Polish prospects for eAdministration

Digital exclusion of public administration units inescapably leads to deterioration in the quality of life of the communities these units are called to serve. Rapid dissemination of e-government solutions is today a condition precedent to maintaining Poland’s competitiveness among the member countries of the European community as well as to maintaining the current rate of development of the Polish society, a rate that is responsive to the challenges of the new information era.


Internet, which is constitutional to development of an information society, is fast becoming the prevailing, universally used information carrier. The rapid development of IT solutions based on the IP communication protocol has reconfigured the roles of computer systems in a radical way. Traditional workstation-based systems operating within local area networks are ever more frequently replaced by tele-informatics solutions integrated with commercial and public wide area networks. Electronic media information resources collected locally are ever more accessible globally.

The differences between information technology and telecommunications—which cannot exist independent of each other in today’s world—are blurring. The process of convergence taking place between these technologies has led to appearance of a new industry referred to as the ICT sector (standing for Information and Communication Technologies). The OECD member countries had defined this new sector back in 1998 as a combination of manufacturing capabilities and services which use and transfer data in electronic formats. This convergence between IT, telecommunications and the information media has formed the basis for a new information–based era characteristic for:

  • Multimedia communication between freely chosen points on the globe – shortening the distance between the supplier of electronic information or service and its recipient.
  • Access to any previously written information – facilitating research and the use of the required information.
  • Data (information) processing – generation of new information based on source data (information), effectively accelerating and improving quality of decision-making.
  • Eliminating the need for human labour from activities that do not call for engagement of intelligence or creativity – increasing work productivity.
  • Possibility of monitoring processes of the highest complexity – e.g. road traffic, population migrations – spelling better coordination, limiting spread of undesirable phenomena (e.g. dumping of hazardous materials, auto theft) and cutting operating costs (e.g. increasing road throughput).

Application of electronic communication within tele-information WANs brings many measurable benefits arising from work process rationalisation, easy access to knowledge, the possibility of providing and using electronic services, access to new forms of entertainment and enabling of broad participation in social and political life. The electronic signature technology also enables remote submission of declarations of will both in business (e.g. contracting) and public life (settlement of taxes), thus minimising the attendant costs and expenditure of time.


Development of information technologies has radically stepped up the beat by which we go through life, which—in turn—creates an urgent need for adequate preparation of societies and structures of nation-states to active participation in the occurring developments. A new threat looms large, one of “digital exclusion”, in other words, of the lives of all those unable to keep pace with development of the new information technologies being marginalized. Those not able to keep up with the progress will loose their social standing and chances of securing quality employment, and thus their ability to maintain their current material status and decent living standards.

However, the problem of digital exclusion touches not just individuals, but also social groups as well as all types of commercial and public organisations finding themselves lagging behind technologically. A technologically backward company typically goes bankrupt, as the operating costs it generates become excessive. A technologically backward public administration office though it does not go bankrupt (as funds its operations with tax revenue), it nonetheless ceases to perform its mission effectively, thereby holding back development of the community within its jurisdiction.

Cumbersome contacts with government representatives and escalating cost of government operation may lead—over the long term—to complete disintegration of social life of a local community, a region or even an entire country. We can feely cite numerous more or less drastic examples of digital exclusion’s negative impact on public administration entities, both in Poland and outside its boarders. In order to avoid digital exclusion, the state—as exemplified by the central and the local government administrations—must make rational use of telecommunications and information technologies, thereby fostering optimal conditions for full participation of their constituencies in social and vocational life. The use of these technologies should serve the dual purpose of systematically improving and upgrading the public administrations’ internal operational efficiency and quality of the public services they render for the benefit of all of the national and sub-national government clients.

