The Federal Chancellery’s Automatic Data Processing (ADP) Coordination Department
After working in the IT department of travel agent Österreichisches Verkehrsbüro for some years, Roland Ledinger transferred to the Federal Chancellery’s Automatic Data Processing (ADP) Coordination Department. At this point he was already focused on office information systems and the beginnings of Electronic Records (ELAK) application areas. With the establishment of a separate Federal Ministry for Health and Consumerism, he was assigned to head the ADP department of that agency in 1989. From 1995 onward, he was responsible for the IT data centres of the Federal Chancellery, and since 2001 he has been the project head of “ELAK at the Federal Level”. From 2002 to 2005, Ledinger headed Department I/9, the ICT centre of the Chancellery, and was responsible for the areas of information technology and telecommunication. In autumn 2004, the OSS platform was established at the Chancellery under his directorate. Since 2005, he has been head of the Federal ICT Strategy group at the Chancellery as well as CEO of Plattform Digitales Österreich.
The Austrian Federal Chancellery, located at Ballhausplatz in Vienna, is responsible for coordinating general government policy, information activity by the government, and the constitution. It also represents the Republic of Austria before the Constitutional Court, the Administrative Courts, and international courts. In the area of public administration, the Chancellery’s around 1,000 employees make it one of the smaller agencies, but its responsibilities are broad. Besides the Chancellery proper, the department’s portfolio encompasses the Federal Administrative Court, the Austrian State Archives, the Monuments Protection Agency, the “Hofmusikkapelle” orchestra, the Nondescrimination Attorneyship, the Austrian Communication Agency, and the Permanent Representation at the OECD. Chancellery staff also serve at Austria’s Permanent Representation at the EU in Brussels. Also assigned to the Chancellery are the following external institutions: Federal Museums and Theatres, Austrian National Library, Statistics Austria, and the Wiener Zeitung GmbH.
The Plattform Digitales Österreich (PDÖ) forms the strategic umbrella for all e-government agendas in Austria. Members of the platform are representatives of the federal, provincial, urban and communal administrations, as well as of industry, independent professions and the social security association. The task of the committee IKT-BUND is to advise the Chancellor on general IT-related topics and the preparation and implementation of trans-departmental ICT coordination activities. Priority topics for trans-departmental activities according to the e-Austria strategy are: strategic initiatives, preparation/evaluation of project designs, definition and determination of standards, interfaces and specifications. The ongoing activity is oriented around the strategic targets defined by the PDÖ.
Movie with Roland Ledinger
The Federal Chancellery’s Cloud Strategy
E-Government from the Cloud
The expansion and implementation of electronic administrative services is one of the priorities of the Austrian federal government. The Federal Chancellery is responsible in part for the public administration, and one of the concepts its CIO Roland Ledinger is utilizing is cloud computing. The goal is for every citizen in every community to have access to every form of e-government at the federal, provincial and community level. Secure communication and confidentiality of personal data as well as the security of transactions and access itself are of the utmost importance.
New ways of working, mobility, central registry concepts, standardization, social media and trends like cloud computing are affecting the public administration. The great significance attached to e-government in Austria is evidenced by the fact that the Federal Chancellery is responsible for its coordination. The umbrella brand for all activities in this context is the “Plattform Digitales Österreich” (Platform Digital Austria; PDÖ) established in 2005; it is the government’s coordination and strategy committee for e-government in Austria. All agendas of the “Kooperation BLSG” (Cooperation Federal-Provinces-Cities-Communities) and of the federal ICT departments mesh together here. The requirements for successful e-government are efficient service, transparency and customer-orientation, reorganization of work processes and communication channels, the creation of universal virtual contact points (one-stop-shop principle), a flexible, interactive, fast and secure administration system, joint approaches and cooperation between the federal, provincial, urban and communal administrations, and interoperability and open interfaces.
