7th May 2024

AmCham Digitizing Czechia conference: The progress is better than what the headlines would have you believe.

When DPM Bartoš took the digitization portfolio, the government had a very decentralized approach, and investment in digital systems had been sporadic at best. “We created the Digital Information Agency (DIA) to build more coherence and connectivity to the architecture of government systems,” Bartoš explained to members. “So much of the information government uses needs to flow between ministries, and the better we do that, the better we can analyze the needs of the country, and adapt our services to react to those needs.”

The DIA is a concept that has proven effective in other countries. In Czechia, however, DIA remains handicapped by a lack of staff, budget, and clear lines of authority. It also must deal with the large number of legacy systems that suck up much of the budget it does have. 

“Estonia had the great advantage of starting from a relatively clean slate,” Bartoš said. “They could build new systems using the latest technology. We have a large number of existing systems that cannot be changed all at once. Keeping these old systems working takes human and financial resources away from new projects.”

“Government also faces a similar challenge to the private sector in recruiting and retaining enough high quality people,” DPM Bartoš continued. ‘When companies face this problem, they raise pay to be more competitive. To do that in government is much more difficult. One solution is to outsource much of the development work, but even then we need to have enough competence both in the technology and legal services that we define what we want to procure well enough that it does not lead to problems in the future. This is a long-term challenge that is fundamental to how successfully we can digitize government.”

Despite the obstacles, DPM Bartoš believes the government can add a few steps of progress before the next election. “The electronic ID we implemented now has approximately 350,000 users, and we should be able to add more,” he said. “The eID moves us along the path the European Digital Wallet, which is on target for implementation in 2 years.”

“Simultaneously, we want to introduce two consolidation projects,” he added. “ The first is to bring all government into a single gov.cz domain.”

This may sound like an arbitrary process, but it is a building block to better citizen services and more integrated databases. It provides users with clarity that they are using a government website and the government to make the domain more secure. This builds trust. 

“The second is to start pushing more citizen’s services through a single citizen’s portal,” Bartoš said. “Again, this may not sound like progress, but if citizens can have one place they can go to access government services, it makes them more likely to use them, and makes it easier for them. For us, it again provides a way to coordinate services and make them secure. The portal now has 1.25 million users, and we want to push more than 100 services through the portal.”

All of this is enough work to fill the days of Bartoš’ team. They also must, however, shape how the economy and society shift into a more digital world. Digital technologies are proliferating fast and wide. Government will determine how quickly some can be put to use, and that will decide how innovative business and government services can be. 

“Generative AI provides a very good example of what governments should expect on a regular basis,” Renate Strazdina, the regional National Technology Officer of Microsoft, explained to the audience. “These technologies can give the next boost in productivity through research and application. And they will need a clear governance structure to guide the population toward responsible use.”

Getting to that clear governance structure is a political minefield. Proponents of AI promise paradise. Opponents fear dystopia. Every technology can have good uses and bad uses. The more important the technology, the more it can help or hurt. 

As Antonín Hlavinka of Olomouc Hospital illustrated, the good that AI can do is worth pursuing. “We have been using AI in health care for over a decade, and the promise of what it can deliver in both the quality of care and the efficiency of administration can deliver major advances that improve people’s health,” Hlavinka said. “To get everything we can out of the technology, we need to intensify the cooperation between the public sector and private sector. Some changes to how that cooperation is regulated are necessary. We also need to unify all the activities of universities, hospitals, and regional governments into innovation hubs that create products and services that all parts of the system can use. And I agree with Minister Bartoš that we have to find a solution to the unequal pay of IT specialist in the public and private sector.”

Jiří Sven Svěrák of AWS reminds everyone that AI rests on the cloud. “Generative AI can generate major increases in the productivity of the public sector,” he said. “Almost every one of these services is going to be based in the cloud. That is why we need a system for registering cloud services that encourages innovation by being easy to use and quick. If we can achieve that, then the private sector can help the public sector scale their services. One other competitive issue that needs to be addressed is how Czechia can construct their Large Language Model that has a sufficient degree of competence.”

AmCham will continue with its Digitizing Czechia series of events with a progress report from Martin Mesršmíd of the Digital Information Agency on May 27th and a video roundtable with Minister Bartos that will be distributed to members and on social media in June. 



More information about AmCham advocacy is available below.

Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic