It has never been more vital to ensure the continuity of business and commercial services since the beginning of the pandemic, which has disrupted all aspects of daily work, consumption and access to public services. Marc Hansen, Luxembourg’s Delegate Minister for Digitalisation, announced today the creation of the GovTech Lab: a plan to digitize internal and external government services, in open innovation, in order to deeply anchor this new citizen-state relationship.
Photo: Marc Hansen, Luxembourg’s Delegate Minister for Digitalisation / Credits © Kaori Anne Jolliffe / Silicon Luxembourg
Marc Hansen has learned two things in the months leading up to the pandemic: while the digital transformation of government services had already begun, the health crisis we are going through has enabled us to test new digital devices as a matter of urgency, and to reflect on how to effectively sustain these solutions over the long term. For Silicon Luxembourg, he talks about this project, but also give deep insights to tech inclusion, teleworking, and the strengths and weaknesses of the State on the great chessboard of digital ecosystems. Did you say connected, Minister?
You announced the launch of a first virtual challenge taking place over several months, complementary to the GovTech Lab initiative. These two announcements call for collective intelligence, and in particular open innovation. Can you tell us more about it? Do you plan to launch and implement one or more of the projects that will be presented?
MH: Absolutely. We believe that there is a lot of outside knowledge in Luxembourg and the Greater Region could be a major asset for our businesses. We would like to call on this large digital ecosystem to help us transform our public services.
Until now, we used to focus on our own skills. But we have additional needs in terms of innovation and digitalization. The creation of the GovTech Lab complements this ecosystem by setting up public/private partnerships in the form of challenges and calls for tenders, as in a digital think tank dedicated to government services and our citizens. The State Information Technology Center (CTIE) is moving to new premises in Kalchesbréck that will be open and conducive to discussions and networking. Support, openness and collaboration are the pillars of this project. The first challenge will probably not be as big as the next ones, as we will need to test the concept before we get up to speed. When it was created, the Ministry functioned as a departmental startup, and this mindset must continue.
In 2014, the Prime Minister launched the Digital Luxembourg initiative and in 2018 the Ministry of Digitalisation, of which you are the Minister Delegate. As for the CTIE, it is the State’s IT centralizing tool. To clarify things, to what extent are these systems complementary and how do they interact with one another?
MH: Digital Luxembourg was a multi-disciplinary initiative. Its aim was to initiate the gradual transformation of state services towards going digital. Today, it still supports national and international projects that are moving in this direction. The new government has created a ministry dedicated to digital initiatives to bring together policy makers at every level of the state around the same table. We now have the lead in organizing the Interministerial Committee for the Digitalization of Public Administration.
The idea is to discuss how to structure and progress in the digitization of our public services. Before, the CTIE was under the authority of the Ministry of the Civil Service. Today, it is the Ministry of Digitalization’s tool, which will give concrete bearing to these exchanges in line with the Ministry’s four strategic axes: the development of E-Government, progress in administrative simplification, the digital inclusion of citizens, and the integration of new technologies such as artificial intelligence within government services.
Since the beginning of the Covid crisis, we have put in place immediate measures with administrative implementations sometimes launched overnight! We have proven that we are able to work 24/7 to be reactive when citizens need solutions quickly. I am aware that there is no such thing as state perfection, but I want to perpetuate and deploy this agility that we have shown beyond the pandemic. A state can move – as long as it respects legal compliance – in a short period of time.
“The digital demand exists and increases with the context we know. We want to broaden the range of online procedures and the site’s functionalities.”
What are the digital domains in which the State must increase its efforts? To what extent can digital technology be integrated into the functioning of state bodies? Who guarantees its cybersecurity and ethics of use, particularly with regard to the collection of citizen data?
MH: The latest statistics indicate that 1.6 million administrative procedures were transmitted on myguichet.lu over the last 11 months, compared to 553,000 over the 12 months of 2019. The digital demand exists and increases with the context we know. We want to broaden the range of online procedures and the site’s functionalities. For example, there is not yet a mobile application for Myguichet.lu. This is planned for the course of 2021. The DESI 2020 places Luxembourg in the Top 10 for digital state services. But there is still room for improvement… We note that the online tax declaration is not yet ready for individuals (simple viewer), while the service exists for companies, with automatic data forwarding. We are also keen to integrate artificial intelligence within the ministries to submit projects.