The ICT department of the Chancellery rests primarily on three pillars: The first is the IT operation at the Chancellery itself – a “support pillar”, as Roland Ledinger, responsible for the ICT strategy of the federal administration at the Chancellery and simultaneously head of the PDÖ, says: “We are currently servicing around 1,600 employees in Vienna and 25 in Paris at Austria’s Permanent Representation at the OECD. We operate two main data centres: the central backup data centre in St. Johann im Pongau and a location in metropolitan Vienna.” In the context of this typical element of operations, PCs, laptops and mobile phones – as well as any other ICT devices in the broadest sense – are managed. Ledinger: “We design our solutions in a sufficiently modular fashion to make them usable internationally.” The second pillar are the e-government projects like the Legal Information System, ELAK (Electronic Records), and the HELP platform as a one-stop-shop for citizens. These services are seeing consistently increasing usage: In 2014, 15.3 million users (citizens and companies) accessed the extensive information offered by the digital administrative assistant HELP.gv.at (2013: 12.5 million; 2012: 9.1 million) and viewed more than 47 million pages. Translated to a physical agency, that number would represent around 450 counter windows handling requests 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire year.
“The third pillar is the overarching cooperation between the federal, provincial, urban and communal levels. A total of 80 ICT staff, 30 of whom work in operation-related areas,” Ledinger conclud
Cost Reduction and Added Service Value
For the public administration, the cost factor alone is an important enough reason to engage with new trends in IT, and cloud computing is the next logical step in shared IT. It allows the typical consolidation phase to be skipped entirely, since many cloud solutions already promise improved and standardized services for citizens, along with the potential of bridging to financial services. There remain some challenges in the areas of security and data protection, but the risks are manageable.
One thing is certain: The public administration can profit from cloud solutions in many different ways. According to Ledinger, it is easier to harmonize websites in the cloud or to launch citizen services, like a service for managing administrative appointments, across multiple communities once they have been successfully tested and implemented. In the background, of course, there is also the issue of consolidating the public IT landscape, thereby reducing costs and saving on tax money. “Data centres have high fixed costs,” Ledinger knows, “but by accessing appropriate cloud services, individual public administration agencies can achieve massive savings since they only have to pay for the resources and services that are actually being used. This certainly represents a paradigm shift.” At the same time, however, the CIO warns against possible dependencies: “The dependency on providers or services is a problem for us in the context of unreclaimable processes. If we decide to make use of external services, then we must also be aware that we will have to dismantle the corresponding internal know-how, leaving us unable to reclaim the process at some point. We need to take this issue into consideration in the long term to be able to secure our infrastructures appropriately.”
There are, of course, certain restrictions that apply to the public area. “We use cloud solutions to exchange and jointly edit documents. By bundling individual ICT services, we are able to utilize this in different ways, for example in the shape of Software as a Service for ELAK. We use a cloud service for collaboration with external agencies in the creation of documents.” In regard to personal data, however, the public administration cannot safely migrate to a public cloud, since large service providers (as yet) cannot guarantee that US government agencies, for example, will not be able to gain unauthorized access to data. In this sensitive area, however, private clouds are available in which only defined users have access to stored data. Encryption can also be an option for using external cloud services.
Lack of Qualified Employees
Usability and security are not the only central topics in ICT-based administration, however. According to CIO Ledinger, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to improve the qualifications of affected staff at the same pace at which the framework conditions are changing. This also applies to the use of cloud computing: “Besides having the classic specialists in various IT areas, it will be necessary to evaluate possibilities for implementation based on existing options like cloud services,” Ledinger explains. “To understand the requirements and identify the appropriate available service is becoming an ever more important competence. That means we need generalists who are simultaneously knowledgeable on technical processes. In our IT departments, self-designed solutions are still the norm – a distinct cultural shift will be needed to fully embrace cloud computing.”
The CIO is certain that “we will no longer be doing much programming in the future. Instead, we will be a kind of integrator of products and services, the interface between specialist departments and IT providers.” An important aspect of this development is standardization: “Being able to categorize available cloud services is very helpful in this context. The required expert know-how will have to find a balance between expeditious solutions and concrete detailed assessment in future.”
