Transcript of staatskantine #38 with Justyna Orłowska and Antoni Rytel (GovTech Centre)

Image showing portraits of the two speakers of the event

On Thursday, March 4th, 2021, we held an event with Justyna Orłowska and Antoni Rytel from GovTech Polska, the inter-ministerial team working at the Prime Minister’s Office of Poland implements technological and organizational innovations across the Polish public sector.

Justyna Orłowska is the Polish Prime Minister’s High Representative for Government Technology and also Head of the Polish Government’s GovTech Centre. Antoni Rytel is Vice-Director of the GovTech Programme. We heard from both Justyna and Antoni how the unit operates and how they are helping the Polish public sector change and adapt.

Below you will a recording of the event as well as an unedited transcript.

Alenka Bonnard:
On my behalf as well, a very warm welcome. I see some known faces here, but for those who do not know us yet, the staatslabor, we are a government innovation lab here in Switzerland, and we help our administration to be more in touch with the potential of our time.

Events like this are very central to this efforts, since we have much to learn from the achievements of other countries. I'm here today with my great team, we are recognizable by our somewhat dramatic backgrounds. We'll post it in the chat if you want to borrow it, it's a dramatic time so feel free if you're in a dramatic mood to do so.

Samira Keller:
The staatskantine is a regular brown bag lunch event where we meet once a month to get inspired by our guest speaker. I would like to briefly highlight some technical aspects for today. Please put your microphone on mute and if possible, leave your camera on. It's nice for the speaker to present to a screen with faces on it.

If you have any technical difficulties, please contact my colleague Medea Fux, either via chat in Zoom or via email. We invite everyone to eat their lunch. It's a brown bag lunch event, so do enjoy your meal. We will be here together for about one hour, until 1:30.

After a short greeting by Pablo Padrutt we will briefly introduce the two speakers, Minister Justyna Orlowska and Antoni Rytel. They will give us an input on the topic for about 25 minutes and afterwards we will do a Q&A sessions with direct questions, so you can ask your questions in the Q&A part or during the presentation in the chat.

Alenka Bonnard:
Another small element of housekeeping, apart from the presentation of our guests, which will be recorded, this event takes place under Chatham House Rule, especially in the Q&A. So after the event, you're free to repeat outside this room what has been discussed, but not who said what. This will allow us to speak as freely as possible.

Today with us, home away from home, the First Secretary and diplomat at the Embassy of Switzerland and Poland, Pablo Padrutt. Pablo, you're responsible for economic, financial, and scientific affairs, and in Poland sinc last summer. You have very kindly accepted to say a few words of introduction to this event which takes place. Many thanks to your wonderful efforts. So thank you very much. And please, Pablo.

Pablo Padrutt:
Thank you all. Thank you for the nice introduction. I'm this time not home away from home, I'm in the office away from home, which is also why it sounds like a cathedral. It's got very high walls, so I hope that doesn't bother anyone.

It's my honor today to welcome all of you on behalf of the ambassador of Switzerland to Poland, Mr. Jürg Burri, to this Polish Swiss discussion on technology for the private sector.

As Alenka already mentioned, I'm looking after economic, financial, and scientific affairs at the embassy, and the economically Poland is a key partner for Switzerland. I can tell you that. So our trade volume with Poland is much bigger than with prominent emerging markets, such as India, Russia, or Turkey, and Swiss companies have heavily invested in Poland and have created more than 54,000 jobs here, which is even more than in Italy, our southern neighbor.

But perhaps due to the formidable language barrier, most people in Switzerland know very little about Poland, and we would like to change that, of course, as an embassy as well. So the embassy is very happy to contribute to our bilateral relations with today's exchange on a topic that we think has become even more pressing with the pandemic, how to enable effective digitalization in the public sector.

Poland has chosen quite an interesting path for this. It has created a unit called GovTech, which is here with us today. It was first part of the Ministry of Digital Affairs and, after government reshuffle in fall last year, which entailed a reduction in the number of ministries, GovTech was integrated into the Prime Minister's Chancellery here in Warsaw. They are quite a dynamic unit in a country that is really ambitious about digitalization.

Poland has a very strong IT workforce, numerous shared service centers, and IT excellence centers of multinational companies. They have some of the highly valued companies here on the Warsaw Stock Exchange in the video game industry and e-commerce. And in December this year, Poland will host the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, the UNIGF. So it's a good time for us to be speaking with our Polish friends around GovTech.

