The digital transformation and the transition to a digital society is in full swing – there is hardly any area in life which has not yet been penetrated. Calls for e-voting, electronic medical records of the digital fingerprint belonging to citizens are getting louder. Digitalization promises an uncomplicated, fast future. On the other hand, there are concerns about data security and protection. But what does it really take to become a digital society? According to internet pioneer Taavi Kotka, you only need 7 principles.
Kotka is the first CIO of the Estonian government and is still advising the European Commission on issues relating to the European digital single market and e-governance. He and his company are currently advising governments and startups on digital transformation. In his keynote speech at the 5th Swiss Conference on Data Science SDS | 2018, he showed what state and city governments can and must do on a technological and institutional level to become a digital society.
The basic requirement for the use of digital services is a stable and secure supply network. In short, every citizen must have access to the internet. We are convinced that acquiring access to the internet alone is not the answer. People also need to understand how to optimally and safely use applications and services.
What does the situation look like in Switzerland?
With regard to digital literacy, Switzerland has a lot of catching up to do. Basic programming skills, for example, give us the opportunity to understand how the digital world works; help to handle interfaces better and support building bridges between communication and technology. In our everyday work, this knowledge also helps us to simplify cooperation and to coordinate and plan more effectively with different partners. Initiatives such as Master21 or Let's boot offer a variety of programs at different levels and prepare people for the digital age.
A digital identity, like a physical one, must be clearly identifiable. Kotka aptly adds that in this case we are confronted with a paradox: while many people express reservations about a state-created digital identity, they also use an e-mail address - which is essentially the same thing. A unique sequence of letters and characters that can be assigned to one specific person. This means that a majority of people already use digital identities without being aware of them and trust that they will work.
A digital society should simplify certain procedures and processes. However, this only works if the principle is pursued once-only. Records are created once and shared by an appropriate infrastructure. This procedure relieves the individual infrastructures and ensures that the data is always up to date and correct – without having to align the databases first.
And in Switzerland?
For example, DINAcon is committed to a sustainable digitization. CH Open is also involved in this area and is convinced of the innovative strength, quality and potential of open source solutions. True to the motto: «Invest in the implementation of functionalities, instead of paying expensive licenses!»
The fourth point also addresses the main concern of many citizens. Property, data privacy and personal privacy are highly sensitive issues that have been shaping the debate for quite some time - especially with regard to the electronic patient files; the digital medical record. Kokta is convinced that digital files are in the end even more private than those on paper. While a paper file can be stolen and duplicated without leaving traces, digital medical records have a logbook. Every access, every modification is documented.
It is the job and duty of the government to inform and communicate transparently and openly. Citizens must be confident that their digital identity and shared data are handled with care and security. Only those who trust the system, will use it.
If you want trust, you have to earn trust. Or as Nest's entrepreneur and chief growth officer, Niamh Given, said, "You need to put some skin in the game". Communication and relationships are highly relevant. Credible communication is the basis for a long-term, successful launch of new digital solutions. The main focus is to build a continued dialogue with stakeholders; as well as individuals and the public. Citizens should be informed in a timely manner and involved in the dialogue, they want to feel that their concerns and doubts are taken seriously. Whether analog or digital will not be elaborated any further at this point.
From our experience in the field of change management, we know that a successful transformation - here to the digital society, requires a double driven strategy: informing and explaining new services and programs while at the same time empowering the population. Our conclusion: Digital literacy of the Swiss population should be one of the priorities of the government. Only those who have the appropriate knowledge can use digital services optimally and safely. Digital education empowers and helps to reduce any prejudices against ITC services.
Kotka adds an example of his homeland Estonia: in the Baltic state no significant system may be older than 13 years. Only current systems guarantee the stable function of a digital ecosystem. Or as Kotka compares: «For cars or cell phones, each of us also relies on up-to-date, functioning models».
As so often with innovative projects, the big picture should be the focus. With every step, every new element in the construction of digital society, the whole ecosystem should be taken into account. Governments that are already thinking about how to serve the population optimally will be able to gain a clear lead and become extremely attractive, especially for digital nomads with a changed work and life concept. Already now, a lot is happening in Switzerland. Initiatives like the state lab, and pioneers like Hannes Gassert, who works for Pro Helvetia or Johannes Gees from We make it! have recognized the signs of the times and want to bring Switzerland digitally to the forefront.
Last but not least: advantage and courage are required. Governments should already consider today where they stand and how they can use the developments for the benefit of all citizens. If you put your head in the sand and refuse new possibilities, then sooner or later you will be outshined by innovative competitors. Or as Kotka put it: «Switzerland should be afraid». We already took the first step and are immersed in the digital world – do you dare to jump as well?
Read the complete interview with Kotka about the digital society in the Tages-Anzeiger (in German):
An organization that stands for an active, committed approach to digital transformation is We Shape Tech.
More on We Shape Tech: http://www.weshape.tech
Further information on the mentioned organizations that are committed to digital sustainability and open source:
CH Open: http://www.ch-open.ch
The 6th Swiss Conference on Data Science SDS | 2019 takes place on June 13 and 14, 2019. We from Aileen Zumstein Communication are excited to accompany the upcoming edition of the conference.