The Austrian administration wants to be more digital. Just a few weeks ago, the responsible Minister of Foreign Affairs, Florian Tursky (ÖVP), announced that more money would be coming for this area, for example for the digital ID card or the digital e-Card. Austria’s public sector is in the middle of the digital rankings, according to a new study from Agenda Austria. “Many things are possible, but fail when it comes to usability,” study author Hanno Lorenz said in an interview with APA.
In particular, 90 percent of public services can now be carried out online. With 200 digital official channels in 80 applications, the management offers a wide range of services. “It’s too big,” criticizes Lorenz. “Many offerings you don’t even know exist, and if they do, they’re often too complex to use.” For example, Finanzonline offers a variety of services from a purely technical perspective, but there are still deficiencies in usability.
Lorenz lacks an overall concept and a “sense of functionality”. “You need your own app for everything. If I fail to create added value for users, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one uses my services.”
Austria ranked 10th in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) in 2022. In the European Commission’s current “eGovernment benchmark”, Austria ranks 14th in the EU in terms of digital services for citizens and services for companies. 15. Austria has been ranked around 20th in the United Nations global index for almost two decades.
The gap between it and the upper area in the north of the continent is large. The cornerstone of e-government is a digital identity; In Austria it is “ID-Austria”. But in this country only 9 percent of the population over the age of 15 (38 of whom still use mobile phone signature) use it, whereas in the Scandinavian countries the rate is well over 90 percent.
While people in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden can use bank IDs to access digital administrative services, the Estonian government has managed to persuade the public to use e-IDs. Although there is no mandatory digital communication for citizens in Estonia, they do almost everything online. 99 percent of tax returns and medical data are transmitted electronically; voting, getting married and will also be possible online from next year. In Denmark, everyone over the age of 15 must be able to receive e-mail from the authorities. However, the solution of the Scandinavian states seems difficult for Austria because only 73 percent of people use internet banking.
Austria likes to compare itself with Germany and is clearly ahead of its larger neighbor, at least when it comes to online governance. “But it doesn’t do any good to be better than a country that hasn’t made progress in a decade.” Germany had a good start with digitalization but then “completely lost its way.”
According to Lorenz, the public’s biggest obstacle is trust in politics. Many people have a mistrust that must be challenged, especially when it comes to data protection. “Similarly, I never know what will happen to my data.” Here the government needs to “reach out to the people” and, above all, create transparency. “You can create a legal framework that guarantees data protection.” It is not enough just to digitize existing dialogues, but “you can create digitally something that is not possible to be analog and thus increase efficiency and improve the character of service for citizens.”