On behalf of the ambassador, I would like to thank the head of GovTech, Justyna Orlowska and her deputy, Antoni Rytel for telling us their story today, and of course the staatslabor for hosting us. Thank you very much.

Alenka Bonnard:
Thank you very much, Pablo. Minister Orlowska, Mr. Rytel, thank you so much for being here with us today and for taking the time to give us some insights into the exciting work that you're doing in Poland. The dedication you are putting into state-of-the-art public service is extremely impressive, and we are all very much looking forward to hearing from you. The Zoom is all yours, please.

Justyna Orłowska:
Thank you very much for your very warm remarks, and thank you so much, Pablo for an introduction. Alenka and Samira, thank you very much, and we are very glad to be here. And I think it is very important to organize such events, especially in this very challenging times when we are facing that we have two parallel worlds. One is real, the second one is virtual and digital. So it is a real pleasure to see as many of you are interested, not just in government or technology, but in how this two worlds, they work together and in this international context.

Throughout the last couple of years, Poland has undergone a substantial digital transformation. Just a decade ago we were excited about the first major service becoming operational. Today we pay our taxes online, have a single login to hundreds of the services which are all hosted on a single platform, and the identify ourselves without the need to have anything else than a mobile phone.

This has allowed us to go through the pandemic much smoother than some countries and to consistently record at two times faster economic growth than the EU average. And if a pandemic happens, just as several years ago, I guess, for example, five years ago, it wouldn't be so smooth as it was now. It is now.

This is largely thanks to the fact that in some instances we managed to repay the case of technological debt in a matter of months. So today all pandemic related processes, from quarantined to vaccinations, are conducted all online. What, however, is the most important is that it allowed us to gaze towards the future and move from e-administration to e-society, you can say. And this of course applies not just to technology such as AI, artificial intelligence, but also to tackling the major societal challenges brought about by rapid digitalization, this includes elements such as disinformation or digital loneliness.

None of these challenges can, however, be tackled by one organization or one country alone. This is everything, I mentioned before, is done on a European and international level, as much as on domestic. And it is crucial and we cannot forget about it. This is why I am very much looking forward to discussing with all of you during the Q&A session.

Regardless, I invite all of you, of course, to connect with us online and through LinkedIn, Justyna Orlowska, just my name. I know that today's meeting is called staatskantine, and so I hope you will enjoy what we will serve you shortly. And to thank you once again for having us.

Antoni. Now the second part Antoni we'll show the presentation about what we are doing now from, I can say, a startup, GovTech startup, to the GovTech center. Before we used to be like a one plus person when it comes to the amount of people, because I was only employed for GovTech for the very beginning, and now we do have a center of almost 200 people.

What we are doing, Antoni, if you could, tell all of you what we are doing now as a GovTech center. Zoom is yours. I like that and and I take it.

Antoni Rytel:
Right. As Justyna said, it's an absolute pleasure to be here, especially as, due to obvious factors, we cannot travel, so this is one of the few opportunities for us to get in close contact in in such a distinguished international environment. I do hope this will change, but nevertheless it is and continues to be an absolute pleasure.

Throughout the next quarter of an hour, hopefully, I'll just gloss very briefly through some of the tools which I thought are the most relevant to this discussion going forward. Those are all elements which we have developed in response to a certain need. The need which someone reported to us that there is a system needs building or there is a process which needs improving, and the throughout the years, going from our, as Justyna mentioned, our very startup-y background of one person and a half, to the point we are in.

All of those are what we've done, what we've tested, what has worked for us, better or for worse, and what we continue to improve through an iteration of process. During the following discussion we'll, of course, be more than open to talk about any of them or accept any suggestions which you may have. So without further ado, let's go in.

This is a pie chart, and I know that there is this theory about each chart and each piece of data reducing the audience by half, so I hope this won't happen. But even despite that, I really wanted to paint the whole picture to just to show you that there is something, that these are not isolated elements. This is more of a traveling salesman routine, really, with all of those being the products which then, depending on which institution we work with who we advise and who our customer really, because from our perspective, citizens are our customers, that's one part, but also government institutions are also customers, even though they don't pay us, obviously, but our mission is to help them undergo digital transformation to the maximum possible extent from our perspective here in the Prime Minister's Office.

Those eight elements are the ones we sort of thought are key and I will go over each of them very briefly in a second. So the only thing I want you to remember from here is that everything that I will name shortly is just another part of the package, really, which then is brought together and offered to each institution we work with depending on the particular nature of the challenge.