Development of digital technologies at the public administration unit level fulfills the need for development of transparent and user-friendly structures with which electronically enabled communication is equally easy and effective as personal contact based communication. The numerous paper documents developed in daily work of the administrations (acts of law, ordinances, resolutions and rulings, strategic development plans, reports, zoning plans, financial statements, concept studies, investment offers, administrative decisions, communiqués, etc.) must be gradually replaced by electronic documents, accessible through interactive internet, intranet and extranet sites. Utilisation of email, electronic document forms and electronic signature should also become commonplace. Development of local, self-government computer networks with interfaces to wide area networks— municipal, regional, national and European—should improve document flow, contribute to automation of routine activities and help overcoming communication barriers. Failure to address this sphere may lead to negative consequences, difficult to surmount even over a number of years into the future.


In our country, development of an information society, with functionally efficient e-government as its important constituent part, is dependant on three basic factors:

    1. Universal access to tele-information networks,
    2. Development of useful electronic content, accessible in user-friendly forms,
    3. Dissemination of adequate know-how and skills of using telecommunication and IT tools.

The obligation of providing universal access to the Internet rests with private sector entities that operate in the new information and communication technologies sector. The role of public administration units involves transfer to the electronic platform of the numerous services falling within the scope of their activity. Dissemination of computer and the Internet use skills, in other words, dissemination of “IT literacy” is a joint challenge for the private sector and the government circles.

Universal access to network resources

The role of the telecommunication carriers and data transmission network operators in the context of development of electronic administration systems involves first and foremost providing the government’s clients (individual and corporate citizens) access to resources of the electronic information systems maintained by various central and local government administrations. Universal access—in keeping with provisions of “The Republic of Poland’s Information Technology Build Out Strategy – ePolska 2004-2006”—would mean that overriding majority of individuals and corporates have the technical capacities for the use of electronic content and services offered in tele-informatics networks. In practice, that means provision of universal and safe access to broadband Internet.

In addition to network connectivity, Internet access also involves the need for ownership (or usage) of appropriate network terminal equipment, thus presence in each household of a terminal, such as a personal computer with a modem, a PDA type handheld, a UMTS handset, a digital television set or a similar device. A factor decisive to broad dissemination of Internet access is its price, which should be set at such a level as not to constitute a barrier to entry for most.

The ideal in terms of achievement of universal Internet access would be a situation in which presence of Internet in a household is as much a matter of course as say availability of running water or electricity. Considering the constraints arising from the still prohibitive price of Internet access (compared to average income in Poland), a priority of the central government authorities should be to facilitate Internet usage throughout the school system (also in class time), the units of public administration and Internet access points, both those funded from the budget and financed on commercial terms. We should note here that public administration’s ability to act in this domain is, in actuality, quite limited. Mass availability of Internet access is primarily driven by economic growth (that translates into current economic development), autonomous decisions of independent operators of tele-informatics networks as well as regulatory actions adopted by the Office of Telecommunications and Post Regulation, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Office for Protection of Consumers and Competition.

In enumerating the available Internet access technologies, we need to firstly mention fixed-line Dial-up connections, and ISDN and ADSL lines. However, the present underdevelopment of fixed-line telecommunications infrastructure—particularly in sparsely populated non-urban areas—limits in a severe way the possibility of gaining access to the broadband data transmission networks. Equally expensive and troublesome is the build out of cabling required for development of the various citywide telecommunications and information technology systems in major urban areas. Under such conditions the fast-developing wireless data transmission technologies gain in attractiveness. Their primary strength is that of fulfilling communication needs in a way that is practically free of physical constraint. The numerous wireless technologies currently in use through the mobile networks, such as GPRS, HSCSD, EDGE, UMTS, WLAN (WiFi), WiMAX as well as LMDS, EDACS and TETRA, represent an attractive and often the sole alternative to the costly fixed-line solutions; meeting the needs of both private and public users.

In contrast with the fixed-line network operators, a mobile operator seeking to offer wireless technology-based data transmission services is not forced to incur high cost of installing connections between the network infrastructure and the remotely located subscribers (households, companies, public offices). The scope of services offered via wireless networks is also richer than that of the fixed-line networks. Mobile Internet complements the other mobile network services with such features as spatially unconstrained (mobile) access with its high responsiveness to the user’s situation. Through international roaming mobile networks also provide their subscribers with global access, in other words, also the possibility of drawing on e-government services free of geographic constraints.

