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Podcast 🎧 and blog: Ukraine’s digital transformation: successes & setbacks

28.08.2020 | Federico Plantera

In the last few years, the Government of Ukraine has endeavoured incessantly to detach itself from paper-based procedures, to enable and provide e-services, and to reduce corruption with the help of IT-solutions and of the secure data exchange platform ‘Trembita’.

How has Ukraine managed so far? What to highlight in terms of successes and setbacks throughout this digital transformation journey?

This week’s podcast takes a look at Ukraine’s recent experience and latest developments. Hannes Astok shed some light on digital steps forward and challenges in one of Europe’s biggest countries.

The long road to a digital government

Since 2012, e-Governance Academy has been active in Ukraine to assist institutional change towards a multi-layered, digital government. Many projects have taken place in the country, supported by European funding and partner countries.

“Today Ukraine is a rapidly developing nation, progressing and moving forward. However, the burden left by the previous regime in its practices was still heavy, in particular for its impact on the functioning of government activities,” Astok says.

Kicking off the journey to digital transformation, municipalities took the initiative already in 2012. Then the national government followed, in 2013. But one of the main issues was a low level of computerisation even in terms of tools, with information systems and documents largely being still in paper format.

This was probably the most cumbersome legacy from the past. “Why on paper? It’s here that the effort towards digitalisation ties with the attempt to increase trust and accountability in the work of democratic institutions. It’s easy to manipulate information when it’s on paper, allowing cases of corruption to occur. But as former Estonian President Ilves used to say, ‘it is very hard to bribe a computer’ instead,” Astok explains.

 

Transforming a large country in a digital society

Developing a digital government for Ukraine means that its public administration must serve an audience of 43 million people. But while scale can be a challenge, the efforts of the Ministry of Digital Transformation stay bold in scope.

For a start, the creation of State Agency for e-Governance (now Ministry of Digital Transformation, expressing the Deputy Prime Minister too) helped coordinate the action plan outlined, as well as to define pressing topics in the transformative agenda. “At the moment, however, the impact of digitalisation can still have a strong effect on three key elements,” Astok says. These are:

  • Improving further the service delivery capacity of municipalities;
  • The educational sector, as an incentive for the very talented local engineers to stay in the country and contribute to its progress;
  • The need to create an internal ICT market for Public-Private Partnerships, to foster the productivity of local businesses.

To this end, everyone from the government side must be on board. This hasn’t been always easy, as development in certain sectors depends also on topic-specific leadership. “Some see value in digitalisation, while I think others sometimes do not want to see it. But the government as a whole is really driving the digital agenda forward. Furthermore, the Covid-19 situation also helped some open their eyes in this sense,” Astok says.

 

Successful outcomes and key challenges

Despite all the success stories coming from an outstanding journey so far, some challenges remain. These have been acknowledged by the government, but the reengineering of these processes, naturally, takes time. As outlined by Hannes Astok, these are:

  1. Data quality and databases, still not good enough as information often needs verification;
  2. Digital ID in a country where Mobile ID is also present, but take-up is quite low to this day. The lack of a clear implementation roadmap is highlighted, and this constitutes a bottleneck for the provision of further digital services;
  3. Widespread digital services implementation, impaired by the previous two points, and by a persisting affection(so to say) to paper.

Virtuous examples are, instead, the digital services now provided thanks to interoperability. “Connecting data from different databases has allowed the creation of an e-Baby service, where registration of a new-born child can in some cases be done already at the hospital, and related e-services can be activated. Then, efforts have produced results as for the creation of a mobile portal for the access to services and personal information, such as in the case of a citizen’s driving license in the instance of a police check,” Astok concludes.