Many of you may remember this charming movie (whose name loosely translates to “Chuck him in the machine, Jachym!”) with Luďek Sobota in the role of the timid František Koudelka, Václav Lohniský as docent Chocholoušek and others. Perhaps bringing back the “conditiograms” from the movie and how they marked positive and critical days for their users may benefit the government. It might be an interesting experiment, to finally become free of the ubiquitous chaos.
Now on a more serious note about digitalization - the incantation used by many, especially the Pirate party. The funds that have been invested thus far bring to mind the picture of a bottomless bucket into which one keeps pouring water to no avail.
A pile of junk
The primary issue is the fact that we are faced with the pile of junk that is our legislative system. Calling it a system is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. A more apt description would be a web of laws, intertwined in such a way that a change in one brings about a need to amend many others. The well-used catchphrase “One goes in, two come out” remains theoretical. One day in the House, I found a piece of paper on my desk that said, “Look not only for the benefits in a bill but also the damage it can cause.” Someone scribbled, and rightfully so, on the reverse side of it, “Do as you say then, idiot.”
Attempts to digitalize this legislative clutter have already cost us a hefty sum, and we are still bringing up the rear not only in Europe but the whole world when it comes to the digitalization of state and public administration. Removal of unnecessary paperwork and regulations remains a theory. We have finally managed to pass the bill about the right to digital services. Its implementation in practice, however, hangs on the list of actual services that should be digitalized. It also requires a thorough once-over to get rid of any duplicates and inefficiencies. I will point out for instance driver’s licenses that are close to expiring, the government could send them to our homes by mail same as banks do with payment cards, or it could simply abolish the need to have one with you physically.
Requirements and benefits
Creating a reliable and accessible digital infrastructure is a prerequisite for successful digitalization. For that to happen, we need a fast and dependable connection accessible from anywhere, the right hardware equipment, and appropriate software applications. All of this would require that digital infrastructure be made equal to the infrastructure of transportation or power. Data repositories need to be built, digitized data for construction processes take up tens of megabytes. So far we seem to be pouring a substantially larger amount of money into concrete than digitalization.
Sensible digitalization would not only simplify state and public administration and make citizen’s lives easier, but it would also lead to a decrease in inefficient mobility as well as to the use of anonymous data in healthcare which would subsequently reduce wasteful use of resources and increase its overall efficiency. Another use case is the improvement of lifelong learning.
We mustn’t forget security. Alternative measures to be taken in case of a system attack must be developed and a reliable digital identity ensured. A choice has to be made whether a decentralized system is safer and more efficient or if a centralized solution is the way to go instead.
Guinea pigs from the last century
We need not fear for digitalization when it comes to its advances in the business world. It is becoming an indispensable part of businesses’ ability to compete and sustain themselves. When it comes to the state and public administration, however, solutions from the last century are still being introduced. Among these are ID cards with chips that require an obsolete reader which is nearly impossible to connect to any modern device, as well as toll stickers which took a similarly long time to digitalize. End users are routinely being used as guinea pigs.
Projects like “Digital Czechia” show in practice that entrusting digitalization to the IT guys is the worst possible approach. They have to be a part of it and help implement it, but they should not be at the helm.