A few weeks ago, Greece took on the EU Presidency. And, in a visit there last week, I got to meet some of the many vibrant players on the Greek startup scene. So today's guest blog is by Dimitris Dimitriadis, a Greek-Swedish senior IT and management expert, currently working for the European Commission's Task Force for Greece. He writes about how they are assisting the Greek administration to make most use of eGovernment and ICT.
"How do you get Greece out of the worst crisis it has seen for decades? Where do you start turning the country's administration into a fast, nimble and flexible one? I'm convinced the starting point can be none other than the public administration and the economy going digital. Tourism, shipping, exports and ICT are all areas where Greece could thrive. But making the most of this potential is not possible without the extensive use of digital technologies and the remarkable opportunities they offer.
The bad news is there's a lot of work involved in achieving this goal. The good news is that efforts are already underway. Let me highlight a couple of examples that I feel set the tone of the big change that's taking place right now in the country.
Cl@rity ("Diavgeia" in Greek) is an initiative that makes it mandatory for all public agencies to publish any decision – financial or otherwise – on the internet. Citizens gain immediate knowledge of how much their agencies spend and can make comparisons, while the entire public administration becomes more transparent and decision-makers more accountable. Journalists, developers and economists suddenly find themselves in a position where they can make qualified fact-based claims on how policies are implemented. Especially in times such as these, when Greece struggles to make ends meet, the European Commission’s Task Force for Greece is supporting the authorities in their efforts to increase transparency and efficiency, whether through legislation or offering best technology practices.
This trend should continue. Public administrations need to streamline their operations, become more focused, and provide services of higher quality, faster and cheaper than now. Tax and social security certificates, needed both for citizens and businesses, should be offered at more points of operation than today, lessening the burden on both end users and public administrations themselves. The same goes for all certificates needed to start a business, apply for schooling and day care, or participate in a public tender. Simplifying procedures for people to carry out their business is a sign that the administration realises the added value of citizens actually producing rather than spending time on cumbersome procedures. Instead of having to gather paper copies of various certificates, as is the case today (which is expensive both in terms of time and environment), citizens should be able to issue a request and let smart systems do the heavy lifting for them. The last thing you want is stressed-out parents having to take a day's leave just to gather all the necessary paperwork to register their child for school or day care. This should be simple, transparent and focused on simplifying for all.
The second example I want to mention is the Rural Broadband project (details of which will be announced soon), which aims to provide high-speed, high-quality internet access in remote areas of the country – islands, mountains and villages. These areas are typically tourist-centric: this is where you will see visitors working, eating, swimming, enjoying culture and relaxing. Imagine making it easier for them to share their experiences while boosting the local economies. Some regions have understood the added benefit of being connected in the best possible way – these regions stand a good chance of being champions in tomorrow's digital experience market. The European Commission and its Task Force for Greece have, over the past year, continuously assisted Greek authorities in making this project a reality. An estimated 12 million people visited Greece between January and October 2013 – imagine if half of them used smartphones and tablets to enrich their experience! Why not aim for making every museum in every corner of the country digital by the end of 2015? Let's work towards a tourist season – one longer than just the summer, hopefully - where people share experiences with their loved ones, work or just play, online, more easily and cheaper than today. What a brand builder!
If Greece taps into the brainpower and enthusiasm of its ICT-savvy young generation and looks at how its public sector can be improved, we stand a good chance of soon being in a place that is more open, more connected and with more opportunities. If Greece realises this potential and uses digital technologies to better organise this effort, the crisis could end sooner than we can even hope."