Digital Agenda for Europe

To promote awareness and knowledge exchange on EU Digital Agenda, e-Government Center launches a series of interviews and presentations about Digital Agenda for Europe and best e-Government practices from the EU member states.

The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) was launched by the European Commission in May 2010 to support the economic growth in Europe and help Europe’s citizens and businesses to get the most out of digital technologies. The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is the first of seven flagships initiatives under Europe 2020, the EU’s strategy to deliver smart sustainable and inclusive growth.

The DAE contains 101 actions, grouped around seven priority areas to stimulate the conditions to create growth and jobs in Europe:
1. Create a new and stable broadband regulatory environment.
2. New public digital service infrastructures through Connecting Europe Facility loans
3. Launch Grand Coalition on Digital Skills and Jobs
4. Propose EU cyber-security strategy and Directive
5. Update EU’s Copyright Framework
6. Accelerate cloud computing through public sector buying power
7. Launch new electronics industrial strategy – an “Airbus of Chips”

Full implementation of this updated Digital Agenda would increase European GDP by 5%, or 1500€ per person, over the next eight years, by increasing investment in ICT, improving eSkills levels in the labour force, enabling public sector innovation, and reforming the framework conditions for the internet economy (http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/digital-agenda-europe).

The Digital Agenda contains 13 specific goals to contribute to the digital transformation of the EU:
•    the entire EU to be covered by broadband by 2013.
•    the entire EU to be covered by broadband above 30 Mbps by 2020
•    50 % of the EU to subscribe to broadband above100 Mbps by 2020
•    50 % of the population to buy online by 2015
•    20 % of the population to buy online cross-border by 2015
•    33 % of SMEs to make online sales by 20155
•    the difference between roaming and national tariffs to approach zero by 2015
•    to increase regular internet usage from 60 % to 75 % by 2015, and from 41 % to 60 % among disadvantaged people.
•    to halve the proportion of the population that has never used the internet from 30 % to 15 % by 2015
•    50 % of citizens to use eGovernment by 2015, with more than half returning completed forms
•    all key cross-border public services, to be agreed by Member States in 2011, to be available online by 2015
•    to double public investment in ICT R&D to € 11 bn by 2020
•    to reduce energy use of lighting by 20% by 2020 (source: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/node/1505)

In collaboration with our partners from the the Federal Public Service for Information and Communication Technology/FEDICT, we are introducing the Belgium e-Government Agenda, its current achievements and priorities. More details in the interview of Mr. Frank Leyman, Manager International Relations, FEDICT, Belgium.

Belgium e-Government Agenda: Achievements and Priorities!
Mr. Frank Leyman, Manager International Relations, FEDICT, Belgium

Question:What is FEDICT and what is FEDICT doing in terms of e-governance; What are the key e-government initiatives and projects that FEDICT has been implementing?
Answer: Fedict – the Federal Public Service for Information and Communication Technology (=ministry) – was set up in May 2001 and became fully operational in 2002.
As a federal public service, Fedict defines and implements the federal e-government strategy. It uses innovative information and communication technology (ICT) to help the various federal public services to improve their service portfolios and tailor them to meet the needs of the general public, businesses and civil servants. For example, Fedict is involved in building and developing the software for the electronic identity card (eID). Fedict also develops new online services aimed at the general public, businesses and civil servants, and made available through the federal portal.

Fedict has built the overall federal back-office infrastructure for the benefit of all federal public services. Network access, Network Services and Public Key Infrastructure are the key building blocks of this back-office infrastructure. We take care of all security aspects of that back-office and make sure that everybody can build and offer its (online) services in the best possible way. We all use the eID as a secure key to enter into this world. Each of the ministries manages its own databases (= authoritative sources). More info can be found on http://www.fedict.belgium.be/en/infrastructure/

Question: How Digital is the Belgium Government? Does your government use ICT tools to respond to citizens’ needs and expectations?
Answer: With 78% of Belgians that are connected and frequently use internet, we can say that our society is already very much digitalized. This also means that Government services also have to be available in a digital format. So, all government agencies try to offer their services online. But as there is still a law that obliges us to offer all our services also in a non-electronic way, we still offer both options. The reason is that the lack of ICT equipment and/or knowledge cannot be a reason for exclusion. We are not at the stage yet where we can announce the “digital by default”, even if some federal public services feel ready to do so.

Question: Is there any difference between central and local governments in Belgium in terms of implementing e-government solutions?
Answer: Politically, we are a federated State. This means that you have a Federal level, you have Regions and you have Communities. There is no hierarchy between these entities. We have just divided the responsibilities amongst these entities. E.g.: defense is managed at Federal level and education is managed at Community level. The consequence is that all these entities have the liberty to define their own eGov strategy and priorities, which may be different from the others.
In practice Fedict brings together all these entities on a regular basis, to discuss with them on ICT and eGov matters. Our goal is to build a common back-office infrastructure,  that allows each entity to be flexible on the front-office side.
Conclusion: yes, there are minor differences in eGov solutions, but we try to follow the same rules of the game in the back-office.