“Cloud computing produces synergies, standardization and cost reduction”
The Austrian Federal Chancellery is responsible for coordination of the government, public service, the administration reform, the Federal Press Service, the constitution, and culture and the arts. New IT developments and services are highly relevant for this extensive field of activity, particularly in regard to the e-government strategy and its implementation. Three years ago, the Federal Chancellery evaluated the topic of cloud computing in terms of its uses in public administration and compiled a position paper. As Chancellery CIO, Roland Ledinger is responsible for ICT at the Chancellery itself (total staff: around 1,600) as well as for ICT coordination for the entire public administration, where various cloud solutions are already in use. In an interview with KURIER, Ledinger explains the criteria by which these services are selected, where the greatest future opportunities for the technology lie, and where its usage currently (still) faces its biggest challenges.
What role does cloud computing play for your agency?
Cloud computing provides synergies, standardization and cost reduction. The public administration must therefore continuously evaluate its use. Within the context of the administration, however, this must always be done with a view to the management and processing of confidential personal data, namely the data of citizens and companies.
Have you already developed a cloud strategy for the next two or three years at the Federal Chancellery?
A position paper was compiled for the public administration that outlines where and under what conditions cloud computing can be employed. We are constantly evaluating the topic as well, for example regarding new possibilities in terms of services. However, the use of cloud computing is currently only conceivable in the area of public data.
What cloud solutions are already in use at the Chancellery?
We use cloud solutions to exchange and jointly edit documents. Documents are our product. By bundling ICT services, we can use cloud services in various ways, e.g. as Software as a Service for ELAK (Electronic Records, usable immediately at a per-user per-month cost). For cooperation with external agencies in the creation of documents, we use cloud computing to facilitate collaboration.
How do you react to the frequently voiced concerns about cloud computing?
In the abovementioned position paper, we evaluated all aspects relevant to the public administration, focusing especially on the issue of data protection as well as legal framework conditions, dependencies and technical aspects. By engaging actively with the topic, we were able to dispel specific concerns and define the handling of associated risks. This makes it easier to assess the scope of applicability.
Is the dependency on providers a significant problem for you?
The dependency on providers or services is a problem for us in terms of potentially unreclaimable processes. If we decide to employ external services, then we must also be aware that we will have to dismantle the respective internal know-how, making us eventually unable to reverse the process and take back full control over the service. We need to remain aware of this issue so that we can safeguard our infrastructures appropriately.
How do you ensure that the individual departments know in which forms cloud computing is allowed or forbidden?
At most public agencies, IT solutions – and thus the use of cloud services – are implemented exclusively via the respective ICT departments, i.e. centrally. At the Federal Chancellery, the use of cloud services, e.g. survey services in the cloud, is likewise cleared by the IT department. In general, there is always a clear policy within the public administration as to who is allowed to do what, and when – and this applies to cloud solutions as well.
How do you ensure that the IT staff have the required know-how?
That is indeed a very important aspect. While we have established a working group on cloud computing, the central issue remains the dissemination of knowledge. How does it reach the individual employees and in what form? In this regard as well as in the training of our employees, there is still a lot of work ahead of us.
Is it difficult to find sufficiently qualified employees?
That is a permanent issue for us, simply because the public administration does not pay particularly well and the framework conditions are not very flexible.
On principle, however, all organizations are faced with the challenge of finding such broad competence; this has to do in part with experience, which university graduates starting their careers naturally do not have. We need people with experience – including people who have failed in the implementation of an attempted project or two, but know what is essential and what to avoid as a result.
How do you verify the quality of a potential cloud service prior to employing it?
That depends on the requirements and the specific use case. To a certain degree, general points can be evaluated using checklists – which must also be adapted to the respective organizational units, however. The remaining requirements need to be assessed at the individual level. There are always the conflicting interests of achieving a quick solution vs. concrete detailed evaluation. More standardization and classification of existing cloud services would be very helpful in this context. One important issue is the licence policy of the respective provider, especially in the area of software. Deciding to migrate to the cloud is one thing, but purchasing or renting licences is another. Software manufacturers are increasingly using rental models and cloud services for customer retention, thereby creating lock-in effects.