussion: The eve of cross-border mutual recognition of eIDs in Europe and the way forward of eIDAS

  • Reinhard Posch, CIO of the Austrian Federal Government
  • Andrea Servida, Head of Unit and Head of eIDAS Task Force, European Commission
  • Klaus Vitt, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community of Germany
  • Feliks Szyszkowlak, Representative of International Business on "Importance of eID for business and enterprises" (Santander Group)

On its way towards making secure, cross-border-enabled electronic identities (eID) a reality, the eIDAS regulation will have to dynamically adapt to frequently changing conditions of its actual environment in order to succeed in what it is trying to achieve in the long term.
The rise of mobile devices – naming just one of those phenomena – had already been the subject of detailed discussions during a meeting of the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) prior to the High Level Conference on Digital & E-Government and was once again highlighted as a challenge to overcome. The use of digital services when accessed via mobile platforms differs in many ways from the classical desktop-based access. Not only do these mobile scenarios bear the potential of enabling new ways of interacting with public administrations, but their characteristics require us to overthink related security architectures and mechanisms as well.
Beside mobile, cloud environments also need to be embraced by eIDAS. Especially when considering their popularity amongst companies, we have to ensure compatibility in order to incentivise companies to come on board.
Speaking of companies, one of the key factors for the next couple of years that will decide upon the success of eIDAS will be the question of if we can achieve a broad uptake of qualified eIDs amongst private entities. The European Commission is currently launching several initiatives that aim at raising awareness on the topic amongst SMEs.In terms of practical implementation, Germany expressed very ambitious goals: all administrative services should be digital in 4 to 5 years from now. A digitalisation platform will serve as a foundation for this mission, offering, among other things, building blocks for related processes like electronic payment and delivery, as well as document storage – and of course electronic identification. The latter has successfully undergone the eIDAS notification procedure and therefore has to be recognised by other member states from 29 September 2018. Electronic identification is also addressed by an initiative that aims at providing an identity providing service to German municipalities, allowing them to connect their digital services to the eIDAS infrastructure, thus enabling EU citizens to access those services with their respective notified eIDs.
Continuous adaption of the legal framework to emerging technologies, close cooperation with the private sector and ambitious implementation strategies within public administrations will be the recipe of choice for making qualified cross-border electronic identification a reality, empowering a flourishing digital single market and fostering wealth for European Union citizens.

Wrap up summary and closing statements by Wolfgang Ebner, Deputy Director General for Digitalisation, Innovation and e-Government in the Austrian Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs

"A Europe that protects" is a central topic of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In that meaning we defined "securing prosperity and competitiveness through digitalisation"' as one of our three priority areas. Our goal was to cover this priority with today's conference. A clear outcome is that digitalisation is a practical European challenge. It is a fact and an integral part of daily life covering all aspects of our activities – literally from the cradle to the grave. We experienced an inspirational ministerial panel, covering the topic of the next steps of the digital single market. We thank our trio partner Estonia very much for the huge progress achieved for the digital single market under the Estonian Presidency, which prepared the ground for the following Bulgarian and now the Austrian Presidency. We will continue and reinforce the dynamics in the field of digitalisation. It has become very clear that the digital single market strategy and all the files contributing to its completion are a top political priority for the Austrian Presidency and our partners in the member states. We remain committed to the goal of creating a digital single market (DSM) which is fit for the digital age.

On behalf of Federal Minister Margarete Schramböck and the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Wolfgang Ebner thanked all for their impressive cooperation and an atmosphere of digital optimism.

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