Let's start with This is of course our top level domain of the Polish government, but really there's something more important behind this. So about five years ago, if you Googled, quite literally, any institution in Poland, the first thoughts you'd have is whether this is an actual government institution or some sort of enterprise who just has a very similar name and domain name. And this is because they all look differently. Some of them were a bit more modern. Some of them looked like they were built in the 90s, because they were. But all of them lacked any sort of coherent identity and all of them cost a lot for that very reason.

The resolution to this was something what we call the Gov portal, which on the front layer is just, you would think just, a set of identical layout for each institution that participates, which we have over 1000 off, ranging from our Prime Minister's Office to local government institutions all throughout the country, and new institutions are added daily. But this is just the top layer. The actual benefit, which we think is the main reason behind going through all this routine of transferring infrastructure, et cetera, is the fact that the citizen can then go in, login, and have an identical set of services presented to them by each administration unit and can access literally any of the hundreds of services through the single digital gateway of Of course it is free of charge because we're not charging for the demonstration for obvious reasons. I think it will be harder for us to accept money than to send money, I think.

But either way, it's also obviously more secure for reasons that as you can imagine a local dominant institution, for instance, which maybe struggling with security, digital skills, et cetera. Now, either thing is dealt outside of their purview. They just have WordPress, really, access to an editing panel.

This is one of our really flagship achievements, and I think this project is going very much forward. But again, what we give to institutions is an opportunity to just become a part of this ecosystem and have a much more secure, much more convenience, and obviously free ecosystem.

Going forward, my apologies for the graphic being in Polish, but the only point that is being shown anyway is that there are a lot of names in there, and the reason there are a lot of names in there is that we wanted to show you that another one of our key projects, which is the artificial intelligence strategy, and artificial intelligence implementation, is not a process that is underdone by our institution, it's underdone by actually an institution in the public sector, even all institutions put together.

The reason for this is that the public sector actually only generates about one fifth of our economy. This is actually consistent between most of the countries in the world. And in order to have an actual coherent implementation policy to engage not just the public sector, but also the private one, NGOs, entrepreneurs, educational institutions, everything that can benefit from the implementation of artificial intelligence solutions.

This is really, this one part which we're proud of having, the reason I included this, in the slides here, is that we managed to put together an implementation ecosystem and network within which all those names, which you see here, of all the different institutions and all the different communities and societies are able to be, A, represented and, B, benefit from the actions which we sort of spur, but then the avalanche has to go its own way.

Again, the first example I gave you was of more of the technical level, now it's just I wanted to have, that is just as crucial to build upon this societal level and create a coherent ecosystem for the implementation of any technology, really, because AI is just one of the examples they can come up with which applies to almost literally anything.

Now, of course, probably the most popular phrase in government lingo is, of course, service design, and yes, that's one of the things we also practice, but we try to adjust the methodology, which probably everyone here has heard about at some point, to make it more accessible to people who have never had an experience with it, because being government officials, you probably know that if you only engage those who think of themselves as digital leaders, you have a very low chance of succeeding in actual digital transformation, because most people who deal with digital transformation have not already conducted this, because otherwise our job would be pointless.

What we really had in mind in designing this methodology is to make sure that it's as inclusive as possible to the officials and anyone, really, participating in those workshops, because it's on the next slides I will show you how we tried to make sure it' applies also to those outside government.

You may be wondering what's behind those two lines at the very bottom of the slide and just very briefly, one of the things that sort of made our day a few weeks back is that through really a series of pretty simple workshops, with pretty simple technology, an institution which we work with managed to launch a project which, to our knowledge, has not been even attempted anywhere on the planet, which is to make sure that every piece of food sold in every store across the country, and across the world really, if need be, is labeled in such a way that's a citizen is able to verify each part of the production process from a grazing cow to the store shelf.

This sort of graph here, you may recognize some of the people in this photograph, and of course the one in the center is our Prime Minister. And again, the reason I included this is just to show you that one of the areas we try to deal with and we think is pretty crucial for government development really is the area of youth really, and making sure that the competence is there for the public sector's future, because there is no way that we'll ever handle digital transition without making sure that the inflow of skills is at an appropriate level.

What we've done is we've reduced administrative barriers for anyone wishing to work in the government administration. We created a series of programs for of obviously paid internships. We decreased the taxation burden. And we made sure that a whole program for rewarding young leaders is set in place just to make sure that they think that the public sector is just as attractive as any private sector institution. And in fact, just judging by the numbers of applicants we matched or even exceeded some of the large consulting corporations. So I think we're doing something right at this point, at least.

