What is holding Austria back from being a top EU country in digital Government?
Published on September 1, 2022
A successful digital government needs well-informed citizens, businesses and public agencies who work with eGovernment.
This is only possible with the right strategy.
Since 2003, the Austrian government has frequently presented digital action plans, each containing a strategic framework for digitising services.
But it is lagging compared to seemingly more innovative countries such as Malta, Luxembourg and Denmark.
So what is holding the country back, and what can be done to improve its position?
Coming a long way
Austria, like many other European countries, has had some amazing achievements regarding the digitalisation of the public sector.
By establishing a Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs to promote e-government among the population, Austria is the 10th in the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2021.
The goal is to allow government and regional bodies to provide better and faster services while saving time and money in the process.
However, there is a looming deadline.
Austria needs to automate its public services ahead of a significant demographic shift.
The median age of the population in the country is 44.
By 2040 probably half the population will be aged 65 or over.
One of the first EU States to adopt legislation on eGovernment.
In 2003, the Austrian Federal Government launched an eGovernment initiative that aimed to coordinate all activities by setting up two cross-departmental coordination bodies.
The country took concrete action to implement the eGovernment project swiftly and efficiently.
This made it one of the first EU Member States to adopt comprehensive legislation on eGovernment.
The eGovernment Act entered into force in 2004, and it was a milestone achievement.
Then in 2005, a new organisational structure was implemented that considered future challenges like sustainability, cooperation and ongoing innovation.
The goal was to stabilise the federal ICT strategy and the coordination procedures.
The essential elements of the structure were specified in 2001.
However, the different committees that preexisted were brought together more closely.
Today, the Digital Austria 2050 Strategic Action Plan puts forward initiatives focused on improving digital skills for the labour force, general citizens, and the education sector.
This strategy foresees shaping training, learning and education in Austria as a digital competitive advantage.
These and several other governmental efforts have helped the Alpine Republic rank among the EU’s top five for the indicators “transparency” and “key enablers”.
The initial point of contact for all issues relating to eGovernment services is the oesterreich.gv.at portal, which offers online services according to the “one-stop principle”.
The business community can take care of any formalities online using the corporate service portal USP particularly tailored to their needs.
Digital Austria is a unique platform model that has served as the coordination and strategy committee for eGovernment since the year 2005.
Based in the Federal Chancellery of Austria, it bundles all eGovernment projects for business and public administration in one place.
Parallel to Digital Austria, the eGovernment Innovation Center (EGIZ) was also set up in 2005.
This initiative supports public authorities in developing the Austrian ICT strategy and conducts research in an eGovernment environment.
Despite Austria laying down some solid foundations, the country needs to focus on some key areas if it wants to catch up to the frontrunners.
So, for example, according to the DESI index, in 2021, Austria was one of the poorest performers regarding broadband coverage (45%).
Meanwhile, some countries like Malta, Luxembourg, Denmark, Latvia, Spain etc., have achieved 100% (or nearly complete) coverage.
Also, it’s important to have a solid public-private partnership that helps develop public administrators’ services.
However, more effort is required.
Another challenge is improving digital skills, from working with technology securely to reviewing and updating capabilities as required.
What students learn in school is quickly superseded.
Further, the government needs to focus on equipping citizens with digital and technical skills to enable them to use “digital media competently” and qualify them for participation in modern society.
Austria has undoubtedly laid some solid foundations; however, digitalisation is a journey, not a destination.
And while the pandemic accelerated, the whole process is up to the government to harness that need for change to maintain momentum.
About the Author
Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.
He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.
After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.
He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.
As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.
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