GIG: Greece has made significant strides to become more digitally friendly, yet still lags behind other European countries according to the EU’s 2019 Digital Economy and Society Index. You have stated your ambition to converge with the European average on this front. How will you do this?
Pierrakakis: It is true that Greece lags behind other European countries in spite of continuous investment in funding, human resources, and time in digital transformation over the span of the last 20 years. This makes the problem more complicated yet allows us to better pinpoint the solution: redefining our technology strategy, which up until now was fragmented.
We’re fixing this mistake with the newly reformed ministry structure, which has incorporated global best practices. Our focus is, in fact, on two pivotal concepts: simplification and interoperability. Our goal is to not only digitise bureaucracy, rather it is to simplify it and let different databases and registries ‘talk’ to each other.
With this plan, we’re pretty sure we will achieve the European average by the end of our term. Meanwhile, we will deliver tangible results, which will showcase Greece’s growth trajectory and renewed digital prowess.
GIG: Major investments in this field have, up until now, been led primarily by leading telco providers (OTE, Vodafone, and WIND) with the rollout of fibre optic cables and improved digital infrastructure. Looking forward, what kind of investments can we expect in this field, and what role do we expect the private sector to play?
Pierrakakis: We’re very proud of our work in one of the administration’s major legislative initiatives, the Invest in Greece law. In just one legislative package we’re, among other things, improving, simplifying, and digitising cell tower licensing – a major project which will have tremendous impact on deploying a 5G network in the near future. Our objective is for Greece to have a comprehensive, modern, and efficient network infrastructure, which in turn will assist in the digital transformation of the country.
We’re committed to having the private sector play a pivotal role, especially through public-private partnerships. For us, this is a win-win framework because we ensure the strengths of the public as well the private sector are all in full play.
GIG: Can you tell us a little bit about the ministry’s future goals? What role is this ministry going to play in boosting Greek start-ups?
Pierrakakis: Our long-term goal is for the majority of government services to be offered through and be fully functional on mobile phones. This requires large-scale technology projects, which can take quite some time to be implemented. Hence, we’re trying to streamline the process and speed things up through PPPs in the technology sector as well.
With regards to start-ups, we acknowledge their existing track record in the country and their tremendous potential. We want to adopt international best practices which have enabled the creation of ecosystems. Currently, we’re mapping the ecosystem in order to see where and how we can assist tech entrepreneurs.
GIG: Beyond funding, what is the biggest challenge in getting Greek society to adapt to the digital era? How do you plan to go about this? What about enterprises?
Pierrakakis: The greatest challenge is leaving none 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 programs. And when it comes to cyber security, having ENISA [the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity] in Athens – another legislative win we achieved – is an amazing asset. The way we view things, we think that technology businesses want less roadblocks from us, less bureaucracy, and simple, digital government services.
GIG: What is next on the agenda regarding the digitalisation of the Greek public sector?
Pierrakakis: We’re strongly considering what we call ‘life events’ and how these events will be saved across government services, so that citizens will not be required to bring the same forms over and over again. We call this approach ‘once only’ and it is the guiding philosophy behind the ministry. Smaller and fewer queues means more productivity.