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Interoperability: Unlocking the Full Potential of Digitalized Services

Stefan DEDOVIĆ, Research Associate at KU Leuven Public Governance Institute and PhD Scholar at the University of Tartu - Center for IT Impact Studies 14 May 2024 Blogs

The citizens' well-being hinges greatly on the seamless provision of e-services tailored to their needs. Collaboration on interoperability is crucial for shaping policies and practices, prioritising these needs from the outset.

In March, we launched the first "public administration-based" Interoperability Academy of Montenegro, the first in a series of planned academies to be implemented in each ReSPA Member during 2024 and 2025. The Academy blended capacity-building sessions with a dialogue of all relevant stakeholders in Montenegro, resulting in outlined short and mid-term measures that can be implemented to enhance interoperability in Montenegro.

We are confident that fostering dialogue on the complexities and challenges of establishing a robust interoperability framework will enhance data exchange within one public administration and serve as a baseline for regional cooperation in this field where ReSPA can offer further assistance.

During the inaugural Interoperability Academy hosted in Bar, Montenegro, from March 27th to 29th, we engaged with expert Stefan DEDOVIĆ, Research Associate at KU Leuven Public Governance Institute and PhD Scholar at the University of Tartu - Center for IT Impact Studies. Stefan shared insights into how interoperability can unleash the full potential of digitized services, emphasising its role in optimizing governance, digital identity, and mobile government domains. He also provided an overview of EU legislation provisions and policies that, in synergy, underpin cross-sector interoperability both within EU Members' borders and internationally.  


Why is interoperability so crucial for unlocking the full potential of digitalized services?

Interoperability stands as a critical pillar for achieving the full potential of digital public services, offering a foundation that is not only mere technological integration. It fosters a seamless connection among service providers, which is necessary to maintain trust and the high quality of services offered. This seamless connection is vital for several reasons. Firstly, interoperability ensures that end-users benefit from a single public service experience. This integrated approach leads to many improvements, including enhanced access to services, significant cost and time saving and better user experience. Interoperability is not just about connecting different digital services, but also about creating a user-centred ecosystem where services are easily accessible and efficiently delivered. Secondly, the role of interoperability in enabling the successful implementation of technological advancements cannot be overstated. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) hold the promise of transforming public service delivery, making it more responsive, personalized and efficient. However, the potential of these technologies can only be fully unleashed in an environment where systems and services can communicate and operate seamlessly with one another. Interoperability ensures that new technologies can exchange information smoothly into the existing digital infrastructure, thereby enhancing the capabilities of government services and, consequently, their value to end-users.

In conclusion, interoperability is vital for overcoming digital transformation challenges and realizing the full potential of digitalized services. It is not just a technical requirement, but also a strategic enabler for the digitalization of public services. By promoting seamless integration, cooperation and the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, interoperability lays the groundwork for a future where public services are more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of all end-users.

What are the benefits, as well as savings, for end users and the government? Some examples from the perspective of governments and end-users of the services.

 Interoperability serves as a foundational pillar for a seamless digital public service delivery among service providers, ultimately translating into high benefits for service consumers. The service consumers span across government organizations, businesses and citizens. The advantages derived from interoperability are multifaceted, encompassing time and cost efficiencies, access to current and reliable information, minimization of errors and enhancement of the overall user experience. Taking the perspective of government organizations, particularly in domains such as security and taxation, the ability to seamlessly exchange and use information is crucial. It enables these entities to administer their services effectively and legitimately, ensuring that all end-users reap the benefits. For instance, in the taxation domain, interoperability significantly reduces the time end-users spend on tax report filings and decreases the likelihood of errors. This streamlined process is a direct result of the efficient information exchange and use facilitated by interoperability. Moreover, from the standpoint of citizens and businesses, interoperability often manifests through integrated digital public services. These services are typically structured around life events, such as obtaining social security benefits, necessitating collaboration among several public organizations. In these instances, interoperability ensures that citizens can seamlessly receive social benefits through one-stop shop or no-stop shop access. The importance of interoperability extends beyond immediate operational benefits, fostering a more connected and efficient public sector.

 EU legislation and policies, and alignment of the Western Balkans with them

Interoperability has been a driving force in the modernization of public services for nearly three decades, beginning with various frameworks, policies, declarations and legislative actions at the EU level. These initiatives have spanned across a broad spectrum, from specific domain interoperability developments, such as the sharing of car and license registrations, to recent advances in the general public services domain. These advances include the implementation of the Single Digital Gateway regulation, the eIDAS regulation and its forthcoming iteration, eIDAS 2, and the Interoperable Europe Act enacted in April 2024. These legislative measures are designed to bolster and facilitate member states' efforts to achieve cross-sector interoperability both within their borders and internationally. The overarching aim of these legislative and policy initiatives is to enable the digital delivery of public services at both the national and cross-border levels, thereby enhancing efficiency, accessibility and user satisfaction. The Interoperable Europe Act, which came into effect in April of this year, represents a significant milestone. It is the first regulation of its kind to prioritize interoperability as a central consideration in the digitalization of public services. This regulation mandates several critical actions regarding the design and substantial maintenance of information systems and digital public services, paving the way for more integrated and user-friendly digital public services across Europe. From the perspective of Western Balkan (WB) countries, aligning national legislation with EU standards is a crucial step. However, such alignment, while necessary, is not in itself sufficient to ensure the successful realization of the objectives underlying these regulations. The process of achieving interoperability extends beyond legislative alignment, which includes the sharing of best practices, the development of technical and organizational standards, and the fostering of a collaborative culture among public administrations.

How do activities such as ReSPA's Academy on Interoperability reflect the needs of the specific administration and possibly the region in moving forward with digitalization?

 The Regional School of Public Administration's (ReSPA) Academy on Interoperability has pinpointed the essential need for countries in the Western Balkans to focus on interoperability. It strategically aims to address this need through comprehensive training, lectures, and various support measures, underscoring the importance of interoperability for the digitalization of the public sector. Interoperability, the ability of different systems, organizations and countries to work together seamlessly, demands specific attention alongside solid governance processes and structures. ReSPA's Academy on Interoperability is dedicated to supporting and contributing to these areas, supporting activities in which the benefits of interoperability are fully realized across the region. Furthermore, the region's digital transformation emphasizes the need for a deep understanding of its benefits. It also requires a significant increase in the capacity of public sector employees to leverage these digital tools effectively. I believe that ReSPA's initiatives are appropriately designed to address these needs. Through its executed and planned activities, in my opinion, ReSPA is contributing to elevating the level of digitalization in the public sector, ensuring that public services are more accessible, efficient, and responsive to the needs of the citizens.

Moreover, collaboration and knowledge sharing among Western Balkan countries are key to overcoming common challenges and harnessing the collective potential for digital growth. By working together, sharing experiences, and learning from each other, these countries can accelerate their digital transformation journeys, benefiting from increased efficiency, transparency and trust in public services. By continuing to support and expand its activities, ReSPA can significantly contribute to a more integrated, efficient and innovative public sector in the region.


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