The Slovenia Times

Interview: Niels Soelberg, Microsoft EMEA Public Sector Vice President



Mr Soelberg, you were a speaker at the first Envisioning event hosted by the Centre in 2010. How do you see the development of e-Government in the region? Do you see any progress? What is Microsoft's role in such initiatives?
I think there is. In the past, IT projects could take 3 or 4 years before you could see results. Today you see much more rapid implementation of e-Government solutions, whether they are e-tax or e-education systems and some of them have already started working on patient record systems . Some projects use the data that exists in their existing IT environments but projects are moving forward with much more agility and higher speed. That requires two things so to speak: it requires political decision making and it requires the technologies that are in place today.
You can say Microsoft has played a significant role throughout the years when we talk about the innovation of technology. We see that as a part of our obligation - to be relevant for the countries we are operating in when it comes to delivering IT services and in supporting the local economy by developing a partner ecosystem to deliver services. We also see ourselves as a part of the whole education development and if we look at the Lisbon Agreement, all EU members are very keen to raise the bar from an education perspective. Based on our experience, we believe that we can contribute.

You cover a very wide area. Would you say that there are some general differences between different countries and different regions?
Obviously there are. I also cover the African region and you see what is happening in the northern part of Africa. There are different development stages, but the desire to develop the countries and make them even more innovative and more competitive exists everywhere. Again, if you look at the development, some countries are further ahead, some of them have already reached the second generation of e-government solutions and then you can also see that other countries are rapidly learning from them. That's the beauty of it - countries learning from one another.

Because of the ongoing economic crisis in most European countries, governments are forced to implement strict austerity reforms. How is this affecting the development of e-Government?
I think there are two ways to look at it and I always try to simplify to my own private and family situation. There is obviously the economic benefit of having an efficient administration in the government. Take the tax system. If you can collect money faster and do the yearly statement faster, then it doesn't have to take six or nine or twelve months to close the previous year. That's what I call efficiency from the tax perspective.
But then there's the other side that you and I also need. For a new driver's license I used to have to go down to the local police station myself, with my license or passport picture, fill out a form, wait in a queue and then wait another two weeks to get my driver's license. Today I can do that online. I can click and paste my picture into the passport, I have my digital secure signature that the government has set up and so it is a kind of self-service that I can do right now. I then get my passport three days later in my mailbox. I can do many more services online now.
So if you look at some of the challenges that Greece has been facing, you see that they don't have that infrastructure in place today which obviously leads to uncertainty about how to create a foundation, at least from the financial perspective, that can help Greece move forward. So I think we can say this is not only a government issue, it is also a citizen issue. If they continue raising taxes, you and I will say 'enough is enough' and governments also need to optimise their administration.

Another hot topic in the past few years is cloud computing. Cloud solutions are being implemented in many business environments. What about the public sector, are their needs different?
It's true what you are saying about cloud. I think it's important to demystify what cloud computing is - it sounds like something disappears out there into cyber space. My view and Microsoft's view, is a strong belief in the public cloud and the private cloud. The private cloud is for the government because you get data privacy and the regulation that you need to maintain. There are also public cloud services that are available today and I will give an example from my own country of how the Danish government is using a public cloud. They take satellite pictures of a property to see how it has changed in the past year and then, if I haven't changed anything, the house will be the same size as it was the year ago. Then I have to pay property tax on that. This is how you mix public information with private information and you'll see, in many cases, there is a lot of information today that is not sensitive at all. You just have to use the benefit of the public cloud.

How do you see the future of e-Government?
I am very optimistic. The financial crisis is not yet over yet but the politicians from the EU and other countries have stepped up to face the challenge. I realise that if we don't change some things we have been doing, such as service for citizens and businesses, we will not be competitive moving forward.


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