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A smart and digital public sector – we must get there, but how?

On February 27-28 more than 200 high level representatives from European Member States, institutions, business, civil society and academia will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark for a forward-looking dialogue on the political challenges of creating a fully-fledged European Digital Single Market.

 --- Pia Rybenfeldt, Chairman, DI ITEK, Danish ICT and Electronics Federation, session moderator #dsm12. On February 27-28 more than 200 high level representatives from European Member States, institutions, business, civil society and academia will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark for a forward-looking dialogue on the political challenges of creating a fully-fledged European Digital Single Market. The conference is titled “A Digital Single Market by 2015 - A driver for economic growth and jobs“ and will feature a number of sessions covering the different aspects of the digital single market. One of the sessions – the one I am moderating – is called “Smart public services in the Digital Single Market - Seamless cross-border e-government”. It will deal with the numerous challenges and responsibilities facing the public sector in regards to fulfilling its purpose as a facilitator of services with the primary function of making life easier for the citizens of Europe.The problem – as I see it – in this regard is that the public sectors across Europe are essentially 30-something different systems with little or no cross-border interaction. This has got to change. And the digital single market offers the tools to make this happen.  With a fully fledged digital single market in place, cross-border e-government solutions could be developed in order to provide Europeans with far better conditions for taking up jobs or starting up businesses in other Member States – thus contributing to a dynamic economy across the continent.  This session will focus on the barriers and opportunities for the establishment of digital cross-border public services within Europe and the role and responsibility of the public sector in pushing this development forward. Session speakers include representation of the European Commission by Mr Declan Deasy, Director, Information Systems and Interoperability Solutions, DG Informatics; the public sector via Ms Anna Johansson, Head of Unit - Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and Ms Ieva Zilioniene, Deputy Director, Information Society Development Committee, Lithuania; the business sector by Mr Niels Soelberg, Vice President Public Sector for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Microsoft, and the research community by Mr Patrick Wauters, Senior Manager, Strategy and Policy Services, Deloitte Consulting. You can follow the discussions on twitter at #dsm12. For the full programme, please visit the conference website. I hope you will contribute to the discussion by commenting below or vote on the contributions of others. The contributions receiving the most votes will be taken into consideration during the session in Copenhagen.


Oli Lacigova's picture

I agree that the first generation of Erasmus graduates needs to be involved in designing cross-border services but that might be a challenge on its own. Young professionals that understand the value of border-less Europe, are highly educated in several languages, have transferable skills and grew up using ICT are often not attracted to work in the public sector. They see public sector as being bureaucratic, not innovative and less financially appealing than many jobs in the private sector. A challenge that should not be overlooked.
Roberto Pizzicannella's picture

The European Commission has worked a lot on interoperability across Member States as a prerequisite to ensure cross-border public services with the IDA, IDABC, and now the ISA programme. The approach at the base of those programme has been (and is) strongly top-down (Strategy, Framewwork, and then Services). The impact of those programmes on cross-border services has been very limited. I think this "strategy/framework" oriented approach should be complemented by a bottom-up approach in which cooperation among Member states, even if imited in coverage, (i.e., two, three MS that agree on developing specific/local cross-border service that have strong interest for them, maybe in a border region) is stimulated and supported. And then, learning from those practices, devote more efforts in tackling the barrier and expanding the services Europe-wide.  I think the approach "strategy/framework" is too "slow" in producing results in terms of services. Instead more evidences are needed to show that "something" can be done, and done quickly. In connection with this, probably innovative ways of funding those intitiatives are needed.

Challenging but extremely important subject. Is a key element in Europe's properity. Although top-down (EU and MS level) enabling frameworks and tools are essential, much of the drive needs to come from the bottom, including (but not exclusively) through existing cross-border or pan-European groups and networks, like the local Digital Agenda activities, European projects, etc. But also others like the UK's ESD (Effective Service Delivery -- previous name Electronic Service Delivery), which develops common service lists, tools and collaboration at LA level and is now being taken up in other EU countries, especially in Norhern Europe. Initiatives like this need to be strongly encouraged and suuported from the "top" (also financially), but without them being taken or controlled. A huge challenge for example is that every LA wants to support its own own ICT industry and suppliers -- naturally, especially if you're investing local tax payers' money. But this is often a huge mistake. On the national and, even more important, European scale, this leads to extremely wasteful duplication of services, processes, resources, etc., and results in less competitive local companies and suppliers. LAs need to get their act together across Europe, or at less across neighbouring countries, to create a real digital market where the best local firms can compete on an equal footing by supplying a larger market. This will lead to more for everybody as well as help nurture globally competitive competence. At the moment we are stuck in thye rut of supporting less efficient local firms and solutions. The initiative must come from the bottom, and efforts like those of ESD must be  supported from the top. Sorry, rant over! Best wishes to all, and sorry can't be there -- am in warmer climes in the Gulf. Jeremy Millard
Jamal Shahin's picture

It does appear that after decades of discussion on these issues (remember the Bangemann Report from the early 1990s?) there is a need to think of different ways to enhance the interaction across borders for public services. I think that the economic, social and political benefits for Europe - its citizens AND its member states - are pretty well outlined. It's time to work out why we haven't got there yet, and what we can then do to get there. It's good to hear other people talking about bottom-up approaches: there are many such processes taking place. Personal interaction between the relevant stakeholders within Europe is apparent, but this doesn't always appear to be turning into big - or even little - projects. Look, for one example, at initiatives like the Citadel Statement (and the “Citadel on the Move" project, which links together several cities across Europe). So, along with top-down strategies which we all need to buy into, and bottom-up cooperation that some of us should carry out, we should address how we transfer the working examples of bottom-up cooperation to the broader framework. And after that, I guess that a lot of it is simply about changing mindsets... I hope that this session will, in part, inform us as to what the speakers perceive are the reasons are for the lack of seamless cross-border public services.
Rami Nissila's picture

