The Roman Empire is still considered the longest-lived empire in the history of the world. But this record could not have been established without an efficient administration system to manage such a vast state. In ancient China, members of the administration (called Mandarins) were at the top of the hierarchy in the country. The Ottoman Empire also functioned thanks to an extremely efficient administration. And the British Empire, on which the sun never sets, was able to control such a vast territory thanks to a very efficient bureaucracy.
Digital government has reached a critical point. It is no longer a stand-alone or auxiliary tool, nor does it represent a panacea for government deficiencies or inefficiencies; it should be seen as an integral and thoroughly integrated aspect of the physical functioning of public institutions and services deliveryUnited Nnations’ E-Government Survey 2022
These examples demonstrate how important efficient administration is for the prosperity of a state. Not only in the past but also nowadays. But today, the role and function of public administration have evolved. The main reason is the digital revolution and the development of new communication techniques. “The public sector is a case in point; in terms of policies, institutions, strategies, and tools, there is no longer a clear distinction or separation between government and e-government,” as written in the report “E-Government Survey 2022. The Future of Digital Government” which was prepared for the United Nations.
This report describes how countries’ administrations are handling the transition from an analog to a digital world. The authors put a clear conclusion – there is a strong correlation between the income of every state and the level of development of e-government. Higher-income countries tend to have better e-government than lower-income countries. How are the Three Seas Initiative countries handling this challenge?
e-Administration: Tiger Leap forward
Among the countries with the best-developed e-government is Estonia. In the most recent list of 2022, it was ranked 8th – but in previous years, it was sometimes ranked as high as 3rd place. Estonia became independent in 1991; before that, it had been one of the Soviet republics. From the very beginning, the country wanted to develop new technology infrastructure to be able to catch up with the West as quickly as possible – the state has regarded it not only as an attempt to fill a technological niche but even as a form of way to consolidate its sovereignty and break out of technological and civilizational dependence on Russia.
These dreams became a reality. In 1996, Tallinn launched the Tiger Leap Initiative – the program for developing digital infrastructure. Every year 1% of its GDP was spent on IT. With what result? Nowadays, Tallinn is very high in every ranking describing the country’s digital transformation. 99% of Estonians use the internet daily. Virtually all public services are available online – citizens can even vote in elections via the internet. Its high position in the “E-Government Survey 2022” report Estonia owes this primarily to the quality of its online services – in this respect, it has no equal in the world. This best shows how visionary the authors of the Tiger Leap Initiative have been.
Austria takes 20th position in this survey, followed by Slovenia in 21st place. Both countries gained their high position mainly thanks to their well-developed human capital index (points in this index get primarily for the quality of education and health care). They could be higher in the UN ranking, but both countries are still missing in the quality of their telecommunications infrastructure. But Slovenia has a lot of chances to have a higher place in the next ranking as it is quickly improving its telecom infrastructure. In 2018 this country was in 37th place in this survey – the best example of how fast it perfects its IT possibilities.
A critical juncture
Three other Three Seas Initiative countries cracked the top 40: Lithuania (24th), Latvia (29th), and Poland (34th). All these states gained top results in human capital – another confirmation that Central Europe has a well-educated and competent workforce. But in the case of these countries, their Achilles’ heel turns out to be what Estonia’s strength is: the quality of services provided via the internet. No, it is not tragic; after all, they are ranked in the top half of the list. But this is also where they all have the most room for improvement if they focus on gaining a higher place in this ranking in two years.
Other countries in the region have a lot of room for improvement in terms of service quality and IT infrastructure. Croatia is on 44th place, Czechia – 45th, Slovakia – 47th, Hungary – 51st, Bulgaria – 52nd and Romania – 57th. All these countries repeat the same pattern: they are quite good in human capital, but they lose a lot of points in the field of telecom infrastructure and internet services. And in these cases, it is difficult to expect rapid progress – all these states improve very slowly, and the Czech Republic and Bulgaria received even worse results than two years ago.
In this regard, the traditional administration, whose task should be to stimulate the development of modern technologies in the first place, is clearly not home in them. Nothing of the sort is taking place. In fact, a walk through the center of Prague, Sofia, or Bucharest is enough to see how poorly the internet on cell phones works in them – its performance is so low that one can hardly use Internet navigation. In such a situation, it is all the more difficult to improve e-government services.
“Digital government has reached a critical point. It is no longer a stand-alone or auxiliary tool, nor does it represent a panacea for government deficiencies or inefficiencies; it should be seen as an integral and thoroughly integrated aspect of the physical functioning of public institutions and services delivery” concludes the UN survey. The authors of this ranking noticed two things. First, the whole world has been constantly improving the possibilities of e-administration. Second, the whole world has no choice but to improve it.
The Covid-19 pandemic proved without any doubt that digital transformation is a must in the 21st century, and countries who think otherwise will lose in the civilization race. It is no coincidence that the first five places on the UN’s list are occupied by countries identified with modernity and affluence: Denmark, Finland, South Korea, New Zealand, and Sweden. But it is also apparent that much of Central Europe is very aware of the changes that are taking place in the world and how important IT capabilities are today. The correlation – the better-developed e-administration, the higher the level of wealth – works on everyone’s imagination.