Now, of course, you surely realize that nothing will ever go without funding, money makes the world go round, et cetera, and that's of course the case with technology as well, and it's not really financing of our operations, but it's more of us being able to offer incentives for the market to develop itself. Because, again, as I said, Justyna did mention that we have a few hundred people working on digital transformation in our institutions, but really even if there were 2000 of them, or 100,000, there wouldn't even be half enough to just replace the private sector with the impetus that they give to the digital transformation.

We have reached ... I didn't want to spend too much time on this, but the point being that we offer financing for both the projects themselves, so the technological development part, and the sort of a bit soft part of the whole process of digital transition, which is workshops, skills, analysis, just making sure that there is actual demand for those projects in the private and the public sector, and working, of course, with university institutions, to make sure that those ecosystems are put in place and that if anyone needs financing for an idea which can make the public sector more innovative, we want to just make sure that financing is not a barrier.

But of course, since we are speaking about barriers and things that make integration with government more or less smooth, obviously procurement has an important role. Just to give you an idea on what kind of markets we're leading with, the annual scale of the procurement markets oscillates around 200 billion of our currency, which translates to about 50 billion Euros which is quite a lot for something which has to be state regulated.

One of the challenges we faced in the startup-y phase, as I mentioned, was really one of the first projects we ever conducted, is to make sure that those ideas for new technological solutions come into the government, not just from the usual suspects, the main three or four largest technical corporations, but also from the actual vast majority of enterprises, which are SMEs. So out of about two and a half million enterprises in Poland 99% do not hire more than 50 people, so they count as an SME.

The reason we thought its importance, I think, has been established, but how we did this is we just made sure that we speak their language, really. So about three quarters of Polish SMEs do not hire a lawyer, about a 20% do not... I'm sorry, about 80% do not have anyone who deals with financial regulation, so if we have them go through an actual tender procedure related to public procurement, well guess what happens, they won't participate. So we just dealt with all the formalities, that the whole process is digital, and we only judge the actual merits of the solution. It basically revolves around show us what you've got and we'll judge it. If it's reasonable, we'll have you work a bit more, and eventually then we'll just be able to collaborate.

Again, this has been quite successful. 20 times more participants have opted to join our contests then it used to be with public tenders. But of course we did really want to go further with that. And the tool we're using for this, we're actually planning to, A, open source it, and, B, make it available to any country to openly use for their own needs and of course adapted as necessary to your legal system. If that's interesting, please let us know.

Finally, going back to the past, the ancient times of 2017, which is when we started our journey, is we thought it's of course procurement is very important, large tech products are very important, but what's larger than the company population of Poland? Obviously the actual population of Poland. And while we can have 100 companies participating in actual tender, we have about 3000 people participating in a hackathon.

It's just an alternative route for us to, A, be inspired, and, B, make sure that wherever a challenge is actually rather trivial, or it requires a load of work which is really relatable to an individual, then of course we try to create one of those hackathons. And in fact, in December this year, during the National Governance Forum, which will be held in Poland, which I hope we'll be able to join physically, but either way we, of course, invite you most heartedly to, there will be another edition of this hackathon taking place. So anyone, of course, is welcome to join and work for both private and public sector challenges alike.

Those are the largest tools which we have in our toolkit. I know I should be about close to time, so all I will say is that throughout the three and a half years which we've been dealing with government innovation, regardless of what we are called or our actual area of focus is, we faced a ton of challenges, which, in every case, there was at least one person who told us to refrain from further participation because it's absolutely possible to go forward with whatever this idea it was.

One thing which we really think is the largest benefit of what we're doing, and this brings us the most satisfaction, really, of everything which we've done so far, is that we've shown that it's not actually true. That in terms of technical skills and technical revolution and digital revolution, really everything is possible. The only thing that matters is our involvement, technology, finance, time. But at the principal level, we can really achieve pretty much anything.

I'm leaving contact details here. This is our technical functional email address. And anyone who so wishes can email us with pretty much any request or any question or anything which we will not be able to cover today. That said, I know we have about half an hour of discussion left, so I will now shut up and much appreciate any questions that are here from your side.

Alenka Bonnard:
Thank you so much for the great presentation, for the drive. It's really impressive and very inspiring for us to see how much energy is going into this and how open you work as well. We will now open the floor for questions you have.