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26 (121) 2016
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Interviews

Paving the way for the Paperless State

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Michael Dembinski talks to Krzysztof Szubert, Plenipotentiary of Minister for International Affairs / Strategic Advisor to the Minister

MD: You have an extremely difficult task facing you; previous ministers of digitisation, Michał Boni and Rafał Trzaskowski failed to make much headway in digitising the Polish state. Meanwhile, the world is rapidly becoming more and more digital; Polish citizens are expecting progress in the state sector to keep up with the progress they see in banking, e-commerce or communication. Why do you believe that you can succeed where others have failed? What milestones has your ministry reached since you took office?

KS: A very good question, but to make a long story short – in our opinion there was no clear strategy of a general character in place. Having that in mind – it’s always good to draw lessons from the past – we’ve realised from the very beginning that we need the directional master-plan strategy for developing the digital society, combined with efficient coordination of this process. Together with digital affairs minister Anna Strezynska, we’ve decided to develop on our own document, 20 pages long, setting out the strategic action priorities for the Minister of Digital Affairs. It is intended to be easy to take in at one sitting, rather than spending time, resources and money to produce bloated textbooks that could be difficult to read through and impossible to put into practice. If you’re committed enough to do something meaningful, it’s always better to keep things clear and simple. Also what makes this approach different from any previous one is that as well as really wanting the whole government to take part, we also want wide support from all other stakeholders. The draft priorities had been available for public comment and we received huge input – which was the good sign. All the next steps that we’ve since taken from that moment are based on these Strategic Action Priorities.

MD: The example of Gov.uk shows that success comes from all ministries and government agencies working together under one portal - a citizen-facing website that approaches the citizen-state interaction from the point of view of the citizen's need rather than the state's convenience. 'Joined-up government' has long been a slogan in the UK. In Poland, there is 'silosowość' with each ministry jealously keeping information in its own silo. Do you intend to create one portal for the whole of the Polish state, or let individual ministries administer their own websites?

KS: Exactly. From the beginning we have been looking for the best practices over the world – definitely one of them is the gov.uk example (as well as usa.gov). That was the reason, we visited early this year the GDS [Government Digital Service] office in London – responsible for gov.uk strategy – talking to great people from the bottom to the top. Our Strategic Action Priorities are based on five pillars and 18 actions, one of them being the creation of one portal for the whole of the Polish state. The Polish state is just only one, administration must therefore constitute an integrated unity in the eyes of the citizen. The citizen or entrepreneur looking for information on government administration will have one website at their disposal, where they will quickly find all necessary information, including the current content of the Public Information Bulletins (BIP), e-services, all presented in a unified and standardised way. The project is already under development and outlined on the ministry website as Portal Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej (‘Portal of the Republic of Poland’) – the first stage should be completed by March 2017.

MD: It took the UK government 14 years to move from setting up direct.gov.gov.uk to gov.uk. How long will it be before, say, a Polish citizen can notify all state authorities of the death of a family member through one web page, rather than visiting scores of offices in person? Another example: it takes three clicks from the gov.uk home page to discover via gov.uk what the current VAT registration thresholds in the UK are. [https://www.gov.uk/ -> 1. https://www.gov.uk/browse/tax -> 2. https://www.gov.uk/browse/tax/vat -> 3. https://www.gov.uk/vat-registration-thresholds] How easy is it to find such information in Poland today? How easy do you intend it to be?

KS: Hopefully, by learning from the successful projects over the world, we will be able to deliver that faster than 14 years. We really do not want people to wait long, therefore we’ll be running the project in phases. One information and service portal, unified and clear, of the whole government administration should be created step-by-step, like the ones in the UK or the USA. It should have one www address that’s easy to memorise by everyone, e.g. simply Gov.pl. It will be the place containing all that’s important for citizens, including the actions of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, particular ministries and provincial governors and also information on official matters, privileges, benefits and duties. Information should be communicated in a simple language, easy to understand by every citizen regardless of their education and place of residence. At the moment, in many cases, it’s not easy to find a particular government service, nor it is quite user-friendly when you finally stumble upon it – we have to unify and standardise that as soon as possible.

MD: The digitisation of the Polish state is a massive project; projects need project managers. The Polish government is aware of the lack of good project managers working in the public sector, whether the projects are in infrastructure, energy or IT. What do you intend to do to attract and retain people with strong project management skills and experience to work on the digitisation project?

KS: You have touched one of the most important and challenging areas. Luckily, we have been able to attract quite a few experienced managers to work for the ministry. Money was definitely not what lured them in (this is one of the big issues in the Polish administration). It was the absolutely unique opportunity to make a real difference in the project of Poland going digital. Myself, I might be one of the examples here, I had held managerial and C-level posts in Polish and foreign businesses in the ICT industry for more than 20 years before I joined the ministry team. I’ve been entrepreneur and active NGO member – like the Minister of Digitisation was, within the Business Centre Club’s Economy Shadow Cabinet. Of course, we are working as well on different motivation programmes, like “Golden 100” – addressed to the best 100 ICT-related people within our government to find the right balance and be able to attract as many people as possible from different ways.  

MD: Much of the work on digitising the Polish state will be carried out by external contractors and subcontractors. Much of this work will have to be put out to tender. Poland has a poor track record when it comes to procuring services from the private sector; what is your approach to procuring external services for this project? How do you intend to avoid the mistakes made in this area by your predecessors?

KS: We’re changing that right now by implementing the necessary improvements. Just to mention a few – the National CIO (GIK – Główny Informatyk Krakju – now pending) supervised by the Ministry of Digital Affairs will get a set of mechanisms for coordinating the digitisation of Poland. We’re implementing professional project management tools and methodology (connected with the new internal Council for IT Architecture). And we’re increasing the level of competences within the administration – so it can become a real partner for external contractors and subcontractors. In our vision, government should not develop information systems itself. Instead it has to make sure that it has in place the knowledge and procedures on how to order and enforce proper delivery. Poland aspires to be one of the leading EU countries, so we need to take an active political position with regard to the digital transformation of the state. As mentioned at the beginning, we need to support the strategy for developing the information society and combine it with ef-ficient coordination of this process – and this is the key to the success.

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