How would today’s crisis change our perception of the world and views of certain processes? These points are actively discussed today. At this moment, one can hardly tell something for sure – we shall see it later. However, there is one special area which obviously needs a more careful approach even today, because of the pandemic.
This area is electronic governance, or digital transformations. The coronavirus pandemic and the quarantine and self-isolation accompanying it have emphasized how important it is to move in that direction. In the case of Ukraine, it means to continue what has already been started in recent years.
Development of electronic public services and various forms of online interaction between citizens and public authorities, bodies of local self-government and businesses: all that is surely important and necessary even in normal conditions. It means time savings for citizens and businesses, greater comfort and lesser corruption. But in the conditions of quarantine and self-isolation, sophisticated e-governance plays a special role, because besides helping reduce economic losses of the state and its citizens, it facilitates social distancing without affecting interests of people and, in the end, their safety.
It is worth reminding that in 2019, the word “digitalization” became the most popular in Ukraine according to Myslovo vocabulary of modern Ukrainian language and slang. It is an indication of the intensity of the relevant processes and the speed of movement in that direction, which Ukraine gained last year. It is also clearly noticeable that unlike certain other reforms, digital transformations do not cause heated disputes, because the benefits for the state and citizens are obvious.
This reform continues even in today’s difficult conditions. The reform is helped, in particular, by our project EGOV4Ukraine, funded by the European Union, Estonia and Sweden.
The project is implemented by the Academy of Electronic Governance of Estonia, the country with which Ukraine closely works on developing e-governance and which has already achieved a lot in that area and can share its successful experience.
In Estonia, over 2.6 thousand services are available online today! To be sure, these are almost all possible services. It helps people and businesses save a lot of time, money and resources.
And also, Estonia has the “once only” principle, which means that an applicant doesn’t have to provide their personal information to the government every time they request a certain service. They do it only once, and after that, public authorities themselves exchange the necessary information. One doesn’t need to get a reference from one office and take it to another. This is how the motto “Data must run, not people” is realized in practice.
The data exchange system XRoad serves as the basis for interaction of public electronic registers and implementation of the aforementioned principle in Estonia. More than 150 public institutions and over 500 various organizations and enterprises are presently connected to that system and interact with each other.
The XRoad — we are now returning to Ukraine — is a prototype of Trembita, a secure data exchange system created as part of our project. Trembita is also designed to facilitate interaction between electronic registers of Ukrainian public authorities to enable them to exchange themselves information necessary to provide various services to citizens and businesses. This system has been operational for almost a year, handling over 2000 transactions every day, and more than 50 public institutions have already signed an agreement on connection to Trembita.
The advantages are manifested by the example of the comprehensive service called e-Maliatko. By submitting just one application, in many cases even back in the maternity hospital, the parents of newborns can register their child, receive social benefit payments, an identification number, a unique number of register file, and many more. For that purpose, they don’t have to separately visit the offices of various institutions. This is a huge advantage even in ordinary conditions, never mind today’s. At this moment, the e-Maliatko is available in 11 cities, but over time, this practice will be expanded onto the entire country.
Soon, an applicant will be able to order a service themselves from the Diia portal which was launched during the quarantine. It is a good indication of how the Ministry of Digital Transformation — our key partner in Ukraine — continues to move forward even in today’s difficult conditions.
Overall, Ukraine has the capacity (and also urgent need) to complete faster this process, which took other countries decades to make it happen. In particular, the country can draw on the help from foreign partners and their experience.
To be sure, the task is not easy. The country is presently going through several phases at once, which for other countries were sequential: “digitalization” of ministries and institutions; reengineering the services, i.e. transforming them from the conventional into electronic form; preparation of quality electronic registers; connecting them together via secure data exchange system Trembita; improving digital literacy of the public at large, etc.
Legislative changes are needed, too, and presently, the Verkhovna Rada is considering the extremely important draft law on public electronic registers. By the way, it is a mistake to think that digital transformation is a purely technical job to be done by IT specialists. In fact, it amounts to only some 20% of everything that needs to be done.
Therefore, going back to the beginning, the coronavirus pandemic obviously must provide an impetus to development of e-governance and digital transformations in general. In doing so, Ukraine has someone to provide them with expert and financial support. And the most important point is that digital development benefits everyone: the government, businesses and citizens.
By Mari Pedak, Academy of Electronic Governance (Estonia), Head of EGOV4Ukraine project, U-LEAD with Europe Program