The debate on digital public services has been going on for many years, as Jamal Shanin accurately points out. I wonder if there is any role for European R&D co-operation, e.g. the Framework Programme concept in this discussion? The EU is now re-inventing its R&D policies (Innovation Union should be the omni-potent umbrella covering up all the R&D&I activities in the EU area) and the Horizon 2020 is right now in the co-decision pipeline. Many observers have been worried about the lack of emphasis on research in the sector of social sciences and humanities in the Horizon 2020 context. Would they (SSH) possible be able to offer any solutions to the questions concerning the digital services, and societal needs versus smart and digital public sector?
Julia Glidden's picture

The Commission is doing a great deal of quiet bottom-up work through its CIP Smart City programme. I say quiet because the focus that this programme is now placing on cross border interoperability and cooperation is not yet fully recognised.  Nevertheless, as Jamal notes, a quick glance at projects like the newly launched Citadel on the Move (which aims to facilitate the develop of cross border mobile applications) or the ongoing EPIC (which aims to make user-generated applications available across Europe) shows a new found emphasis on using the tried and tested Living Labs methodology to drive truly scalable pan-European innovation. The jury is out as to whether these 'Smart' initiatives will succeed. But their progress is certainly worth following.
osimod's picture

The European society seems more advanced and integrated than governments. The first Erasmus generation is now a powerful network of professional and entrepreneurs who are travelling Europe on a daily basis and work in co-working spaces based all around Europe. It is important that cross-border services are designed with the direct involvement of these citizens, which are now not aware about these discussions. What we have to avoid most is to replicate on crossborder service the mistakes of eGovernment, in terms of being too much supply-oriented and not considering the demand.
Anne's picture

Isn't this also a question of breaking down a few essential barriers, such as being able to identify yourself across borders or knowing what rights are concerning privacy? It seems to me that seamless services across borders also requires actions in these fields rather than just creating better services.

Interesting subject indeed. I'm not quite aware of the details of the context, but a " fully fledged digital single market" might take a lot of valuable time to be achieved. Instead of only focusing on building the solution and waiting for governments and people to utilize, priority could be given to solving real urgent issues that currently face the government and societies. This won't only help in rolling out the single market, but also will help in promoting the concept and selling it to those 30+ different systems.
Patrick's picture

In 2004 I was involved in studies financed by the IDABC programme – the precursor of the ISA programme - on user requirements for European eGovernment services and infrastructure needed to develop them. The study showed that amongst what was called ‘mobile’ European citizens there was a high demand for user-friendly cross-border social security related services and tax services. To deliver them there was a need to enhance interoperability at technological, semantic and organisational level to allow seamless information exchanges between disparate administrations of the different Member States operating at different geographical levels (national, regional, and local) and using different languages. Since 2004 the digital infrastructure and concepts have evolved rapidity making technical interoperability now largely a thing of the past. As an example of one concept, during the session on Smart Public Services I will introduce a study on the use of universal Service Oriented Architecture to develop a cloud of public services  ( But, despite interesting initiatives and pilots, 8 years later there are still no real cross-border user-centric eGovernment services. If technology is not the problem, the barriers must be others.  There is an overall need to shift towards new models of post-bureaucratic government and built government organizations for the world we now find ourselves in:  more effective and efficient, faster, collaborative, open and agile.  There are the European cultural disparities and forces pushing in opposite directions of integration and accentuating differences that need to be taken into account.   Is the world makeable?  Will change come from top-down or bottom up approaches?   Both will be needed.  The courage to develop and defend ambition policies and change strategies, like the reviewed European Interoperability Strategy, investments in common infrastructure and re-usable components like mutual recognized eID’s  in the Large Scale Pilots, development of roadmaps and soft-power instruments like best practices , foster new public-private collaborative development models.  European policy initiative can be important drivers for change: a representative of the Portuguese administration explained me how the Service Directive boosted interoperability and eGovernment in his country. Public data and services should be disclosed, social media used, web entrepreneurs encouraged to develop more apps for public services. In yet another study we developed mock-ups of future cross border services based on live events and a combination of back-office integration and use of social media. We made video mock-ups to test the scenarios with users:
Laura's picture

Maybe the development of cross-border services could benefit from recognising (and promoting) good practices on the European level, e.g. through an awards scheme for cross-border public services? This could (idealistically) not only serve to identify best practices but also to create awareness among citizens about the available services and motivate the development of new (and useful!) ones. Of course, award schemes are never perfect but it could generate some additional interest and talk. From a more individual perspective, mutual acceptance of the eID should be essential when discussing solutions that are relevant when physically or digitally crossing borders (e.g. setting up businesses abroad, banking, signing documents electronically, accessing official databases etc.).
Francesco Mureddu's picture

In order for Europe to become a real single market it is crucial to ensure digital cross-border public services. A great part of the European civil society is alredy english-speaking and ICT oriented, but having so many different systems prevents from doing effectively business abroad. The creation of a standard digital public would boost the competition and the returns to scale at the European level, and would create a real single economy capable to effectively compete with other economic systems such as US or Japan. However this reform has to take into account the input from civil society, which is the final user of the service.