Digital offensive – “Away with the plastic cards”

With the last government reshuffle a month ago, the digital agendas migrated from the Ministry of Economics to the Ministry of Finance. The new State Secretary Florian Tursky is now to ensure a digital offensive in the domestic bureaucracy and in education.

“Vienna Newspaper”: Mr. State Secretary, you can vote online in Estonia. When will it be ready in Austria?

Floria Tursky: It is undisputed that Estonia and other countries are ahead of Austria when it comes to digitization. In Estonia, every administrative procedure can be completed online, all residents have a digital ID. I see it primarily as a task for me to catch up here. However, Estonia also has the disadvantage of starting from little, because Austria has the advantage of a well-established civil service tradition and bureaucracy.

What do you mean by that?

Austria has a bureaucracy we can be proud of. There are umpteen registers, we have a population register, a driver’s license register, I could go on like this for quite a while. They are technically great. Germany, for example, does not have a central population register. But the individual areas are not linked to each other because they all came about independently of one another and in their own areas. But the increased bureaucracy should not be an excuse. It is only intended to make it clear why one or the other aspect is somewhat more difficult in Austria.

And what about online voting?

At the end of the day, that comes down to two things. Firstly in data protection and secondly in the assessment of voting rights. Unlike in Switzerland, for example, where 90 percent of people vote by post, most people in Austria vote at the ballot box. We take this into account, so there are no plans to change this. Maybe we as a society will think differently about this in a few years, but first many forms of administration have to function and be used digitally. Let’s do that now.

As in Estonia, all official channels in Rwanda can be completed with just a few clicks on the smartphone. Has Austria missed a development here?

Rwanda made a virtue out of a catastrophic post-war situation. They quickly set up a functioning mobile phone network and provided the population with mobile devices. But of course: are we as far as we should be? no We now have to digitally link our grown structures. In the end, there will also be a once-only principle in the Austrian administration, like in Estonia or Rwanda. That is, a single digital platform where everything is gathered and easily accessed. We are working on that. By 2024, almost all administrative procedures should be possible digitally.

A few years ago there was talk of the digitization billion, and a digital roadmap was also announced. What became of it?

There is a nationwide digital action plan in which we are in the process of designing and coordinating digital strategies in every department. The other is IT consolidation between the departments, which means more and more departments should be given the same applications so that the systems can communicate with each other better. The problem is that my registration form is there, my birth certificate is there. Now it’s all about connecting everything with one click. But many things already work digitally, my job is to make this understandable to people.

Can you give examples?

Recently, I found out that I have the option of calling up various things, such as online finance and data from social security, with one click and without having to register again. I also didn’t know that you could do the criminal record extract online. Our goal is now, with the introduction of the digital identity, ID-Austria, to get all ID cards that I currently have in my wallet onto my cell phone.

So away with the plastic cards?

Yes, away with the plastic cards. We will start with the digital driving license later this year, followed by digital approval.

If even you don’t know all the existing digital applications, how is digitization supposed to reach the public?

The word digitization is a heavy one. My aim is to show people the benefits of digitization. It’s all on the phone. If I get caught in a traffic check, I have everything ready in one app and can show it to the police. The app also warns you before your passport expires. It’s about the simple benefit.

Business editor Bernd Vasari and State Secretary Florian Tursky.  - © Christoph Liebentritt

Business editor Bernd Vasari and State Secretary Florian Tursky.

– © Christoph Liebentritt

Will all administrative procedures become digital?

In the future, you will still be able to and will have to take care of some administrative procedures personally. For example, it will never make sense to only apply for a gun license digitally, and you may not want to do the civil wedding digitally either, even if we are digitizing the registration for marriage starting this year.

There are three digital generations: the PC, laptop and smartphone generation. How do you intend to reconcile all three?

There are even more generations, there is the 85 plus generation, to whom we find it difficult to explain the advantages of digitization. For many people, the written word has an incredible truth character. We will therefore still have to offer digital administrative procedures in analogue form for around ten years.

Pupils of the local lower grades are now equipped with laptops. Shouldn’t they already be working on tablets?

I myself grew up with a class PC at school and there was an IT room with stationary PCs. There will certainly still be overhead projectors here and there, but the task now is to equip schools with mobile devices. The goal is mobile first. Because reality takes place on smartphones, this end device has become a basic need and that is why we are focusing on it.

However, the schools will not be equipped with tablets. . .

When it comes to equipment, our focus is on mobile devices, by which I mean tablets. Equipping schools with laptops in the long term is not expedient. The world of work has changed completely, and we have to prepare the students for that. I will now also give away my desk and switch to a shared office. Of course, I also sit down when I’m designing something. But this also works wonderfully on the tablet.

At the same time, Austria is struggling with digitization. In many shops it is not possible to pay without cash. Why is that?

Contactless payment is almost free of charge. In principle, I’m more of a cashless person, the willingness to pay even small amounts in this way has increased a lot since the Corona pandemic. In Asia and the USA, this has already become established. There are two reasons for this: the bookkeeping is easier and there is less fraud.

Confidence in digital solutions is very high in Estonia, in contrast to Austria. How do you intend to create the necessary trust?

Trust grows with use. How great was the skepticism at the beginning of e-banking? Today almost everyone uses it. E-banking enjoys an extremely high level of trust.

Recently there was a hacker attack on the state of Carinthia. Can something like this be prevented?

This is a criminal case, which is important to me to emphasize. With criminal attackers. Something like this existed before the digital age, something like this will always exist in the digital age.

So like bank robberies in the past, which you couldn’t always prevent?

Exactly.

How well is Austria positioned to fend off such attacks?

Austria is very well positioned when it comes to cyber security. But we also have to make people more and more aware of how to deal with it. A higher awareness of phishing mails is necessary. Everyone knows the emails where someone promises a lot of money if you send them the account details. My advice: please don’t open it. Password security is also important. Please encrypt well, there are password managers that help. It’s the very banal things that offer good protection: be careful and use common sense.

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