Question: What e-services can Belgian citizens and businesses access online? And what is the uptake rate of the e-services in Belgium?
Answer: The eGovernment Benchmark 2013 of the European Commission shows that 76% of all our Services are available online. The take-up is almost 100% in the bussiness sector but more modest with citizens. I invite you to visit our portal website http://www.belgium.be. If you then click on „online services” you will be redirected to „MyBelgium.be”. On that website you can perform a single sign-on with your eID. An extensive list of e-services will become personalised thanks to the combination of your eID and the Federal back-office infrastructure. (not available yet in English)

Allow me to give you some examples of our most popular e-services:
1.    FAS: this is our Federal Authentication Service. As every citizen and official resident has an eID, he uses it constantly to access different services. So do the Civil servants. The FAS does the authentication before allowing access to one or the other authentic source. Today we have 87 different customers using the FAS and accessing 413 applications. We register an average usage of 15Mio/year. 56% of those actions are related to the Ministry of Finance Services.
2.    Cross-road Banks: this is a cluster of services that are related to one particular domain. The biggest ones are the Cross-road bank for social security (CBSS) and the Cross-road bank for Enterprises (CBE).
a.    CBSS: more than 21Mio eDeclarations (most of them are application to application; 806Mio eMessages have been exchanged; 225 electronic services use it for mutual exchange
b.    CBE: 1,5Mio companies and 1,2 Establishements are registered. Over 200.000 database transactions/day (with peaks of 400k/day)
3.    Tax-on-web: this is the online web application for tax declarations. In 2013 there were 3,6Mio online declarations registered.

Question: To what extent your government and government officials, civil servants use social media and mobile technologies to engage with your citizens but also to deliver high quality public services and information?
Answer: Belgium has one of the most advanced back-offices, but has never been the number one on the front-office side. Probably this is due to the technological (and centralized) history that we carry. We spent a lot of time in optimizing our back-office. Only now we can focus on building and improving our online services. My personal impression with regards to social media in Belgian public service is that it is still at the level of “gadget”. We experiment with it, but not yet at a full exploitation level and still very much in a one direction.
Add to this that the prices of internet and of mobiles services are very expensive in our country. Technically, we very well know how to get there, but economically it is not the right moment yet.

Question: Belgium is a member of the European Union and EU is promoting a complex e-Government Agenda to ensure that EU citizens and businesse are benefiting of the EU Digital Market. Can you please tell us what are the key EU e-government initiatives that have impact on your work and life, as a citizen of the EU (especial focus on eID, Interoperability, Cloud Strategy, projects like Stork, PEPPOL, etc.)?
Answer: Let’s have a look at the Belgian situation:
–    we are a small country in the center of Europe. Drive 2 hours in any direction from Brussels, and you will be in another country.
–    our economy does a lot of business abroad
–    Europe is building the European Single Market, which means that the country borders are being taken away. A lot of interoperability work needs to be setup.
–    We have built sofar a federated model

If you look more closely, you will see that the ICT infrastructure that we have built for public sector, looks like Europe but in small version: we have built a common platform but all entities can offer their own services locally. This is exactly what Europe is doing. They build a common platform; make sure that all countries can be interoperable with each other; we make sure that our eID’s can be used and recognized in all EU countries, that we can reply to eTenders abroad without having to translate our legal documents, etc.
So for us the impact technically is minimal (we are EU- ready). Knowing that EU is taking inspiration from our model, is music in our ears. The only thing that needs to be done is language translation and adapting our web services to non-Belgian users.  The most difficult adaptation will be the alignment of the 28 different legislations.

Belgium is participating is several LSP’s (Large Scale Pilots) of the EU.
–    STORK: project to interconnect all eID systems of EU countries.
–    PEPPOL: project to interconnect all eTendering services within EU
–    epSOS: project to interconnect all eHealth systems
–    SPOCS: project to create companies online in all EU countries via a one-stop-shop.
–    C4E: (Cloud for Europe): newly started EU project around Cloud. The purpose of this project is to put together all our Public Sector cloud needs and to go together to the market. This will allow us to negotiate better prices and to create a better control and protection of the data we put in that cloud. Indirectly it will hopefully allow us to create a offering of EU cloud suppliers (which today is not the case). Belgium is today only interested in Iaas, but most other EU countries look at Saas and higher. Depending of the total demand, things may become spectacularly interesting to play at EU level. This can only be to the benefit of the users. So EU very rightly promotes a joined approach amongst countries. So, there is absolutely no reason for a single Ministry to play this game alone as prices and level of service might generate significant differences.