Electronic information resources and services

The call for generation of useful content by public administration entities means that their resource offer—of useful value to potential users—must become part of Web accessible resources. This will range from simple textual communiqués to advanced multimedia services based on interactive co- operation between the service user and the service provider entity. The wide European eEurope 2005 Action Plan points to a number of electronic services of priority importance to building an information society:

  • electronically enabled public services or e-government;
  • remotely provided medical service or e-health;
  • distance learning or e-learning, and
  • electronically enabled business or e-business, including e-commerce.

The “Web-based Survey on Electronic Public Services” report prepared for the European Commission by Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in October 2003 identifies 20 electronic public services (12 addressed to individual citizens and eight aimed at companies) most widely disseminated through the Internet today. It turns out that majority of those services falls into two general categories: electronic public administration (e-government) and electronic medical services (e-health). The offers of electronic business services (e-commerce) and distance learning (e-learning) are much less elaborate.

Whilst taking into consideration realities of Poland, “The Republic of Poland’s Information Technology Build Out Strategy – ePolska 2004-2006” promotes “Wrota Polski” (Polish Gateway), a programme aimed at adoption of uniform electronic public service standards by all of the territorial self-government structures. The programme actions have included concept design for a project aiming at transfer to the electronic platform of 26 basic public services, of which the following would be implemented on priority basis:

  • six services aimed at citizens:
    • submission of tax declarations, information and other documents with the aim of settling taxes due under the tax legislation, including, among others, personal income tax, stamp duty tax,
    • search of job offers and job search assistance,
    • obtaining rights to social security benefits,
    • obtaining personal ID card, driver’s license and passport,
    • access to public library catalogues and their search,
    • appointments for visits to medical doctors.
  • and five services aimed at businesses:
    • registration and settlement of employee social security obligations,
    • custom declarations,
    • submission of tax declarations, information and other documents with the aim of settling taxes due under the tax legislation, including, among others, corporation income tax, VAT and excise tax, and custom declarations,
    • transfer of statistical data,
    • participation in public procurement.

The programme also provides for development of a standardised electronic platform facilitating the citizen-administration and business-administration relationships, and for streamlining operational rules, regulation and procedures in public administration, all with the aim of rapidly expanding on-line availability of public services. It is expected that implementation of these solutions can increase productivity of public administration by approximately 40 per cent, as measured primarily in terms of waiting times in public service provision. The Polish Gateway Programme also includes regulatory actions aimed at implementation of electronic communication standards (standard communication file formats, glossaries, meta-data and protocols) that do not call for investment in hardware or software.

Among the electronically available public services, public procurement warrants special mention. The experience of other countries accruing from implementation of online solutions in this field points to possibilities of achieving major budget savings. Promotion of electronic public procurement has also contributed to rapid adoption of this formula of operation by commerce. A similar effect has been observed in the case of electronic signature. Use and promotion of e-signature in the citizen- administration relationship has translated into increased interest in this form of communication in commerce generally. Another category of electronically enabled services worth underscoring are those which provide support to persons undertaking, running as well as winding down their business activities. One other online public service gaining in significance at present are the support tools in identification of financing sources available under the European Union funds.

In spite of many efforts made by the national and sub-national governments in the field, the Internet services prepared by Polish public administration units fail to achieve even such basic expectation as publication of comprehensive information sets, not to mention interactive solutions, which would enable electronic communication with the public administration office. Exceptional quality in this respect is provided by: the Sopot Municipality website, which offers its constituency a set of standard forms with which to execute official business via Internet (http://www.sopot.pl); the integrated Public Information Bulletin posted on the Gdansk Municipality website (http://www.gdansk.pl); the forms for registration of business activity in the Poznan Municipality website (http://www.city.poznan.pl); and the digital city map accessible through the Wroclaw Municipality website (http://www.wroclaw.pl/m/478/). The key criticisms of Polish e-government include: lack of access to information describing the complete official business handling circle; lack of special facilities for the handicapped and impaired; low penetration of interactivity; and insufficiencies in organisation of service content.