Before the Covid crisis, the digitization of activities could be worrying, especially teleworking for our agents, because all documents had not yet been dematerialized. Since then, many have discovered that working on electronic files saves them time, and ultimately improves their quality of life. Digital for digital, it’s like art for art’s sake, it’s worthless… It has to bring something extra to everyone.
For those citizens who are the furthest removed from digital uses, who are questioning their digital habits, the State has a primordial role of inclusion and must be reassuring. We need to act transparently, particularly with regards to the systematic validation of data processing and authorizations. We want to support them in using the tools that the State will make available to them for all administrative procedures, in a climate of trust.
The CTIE’s main mission is to support the digital transition of Luxembourg’s administrations. In recent months, the situation has mainly highlighted the digitalization needs of companies… How is your Ministry working with other State bodies to support entrepreneurs who are farthest from a digital state in this complicated period?
MH: It’s a vast project to be carried out. The Ministry of the Economy and the Directorate for the Middle Classes have launched several initiatives in this direction. The MyGuichet.lu site has made a lot of effort to provide administrative procedures for businesses. The increase in the number of professional spaces registered in MyGuichet (50674 between January and November 2020 compared to 33500 in 2019) is proof that this is appreciated and used. The CTIE, as the technological arm of the Ministry, manages the portal and is constantly adding features to improve the quality of the service provided.
“There will be, with the GovTech Lab, even more interaction between the government and startups.”
It has never been talked about as much as it has been since the beginning of the health crisis. Will the temporary measures and authorizations for telework granted by the State be extended to 2021, and could they possibly be made permanent by a law, in agreement with the other ministries?
MH: I can only talk about the telework of state employees. Before March 2020, teleworking for civil servants existed but the regulations did not allow it for senior civil servants. We have repealed that. Since the health crisis, each civil servant benefits from teleworking for up to 3 days a week, when possible.
I am discussing with the trade unions to perpetuate this system and find an agreement. At the Ministry for Digitalisation, in particular, the agents could be 100% teleworking, legally. We’ve immediately made our arrangements. The National Institute of Public Administration has launched a specific training plan for the use of remote tools. We have gone from 3,000 agents connected via VPN to more than 10,000 today, and from an average of 4,000 minutes of videoconferencing per month to more than 150,000 minutes! We have distributed 1000 laptops to our agents. A change initiated by the Covid crisis but which could also counteract some of the effects of the climate crisis by limiting the CO2 impacts related to commuting. We will also audit the consequences of telecommuting because some agents are not as well prepared as others and we are also aware that people need human interaction. It’s a balance to be found, between professional and personal life.
The digital economy is quite dynamic in the country, especially thanks to the many startups that have set up there. However, despite a dense ecosystem and a strong logistical and financial support from the state, the latter claim that it is sometimes easier to create a startup abroad, and to come to Luxembourg once the company is launched. What do you say to them?
MH: Here, I don’t have all the keys to give you the answers… Ask the Minister of Economy! What I can say is that there will be, with the GovTech Lab, even more interaction between the government and startups. These are two worlds that do not know each other and I am convinced that they must meet.
Finally, a more personal question: what are the applications you use on your smartphone and your favorite “digital goodies” to make your daily life easier?
MH: I’m an ultra-connected minister! In fact, I mainly work outside my office: in the car, in a meeting room, at home… anywhere thanks to my laptop. Almost every day, I travel to another ministry for work meetings, and I am permanently connected day and night. Professionally, I use an application from the Ministry of Relations with Parliament that allows me to follow the progress of questions asked by MPs to ministers. A dashboard allows me to see if response times are exceeded, it’s a bit of a departmental project management app! Personally, I have two daughters aged 16 and 17 who often show me new interesting or funny things. It’s spectacular what you can do with Face ID! I use Whatsapp every day to talk with my family, including video, Spotify to listen to music and I appreciate the convenience of Digicash for banking. I also have media apps for the indispensable morning press review. You often have to read a lot of them to understand a little bit… This requires aggregating the points of view and taking a step back!