Allow me to spend some more time on STORK. A stork is a migrating bird that crosses the country borders and that is the one that brings the babies at home (=start of Identity). We thought this was a nice symbol for an eID cross-border interoperability project. We have been very creative in making an acronym of the word STORK. It stands for Secure idenTity acrOss boRders linKed.
One practical example of this service when connecting it to your web application: imagine you have decided to allow non-Moldovan customers to access your services online. Normally, a Moldovan citizen would use the MPass service to authenticate himself before he can place an order. Stork would make this transparent for non-Moldovan customers. Your web application would immediately detect that the customer has used a non-Moldovan ID. The system will then immediately ask 2 simple questions: “which country are you from?” and “with which tool would you like to authenticate yourself?”. With these answers, Stork will automatically redirect you to the right certification authority of the right country. A hand-shaking will be performed locally and the result will be sent back to you. If the authentication is positive, the person will be able to proceed further and place his order. How easier can it be? Stork has solved all the complexities of 28 different country technical standards, legislations, languages, etc. and offers to you a uniform and easy-to-use process to include non-Moldovan customers.

As Europe is building the European Single Market, I am sure that you agree with me, that this service was an absolute must and priority. Think about it: “whatever you do, it all starts with Identification!”
Several countries have already implemented Mobile ID services (besides standard smartcard ID) and use it without any problem through STORK. Moldova would just have to install one PEPS (pan-European Proxy Server) in its back-office to allow everybody (who is linked to the Moldovan interoperability platform) to be internationally e-Connected.

This brings me to “interoperability”. In Belgium we have generated huge gains in efficiency and costs thanks to the implementation of our FSB (Federal Service Bus). This is the same like your interoperability platform or like the Estonian X-Road. It allows you to better organize your information systems in the back-office, to protect it in a common way and to apply the same rules of usage of public sector databases. This does not mean that our ministries cannot develop their own web services the way they would like. On the contrary, it specifically offers that flexibility. This was a concern in Belgium when we started the FSB, but very rapidly they all saw the advantages of this standardized back-office approach. Wherever I go and speak abroad, I always spend a lot of time in explaining the benefits of a common interoperability platform, combined with a very flexible front-office offering. EU is implementing the same kind of concept to enable the Digital Market and its European eGovernment strategy. So it is good that Moldova has already aligned in that sense.

Question: At what level do you think is now Moldova in implementation e-Government Agenda?
Answer: I do not know enough details about the Moldovian situation to give an honest answer. What I do know is that there is a great young team on board to take care of eGovernment, that is eager to learn from others and to implement it in a better and more efficient way in Moldova.

Question: Comment on Moldova’s efforts to catch up through Mobile eID, MCloud Platform, MPay – electronic payment gateway, Interoperability Platform.
Answer: The first time I have been in contact with Moldova was via the World Bank, where I gave a workshop on how to negotiate a PPP with a Mobile operator. Before I joined Fedict, I worked for Telco, IT and smart Card industry. So I very well know how they all behave. With our Belgian eID experience I could make the puzzle complete to assist my Moldovan colleagues in the preparation of their negotiations.
If I now look at what has been negotiated and at the mobile services that are offered today, I can only but congratulate them for the marvelous strategic move. Moldova has well understood the needs of their country, has taken into account the (budgetary) limitations that they had to cope with and they have been able to partner with a high-tech company that is willing to accompany them on the long term.  A mobile phone is no more hype but moreover a commodity good. Moldova rightly jumped straight to mobile ID (and not to the standard smartcard ID).
Between us, Belgium is now looking at the Moldova experience to evaluate the possibility of launching mobile ID as an alternative way for online authentication…

Question: What are the most important things Moldovan authorities should take in consideration in implementing e-Governance Agenda, as part of the EU e-Governance Agenda?
Answer:
–    Follow the commonly used EU standards (non proprietary and as open as possible)
–    Respect the EU values like respect of privacy, be Open towards your citizen and industry, respect confidentiality when appropriate,…
–    Be modular in the way you build your infrastructure. The EU is building a platform and a set of modules that are usable for all services.

Frank Leyman
Manager International Relations FEDICT; Past Chair International Council for IT in Government Administration (ICA); STORK 2.0 Partner     

Frank Leyman holds a Master degree in Marketing and in Applied Economics from the University of Mons in Belgium. He started his career with IBM Belgium in the telecom division. After 6 years he joined the Belgian national Telecom operator BELGACOM where he was in charge of setting up the Corporate Services Sector. After 3 year he was appointed as Distribution Channels Director for the Belgacom Group. In 1999 he left Belgacom for a more international career by joining the company PROTON WORLD. This company is specialized in large scale smartcard based projects. He has been in charge of business development in the Middle-East and African Region and has co-developed the complete Government offering. Since mid 2005 he works for FEDICT (the Federal Public Service for ICT) where he manages International Relations as well as the relations with European Commission, OECD and the World Bank. He chairs the Identity Management Expert Group for the World Bank and is the Belgian representative in the eGovernment High Level Group of the European Commission.

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