e-Government: A journey, not destination

e-Government: A journey, not destination

Federal Executive Secretary e-Government Austria Christian Rupp shares his philosophy of e-governance for a better public utility delivery system

Christian Rupp

Christian Rupp is the driving force behind information society awareness activities in Austria. As an expert in various e-fields he is an evaluator and a national delegate at the European Commission for e-Europe initiatives. He was recently in India and addressed state level secretaries and directors at the Cisco Public Sector Roundtable in Hyderabad. In an interview with Pravin Prashant, Rupp expresses his views on e-Governance utilities.

How far has the philosophy that e-Government is a journey, and not a destination helped Austria achieve its digital dream?
It has covered remarkable stretch of road to e-Governance in Austria. Digital journey in Austria began in early 1990s and today more than 1,000 eForms for around 200 live situations are available. The country began with electronic registers for companies and lands. In 1997 we built the digital guide to all Austrian authorities including eForms and electronic information system for laws as well as tax-online.

Since 2002 all communities are recording the residence data of persons living in Austria online via the Internet in the central electronic register of residence which is also the basis for our electronic ID card system. Since 2004 our e-Government law is into force as well as an electronic file system for all Federal Ministries.

Where does Austria rank in terms of e-readiness in government vertical? What are new plans for ICT deployment in the government verticals?
According to the European Commission e-Government ranking among 30 countries, Austria is at the top of the web-based benchmark on electronic public services since 2006. Austria is also the first country to achieve a 100 per cent fully online availability, which means that for every service measured in this survey, each citizen or business has the possibility to access the service via a fully transactional electronic channel.

By 2009 more than 70 per cent of the population and 95 per cent of companies have access to the Internet. While 93 per cent of our municipalities are online, 71 per cent are using eForms.

How is Digital Austria strategy going to help municipalities, local governments and national governments within Austria?
The federal platform "Digital Austria" is the coordination and strategy committee of the Austrian Federal Government for e-Government and involves all Federal Ministries, local governments, municipalities, social assurance and chamber organisations as well as industries. e-Government includes the totality of all electronic public administration services such as eHealth and e-Governance.

The Austrian e-Government strategy is based on basic concepts, base components and open standards, which serve as guidelines for the implementation of electronic services and the creation of the underlying infrastructure. The government plan principally states that every citizen in every community should have access to all forms of e-Government at the federal, provincial and local levels. Secure communication and transactions and confidential handling of personal data have top priority.

We provide with help.gv.at00 for nearly more than ten years now a partnership for municipalities and local governments which offer for free content syndication and eForms as well as components for e-Government services. We have also developed an e-Government training academy for civil servants and eRoadshows for citizens and entrepreneurs.

How has the portal strategy helped in providing services to citizens? Do you plan any change to make it more efficient?
e-Government can only function efficiently when public authorities work closely together and cooperate on an administration-wide scale. This happens when government portals team up with each other to form a portal group and share the existing infrastructure. The advantage of the portal group concept is that many applications are available from a single entry point. Users only need to identify themselves once when they first log on to the portal in order to access various resources, information sources, or "digital offices".

What steps are being taken for data privacy and data protection?
In the past it was necessary for people to confirm their official applications by signing the paper form by hand. Electronic transactions make signing applications easier through the use of an "electronic signature". The Austrian Citizen Card is comparable to an official piece of identification, such as a passport or personal identification card, and is a function seen as an electronic identification card.

Using the citizen card function, a signature can be applied to a document electronically. Just like in public administration processes up till now, there needs to be a universal organisational identifier like such as social insurance number and student number, in addition to the name.

To ensure a more qualitative system for identifying citizens, a unique number, called a sourcePIN, is saved on each citizen card. This number is unique to each citizen and is derived from the unique number in the Central Register of Residents using strong encryption.

This ensures that there is no confusion about the person's identity, which can otherwise happen with names that are the same. The sourcePIN is saved on the citizen card and is thus in the hands of the citizens themselves. It is not used directly for identification purposes itself. Instead, a derivation of this number is created for each process in a way that prevents connections from being made between transactions using the sourcePIN. This derived number is referred to as a sector-specific personal identifier (ssPIN).

It ensures that the data is protected when using the citizen card and does not lead to "exposed citizens" as Austria has a very strong data protection act. A citizen card satisfies the security criteria required for public administration to be used for identification and signature purposes. The citizen card function can be used in e-Government (eForms, eVoting), eHealth, eBusiness (eBanking, eBilling, eProcurement) and is available for free on the eCard (Health Insurance Card), Bank Cards, Student Cards, and so on.

