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A proposal for a long-term IT governance model

How will the tools and solutions being developed by European programs right now, be sustained and coordinated after 2020. This is a major question of concern for many European experts across different domains of work.

Thinking about how the European programs fit together now and how they could work together in the future is an opportunity to reflect on and improve how we coordinate work on interoperable common tools across the EU.

The purpose of the European long-term governance model proposed by e-SENS is to coordinate and to ensure coherence and sustainability of the technical solutions used in the EU to facilitate public electronic services. e-SENS proposes a governance model that supports technical communities and domain specific communities in aligning their respective evolutions and creating new synergies. Technical communities surround the common Building Blocks, such as e-ID, e-Signature, e-Delivery or e-Documents (on the bottom of the figure below). Domain-specific communities foster the use of these Building Blocks to deliver better integrated public e-Services in their field, such as eHealth or e-Justice (at the top of the figure below).

The governance model will enable synergies across communities on policy, organisational and technical level in a resilient (e.g. flexible and self-adapting) and efficient way. The long-term governance model will support the delivery of integrated and interoperable public electronic services in the EU by the communities, and will support new potential BBs and domain communities to become mature in order to join the shared governance structure. The provided cross-border and cross-community public services will have a positive impact on the establishment of the European Digital Single Market.

A long-term IT governance model needs to:

  • Provide central coordination that helps communities share information and solve problems in a coherent and efficient way.
  • Be flexible and able to adapt to changes of technical and political nature yet unknown.
  • Fit into a variety of local legal and technical environments.
  • Be able to support and incorporate political agendas.

The proposed governance model would be in charge of ensuring proper information and knowledge sharing in a pro-active manner amongst all interested communities, to assure coordination. It would ensure a strong alignment of communities’ decisions when they have a strong impact on cross-domain matters. Such decisions would be taken within this forum by representatives of the interested communities and governments. The communities remain autonomous and keep on operating in their respective fields, with full responsibility for maintaining and developing the use of common solutions they deem useful.

From the e-SENS experience, experience of other Large Scale Pilot projects before that, and the feedback of Member State experts, a selection of key topics has been made on which coordination is more likely to bear important positive impact:

  • Identifying and defining new building blocks or domain communities to be integrated, prioritising these integrations and helping finding funding for the needed integration and maturation efforts, in short: coordinating the efforts to expand the governance structure
  • managing choices on architectural interoperability of BBs and coherent evolution thereof, in short: coordinating the architecture
  • creating synergies in delivering the needed e-Services and support to (public) users, in short: governing the electronic services
  • mutually supporting the marketing efforts of each community, creating synergies to share an existing users base and expand market and take up of available BBs, in short: coordinating the business development efforts

These 4 topics, in the proposed long term governance model, are coordinated by four strategic boards (Expansion Board, Architecture Board, Solution Servicing Board, Business Development Board) , as illustrated in the figure below:

Cost effectiveness, the reduction of bureaucracy and an efficient but consensual decision making are all key practical concerns for implementing the governance model.

To reach these goals, the long-term governance model relies on the principle of subsidiarity, as a universal and omnipresent rule. Subsidiarity is a founding principle of the EU, whereby decisions are made at the most operational level that can do the job. While the governance structure coordinates on the key topics across communities. The communities around Building Blocks and domains take care of all main decisions, operating, implementing, delivering and further improving their field, as illustrated in the figure below:

The funding of the governance model is another concern the sustainability experts in e-SENS are dealing with. e-SENS proposes a funding structure to successively evolve from the current projects-based settings, as the set off is funded by EU and partners, into a hybrid scheme that aggregates revenues of different nature to finance its operations and development.
In due time the proposed basis for the funding should become non-monetary contributions from the different players of the relevant communities of the BB’s and domains, complemented with extra funds for integration efforts.

To put this more schematically three sources of funding are possible:

  1. Countries (via their administrations) and enterprises can contribute in non-financial contributions: in expertise, BB components, training material and more.
  2. Public funds are used to fund punctual important efforts, such as the integration of a new domain. CEF program is the primary source of such funds in the medium term.
  3. Commercial revenues are generated from provisioned services (co-designed in medium term, standardised in SLAs in the long term) and the licensing of assets.

For the governance model to require less operational funds, it is proposed to mainly rely on the principle of reciprocity, which is a powerful and sustainable value creation mechanism to ensure a natural balance between contribution and obtained value. Light instruments and regulations can be designed to foster a “reasonable balance” to gratify major contributors and help less active observers become active contributors. Finding acceptable terms for these “reasonable balance” mechanisms across communities and/or countries is thus identified as another key coordination topic in the long term governance model. Therefore, a dedicated Reciprocity Board is proposed to coordinate efforts to design, implement and improve reasonable balance mechanisms across BB and domain communities, illustrated in the figure below.

In case of divergent views between the different Strategic Boards, a Political Coordination Board may serve as cooperation, conflict solving and escalation mechanism. The Political Coordination Board provides a link to the EC and to the formal representations of the Member States. This is mainly relevant as concerning the flow of information between boards or more political aspects. The other role for the Political Coordination Board is to support boards for seamless communication. This communication can be handled by the Political Coordination Board itself or rather be handled in the groups and supervised by the Task Force being in charge of communicating for transparency.

The proposed governance model creates coordination between distinct and independent groups and actors. It helps solving problems and facilitates escalation if really needed, without creating undue administrative burden or bureaucratic processes for the communities themselves. It structures and enables the coordination on key technical, business and political topics, while keeping the bureaucracy and overhead to a strict minimum. It is inherently flexible, able to include new common technical components that facilitate public e-Services in Europe, and able to foster their use in new administrative domains.

The ideas of e-SENS regarding a long-term governance model are in fact recommended to be taken up by the Connecting Europe facility when discussing the long-term approach, as these proposals will be complimentary to the other parallel efforts on this subject.