This state of affairs is expected to improve as a result of passage of the Information Technology Build Out in the Activity of Certain Entities Involved in Execution of Public Tasks Law. In its bill form this legislative initiative was approved by the Council of Ministers and passed on to the Parliament of the Republic of Poland in July 2003, and awaits passage until today. Main purpose of this prospective legislation is that of ensuring interoperability between the tele-informatics systems and public registers, and of establishing the legal basis for development of e-government in Poland, and thus of improving efficiency and effectiveness of public administration, and quality of the public services it provides.

The bill sets out the legal framework for action for the minister appropriate in matters of information technology expansion, and has thus met with sharp criticisms of the sub-national government levels. The critique has focused on the limits the bill imposes to desecration of the territorial self- governments in deciding on matters of telecommunication and information systems development as it awards such competences to the Ministry of Scientific Research and Information Technology. In the opinion of experts representing the position of the territorial self-governments, it is desirable that the scale of intervention of the central government be minimised, and that standards in data exchange and the rules of organisation, and maintaining public registers be introduces as quickly as possible.

Skills of electronic media use

The third factor that can ensure success to the process of universal dissemination of information technologies in Poland—including development of e-government—is dissemination of the skills of using the telecommunications and IT tools, in other words, achievement of minimum general aptitude in computer use and overcoming of the psychological barrier of usage leading to recognition of Internet as a comfortable and safe tool, helpful in everyday life. What is commonly termed “computer literacy” involves a set of elementary competences including aptitude in use of a computer text editor and electronic mail, and the ability to search the Internet resources.

The government sponsored programmes put forward achievement by Polish society of an aptitude wherein every secondary school graduate is a capable user of the computer and Internet, and the use of these tools is as obvious as the skills of using the written sources, such as encyclopaedias, dictionaries or the traditional library catalogues. The same programmes also forward the effective use of Internet as an important tool of labour market activity referral and social integration. Other cited examples include, e.g. tele-work as an income option for persons unable to engage in traditional forms of work (e.g. the handicapped or those caring for children) and the electronic voting systems as tools enabling restoration direct democracy exercised in a new form.


In looking at the process of development of electronic public service systems, Warsaw is a special case, a city unique among Poland’s major municipalities by virtue of its size, status of the country’s capital city and recent history of its current local government administration. The city is at the same time a municipal community (gmina) and an urban county (powiat grodzki), and public space in which offices of the central and supreme state administration coexist with numerous units of the capital’s territorial self-government. One natural consequence of the recent reorganisation of Warsaw’s government administration, with the attendant obligation for definition of the city’s new development strategy has been the recognition of the need for integration in the electronic dimension, particularly of the capital’s self-government administration and its alignment with central government networks and the pan-European TESTA network. It can be expected that one prominent element of that strategy will be the strategic programme for development of the municipal electronic information and communication.

In the period immediately preceding the coming into effectiveness of the new municipal government law (Act of March 15th, 2002 on the Government Organisation of the Capital City of Warsaw), the city represented a federation (a municipal union) of more than ten autonomous local self-governments (gminas), which in the city’s government reform were transformed into ancillary units of the capital’s territorial self-government, i.e. 18 boroughs. The changes made in the city’s legal and formal structure put forward a major challenge before the municipal authorities, that of achieving real integration between the dispersed self-government units, of transforming them into a uniform, congruously operating municipal formation. This aim will, however, remain unachieved until all of the capital’s self-government units are connected in a single multifunctional telecommunications and IT system that incorporates broadband data transmission, is readily scalable and ensures interconnectivity with other national and international electronic public networks.

Build out of a citywide Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) gains in priority in this context. One of its basic tasks will be that of ensuring efficient communication between the dispersed units of the capital city’s territorial self-government (including the borough offices and other organisational units), currently occupying around one hundred separate locations. Build out of a MAN network will also create the possibility for integration of the numerous user applications (electronic document flow, registration, spatial information, urban security monitoring and other systems) that support internal functioning of the municipal offices and electronic provision of public services to the inhabitants of the capital.