What is the status of electronic file system (ELAK) and when is Austria planning to make all government offices paperless?
The main objective of the project was the introduction of electronic filing (ELAK) in order to replace paper based filing and archiving all ministries of Austria. The project was started in September 2001 and completed in January 2005. Since then the offices are paperless and ELAK is being used by all Austrian federal ministries as well as some local governments and municipalities.

An electronic file is created for every written request requiring an answer and every internal work of possible further interest. In this way, every procedure can be audited anytime by viewing the file. The electronic file is deemed to be the original. Web forms, electronic delivery services and electronic signature are fully implemented. Information stored in the ELAK-system is available irrespective of time or place. Only Internet access and citizen card (for security reasons) are needed in order to have access to ELAK. Teleworking is thus fully supported.

What precautions are the government departments taking on e-Delivery of service in the country? Besides, what are the various services that have already taken to the e-route?
One of the key advantages of electronic delivery is that it is no longer necessary to go to the post office or public administration offices in person to pick up official documents. After registering with an electronic delivery service, business employees or their representatives as well as citizens can retrieve documents online round the clock.

However, with electronic delivery, it is possible to pick up mail even while on holiday because the Inbox can be checked almost anywhere, thanks to the Internet. In addition to the amount of time saved, electronic delivery also brings further cost reductions. Electronic delivery services can also send non-official documents electronically with proof of delivery.

What's Digital Austria strategy on e-inclusion?
Along with the advantages and opportunities that the information age brings the danger arises that socially disadvantaged people and those with special needs will be excluded from using new media channels and technologies. This phenomenon is known as the digital divide. To prevent this from occurring, all Web content should be made available for everyone through adherence to the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

Administrative processes should become easier to use in particular for the elderly or people with disabilities by taking their special needs into consideration. The solutions offered as well as the web sites themselves must be barrier-free and accessible to all. Additional solutions, such as public web terminals, should make it possible for everyone to be able to use e-Government.

The e-Government Act states that public authority Internet presence must implement accessibility features to ensure access for people with disabilities. International standards on Web accessibility should be thereby conformed with and implemented.

How should India move with digital strategy and e-Government?
To move with digital strategy and e-government, we should think locally but act globally. e-Government is seen as a potential stimulus for eCommerce. The core tasks of e-Government must be the simplification and speeding up of processes between the citizen and public administration. An e-Government strategy has therefore two main goals-process integration as in electronic back office, including training of civil servants how to use it and harmonising of eServices and on the other hand service delivery (electronic front offices) including infrastructure as well as awareness and empowering citizens and entrepreneurs to use it.

e-Government in the information age gives rise to a new kind of relationship between citizens and the authorities. Public administration is shedding its bureaucratic skin and transforming into an efficient and service-orientated provider of services. The outmoded and fragmented administrative structure should be replaced by a model of cooperative administration. Only then India can move forward in this direction.

How are you incorporating security features in eForms to avoid its misuse? What have been the lessons learnt by Austria that India can use while rolling out its e-governance projects?
The Austrian Style Guide for eForms constitutes the basis for the harmonised layout of interactive online forms (e-forms) used in e-Government applications of Austria's public administration. Since its first version was published in October 2002, it has provided orientation to numerous authorities and, especially, the software developers commissioned. The responsibility for designing forms used in Austria's public administration almost fully lies with the competent administrative units even if the legal basis is the same throughout Austria.

With the advent of e-Government, it became imperative to largely harmonise the layout and content of forms (in the case of identical legal requirements). The present Style Guide for eForms constitutes the basis for achieving this harmonisation. It presents concrete measures for structuring interactive online forms, systematically arranging their content and, finally, designing their layout.

Therefore, standards can be derived for basic data which eventually results into modules of related data-applicant data or address data-that can be harmonised. The style guide still aims at motivating more and more citizens and, in particular, companies to use e-government services provided by the authorities to their mutual benefit by offering systematic, harmonised and attractive eForms.

To deliver better services means to work together on each level federal and local as well as to involve the users to understand which eServices will be used and are easy to implement. Secure communication and transactions and confidential handling of personal data have top priority and therefore we have to use electronic identities and electronic signatures.

By Pravin Prashant, Editor,