ICT sector warns of competitive loss from government cold shoulder

Photo: European commission

Scandal rather than success and savings appear to be the words most frequently linked to Czech attempts to employ information and communications technology advances in the public sector. An appeal by the significant Czech sector to give ICT a real chance by putting the right people and coordination in place looks like falling on deaf ears.

Photo: European Commission
The Czech Republic might be blessed with relatively decent motorways compared with the rest of Central Europe, but the information superhighway and progress towards its construction leaves a lot to be desired.

Plans for the fast roll out of the next generation of broadband Internet, so-called 4G, have foundered on opposition from dominant telecoms companies. At the same time large parts of the sparsely populated parts of the country still have no mobile coverage whatsoever with the same three main telecoms companies showing no desire to fill the gaps.

Many Czechs have been left sceptical about the merits of promised applying information and communications telecommunications technology (ICT) to public services after the collapse amid scandal of many past attempts to introduce smart cards to hospitals, the employment and social services, and Prague city council services. Double digit savings in administrative costs were promised in the past from the roll out of ICT technology but few of these appear to have materialized.

Past scandals and fears of their repetition appear to have affected the current coalition government.

An appeal by a coalition of 12 ICT organisations, altogether accounting for around 350 billion crowns in annual turnover, for the government to give priority to the development and roll out of technology and applications appears to have gone largely unheeded to judge from the first leaked versions of the government’s programme priorities.

Head of the ICT Unie, Svatoslav Novák, said on Tuesday that there appear to be even fewer promises and commitments in that programme than in that of the previous coalition government agreement. He will have to wait another day to see if his worst fears are founded.

The Czech Republic is, he says, doing less to develop ICT than most neighbouring governments, such as Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, and far less than, say, the Baltic states, which have pushed ahead with introducing electronic communications across most of the public administration without any major problems.

Better use of ICT could make public services and the state more effective and efficient with applications in education, for example, helping to deal with some of the skills shortages and unemployment problems facing the country, Novák explains. EU funds could help cover the costs of applying ICT to the Czech public sector between 2014 and 2020, he adds.

Mr. Novák agues that it is not ICT know-how that it lacking in the Czech Republic. The problem, he says, is that ambitious past programmes have been steered by officials with little real understanding of the subject and without sufficient coordination.

In theory, the Czech government already signed up to a goal of rolling out high speed digital networks by 2020. The fact is though that the government council for competitiveness and information society (RVKIS) that was tasked with setting out some of the ground rules for how different networks could be combined and how missing elements could be added cheaply and effectively has got nowhere. The ICT alliance says that as a result the whole process is now seriously stalled.