Interview by Leonidas Christopoulos, Secretary General of Digital Governance and Simplification of Procedures at the Ministry of Digital Governance, to George Vailakis

Rarely in Greece a Ministry enjoys wide appreciation of its work, as the ministry of Digital Governance currently does. Under the leadership of Kyriakos Pierrakakis, the ministry has digitized a good part of the public services. Now it sets even more ambitious goals

Leonidas Christopoulos, Secretary General of Digital Governance and Simplification of Procedures

It would sound like a joke a few years ago: introducing Artificial Intelligence technologies in the public sector. It is no joke to the team of the Digital Governance ministry. Leonidas Christopoulos, Secretary General of Digital Governance and Simplification of Procedures, talks to Greek Business File about the new projects that aim at facilitating the life of Greek citizens and the goal of “doing everything from home or the workplace

What is Greece’s strategy for Artificial Intelligence? What developments should we expect in this area?

Greece’s National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence is currently under development and is expected to be published for public consultation and comments approximately within the next quarter. The strategy has been developed in Greek AI research centers, academia, and eminent professors in the field of AI working in foreign universities.

It is aligned to the European approach on AI and includes issues like Ethical & Responsible AI, AI to Support the New Green Deal, AI for post-Covid-19 Recovery. The strategy streamlines AI Activities with ongoing Digital Transformation Activities and aims at capitalizing on assets like the Academic Community and the Startup Ecosystem.

Additionally, Greece aims to launch a number of (Information and Communication Technologies) ICT projects specifically for the public sector, by employing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning methodologies. Projects include, for example, mechanisms to support public audit bodies to combat tax fraud and evasion and assessment of public procurement, monitoring system application on inputs and outputs in the fuel trade, support system of the mechanism for collecting public revenues, introduction of robotic process automation technologies for reduction of repetitive administrative work etc.

What have we gained from the conditions imposed by the pandemic on digital transformation? How ready were the citizens for the digital leap?

As Ministry of Digital Governance (MDG), we have won a major wager. Because of our meticulous planning, along with the high-level political will of the Prime Minister and Minister Pierrakakis, the pandemic did not derail our strategy. On the contrary, it served as a catalyst for our digital transformation agenda. We hacked our schedules, in order to develop services up front. We emphasize on, the government portal that unifies all of the state’s digital services. Gov was activated two months ahead of schedule, allowing people to perform their transactions with the government from the comfort of their own home or workplace, eliminating commuting and excessive bureaucracy. Of course, apart from time, we gained something far more important. Citizens regained their confidence in the ability of the state to respond immediately and effectively to their needs.

In addition, Digital Transformation, became the key vision. The transformative power of digital as a means of growth, is highly appreciated. Digital transformation projects are on the top of every ministerial agenda. It’s a strategic decision, in order to re-invent “Digital Greece” and to create new sources of value by 2023.

As far as citizens are concerned, I strongly believe that they were ready for this digital leap to a large extend. That’s also a key factor for digital transformation success. The greatest challenge now is not to leave anyone behind. Not everyone is comfortable with technology and computers. Thus, we require two things: digital reskilling across all demographic groups and a strong focus on plain security best practices, so that all citizens are aware of the potential mishaps that can occur online.

We’re already designing such digital reskilling and upskilling programs through the National Digital Academy as well as through The Greek Digital for Skills and Jobs Coalition.

At what stage is the digitization of public services?

During the pandemic, Greece managed to make significant progress and reach the average of other European countries in digital public services. Gov started with 500 services and until today it has already 1261 services. The goal is to reach a model where citizens can do almost everything from their home or workplace. Of course, I must emphasize that the value of digitization became even more evident during the vaccination process. This process has been an exercise of effectively designing a significant digital service, which can be very useful in the future for other procedures too.

The digital and administrative transformation is an ongoing challenge. What are the priorities of the Ministry of Digital Governance for the near future?

Our focus at MDG remains on two pivotal concepts: simplification and interoperability. We’re working on simplifying procedures, not only digitizing, while also letting different databases and registries “talk” to each other. We now have a horizontal public policy to work on redesigning, simplifying, digitizing administrative procedures, and improving citizen information, thanks to the “National Simplification Program”. The use of digital tools to design better services is particularly important to the Ministry of Digital Governance’s goals, without excluding those who are unable to meet technological challenges. We want to provide better digital services to everyone, including citizens and businesses, on a continuous basis. Our goal for the next 12 months is to add approximately 100 critical services, addressing issues such as starting a sole proprietorship, digital real estate transfers, driver’s licenses’ renewal, and much more.

The full interview of Leonidas Christopoulos is published in the September/October issue of Greek Business File, available here.