All of the borough halls have their LAN networks—developed in the years past—and Internet access. The basic network infrastructure that can serve as the basis of the city’s MAN network is the installed fibre-optic network linking the Capital City of Warsaw Municipality offices located in the Old Town district. The first phase (until the end of the year 2005) rollout plan includes linking into the common MAN network all of the Capital City of Warsaw Municipality offices, the borough offices and the vital records administration offices, which in total will represent approximately 25 per cent of the total number of units forming part of the municipal organisation. In the second phase (until the end of the year 2008) the plan anticipates connection into the MAN network of all of the remaining units.


Development of effective e-government service systems is a complex task calling in each case for a well thought out project design and due diligence at both the implementation stage and the ongoing system maintenance. The development of new technologies, the growing complexity of the telecommunications and IT systems and the need for ensuring their professional operation create a situation in which—with a few exceptions—public administration’s in-house IT organisations find themselves unequipped to handle the task. Under such conditions, we have witnessed growth in popularity of “telecommunications and IT outsourcing”, a service involving delivery to the client of the desired network functions on the basis of a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Main benefit accruing from an agreement of this type is that it offers the option of committing with an external specialised entity tasks that do not form part of the core activity of a given organisational unit (e.g. a municipal office), a matter of fundamental importance in development of e-government systems. The basis structure of an SLA agreement entails the contractor’s obligation to deliver at own cost all of the technical infrastructure components (hardware and software) and provision of service involving professional management of the telecommunications and IT network. This management may be limited to maintenance of the network assets, or–-under an expanded mandate–-include management of the user applications of the client. The range of telecommunications and IT outsourcing services also includes network design, benchmark testing as well as procurement, installation and periodic equipment upgrades. The rate paid by the client is naturally dependant on scope of the agreement. One example of a successful implementation of a telecommunications and IT outsourcing service in Polish public administration is the agreement closed between Telekomunikacja Polska and the Boarder Patrol.

Telecommunications and IT outsourcing services are offered by all of the Polish data transmission network operators, among others: NASK, ATM, Energis, GTS and Tel-Energo. Offers of those operators compete with offers of lesser firms, primarily providers of integration services. Also, worth mentioning here is the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) formula of contracts used in execution public- private partnership projects. Agreements of this type involve mandating a private specialist firm with the task of implementation of a project with own financing (e.g. development of an urban road offences monitoring system) in exchange for participation in the revenue obtained from operation of the thus constructed system. At completion of a mutually agreed period (typically between up to 10 or 20 years), the investment is taken over by the public entity being party to the agreement: a local community (gmina), a county (powiat), a self-governing province (województwo), or the State Treasury.


Operators of fixed-line and mobile tele-informatics networks and their commercial partner are the trailblazers of civilisation in the 21st century as they perform their unique, supportive function vis-à- vis the various fields of state activity. The reason for this is that connectivity provision services are an important element of a variety of economic processes taking place in manufacturing, trade and services (including public sector services) irrespective of their location and individual level uniqueness. Symbiotic synergies occur between economic growth and the domain of telecommunications and information technology: propagation of electronic communication systems accelerates economic growth, and—as a consequence—improves quality of life.

The rapid development of communication technologies has altered the traditional roles played by tele-informatics network operators, who today also act as suppliers of information and electronic services. Implementation of fixed-line and wireless Internet access solutions has been forcing them to calibrate anew their modus operandi, as it becomes apparent to them that they cannot concurrently take on themselves all of the functions required in provision of sophisticated electronic services, including the roles of: a network operator, an information content provider, a settlement agent, an Internet portal administrator, or an advertising agency. Their previous autonomy and independence is now being replaced with strategic alliances and partnership agreements, also with public administration entities as the suppliers of specialised content and services. Hence, for the idea of building Information Society to come true, we need to witness development of closely collaborative partnerships between the public and the private sector; for which both parties need to be thoroughly prepared.

Tomasz Domański
Warsaw, 2004


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