Keys to Digital Era
Belarus is launching country-wide e-services
Belarus is launching country-wide e-services
Mr. Strukov, how have the information and communication technologies (ICT) been evolving in Belarus recently?
All innovations in the sector can be divided into two categories: infrastructural innovations and innovations in information technologies. These processes are interconnected – it is clear that without cutting-edge data transmission technologies it is impossible to provide integrated services requiring interaction between several government agencies, to develop socially important services, like e-government, e-healthcare, electronic education and employment, as well as to ensure quality development of the national content in the Internet.
In recent years Belarus has made a giant leap in the development of the information infrastructure. Thus, today Internet users enjoy wireless broadband access technologies (3G). There are over 1,000 Wi-fi spots in the country, Minsk has a WIMAX network. High-rise buildings have Internet access through XPON (Passive Optical Network) and Ethernet. In the last three years the Internet gateway has expanded from 22Gbps to 200Gbps. All this helped significantly increase the data transmission speed and reduce Internet costs making it more available for the public.
In a few years it will be much easier for Belarusians to settle the majority of important issues. It will be possible for them to have their cars registered by the State Automobile Inspectorate, to get a loan or sign important documents without leaving home. It is expected that by 2015 every Belarusian national will be using the Single Portal of Electronic Services four times a year on average. The access to this system will be provided by electronic digital signature keys (state-run and private companies have already been using them) as well as by standard password authorization. Deputy Minister of Communications and Information Technologies of Belarus Nikolai STRUKOV tells the Economy of Belarus Magazine how information innovations will change the lives of Belarusians.
Infrastructure – an essential part of information technologies - needs to be constantly replenished by information resources that basically make the new data transmission technologies relevant. To simplify work with resources and to computerize the provision of e-services by government agencies, the National Automated Information System (NAIS) has been developed. It is accessible via the Single Portal of Electronic Services. By the way, I would like to note that since its launch in 2011, more than 250,000 people have used the portal.
In order to make e-services widely available it is necessary to ensure their security. Without this mechanism we will not be able to guarantee the reliability of information and confidentiality of personal data of users. That is why the national program on streamlining development of information and communication technologies for 2011-2015 places a special emphasis on ‘digital confidentiality’. For security reasons electronic digital keys will be distributed and systems of monitoring and protection of datacenters will be introduced.
Can you tell us more about the security system?
First of all, it will monitor who uses resources and when. Now NAIS is only accessible to legal entities that have purchased an electronic digital signature key which is a combination of symbols required for user identification to get an access to documents, services and information resources.
For example, when considering a loan application from a company a Belarusian bank may need to know if this company has a car, real estate or shares as collateral. This service is provided to the financial institution through NAIS.
As for individuals, so far they have had access to open resources of the Single Portal of Electronic Services only. But after the password authorization mechanism is introduced and the system of information mediators is created in the form of Belpochta post offices, individuals will have the same access as legal entities.
How are the services created?
Part of them is created under the national program on streamlining development of information and communication technologies for 2011-2015. These services are incorporated in subsections “E-government”, “Electronic education”, “E-healthcare”, etc. By the way, thanks to NAIS it is now possi-
ble to avoid duplication of services provided by various state agencies.
In order to run a service, its provider submits the service name, its description, the direct URL using a service order, and chooses a category (according to circumstances, state department, and other features). NAIS operator adds the service to the electronic register and after that the service becomes available to the public on the Single Portal. Users are notified if the service is provided free of charge or not.
I would like to note that NAIS is essentially an access point based on state-of-the-art technology. So far we have developed a software nexus which allows adapting public information resources which require identification of both individuals and legal entities and without which it is impossible to provide electronic services. How enthusiastic are government agencies about the single system and e-services?
It depends on information resources and a specific department. Of course, it is impossible to integrate outdated resources with NAIS, while there is no such problem in integrating new resources meeting the modern standards.
As for government agencies, many of them have been actively developing resources and using the system due to the specific nature of their activities. For instance, the State Customs Committee has not only been servicing Belarusian nationals and organizations but also ensuring cargo transit through the entire country. It goes without saying that the committee has to conform to international paperwork requirements which is impossible without an integrated computerized system. The State Property Committee and the Justice Ministry have also been using the modern information resources.
On the whole, all the state agencies intend to connect to NAIS in line with existing technical requirements. They all realize the opportunities and the powerful potential the integrated information system offers. If the Single Portal of Electronic Services did not exist, every ministry and committee would have to set up their own Internet resource.
It is difficult to underestimate the computerization of information processes. Suffice it to say that some time ago it took up to 25 days to have somebody’s property rights registered in Belarus. Now it only takes two or three days. Do you think the NAIS will play a primary or secondary role in providing public services by 2015?
No doubt, an important one. By 2015 each resident of Belarus will get four electronic services per year on the average, which means that the Single Portal will process 40 million transactions annually. Such is the global trend: a person receives an average of four services via the Internet, be it submitting a tax return or customs clearance. Naturally, the availability of the Internet is needed to make the system work at its full capacity. The issue of “access keys” needs thorough consideration. Is Belarus considering adopting European practices of using identification smart cards (ID cards) that can serve both as an ID and an access to services?
The development of the single identification system of individuals and legal persons is stipulated in the 2011-2015 national program for accelerated development of information technologies. We might as well use the so-called ID cards.
Identification cards or social cards are becoming increasingly common in Europe. This type of documents allows addressing several tasks at a time: it serves as a pass to some places (let us say, a night club or a casino, where minors are not allowed), a public transport ticket and an identification document. Besides, a social card can be used to buy goods and services and get social discounts while purchasing products, like medicines.
We plan to use this card for the services provided via the Single Electronic Portal. The portal will have the so-called pensioners’ application.
In fact an ID card is a chip containing some information. It will look like a driving license. It will be next to impossible to forge this card, as it will have an electronic photo of the holder, personal data and crypto keys.
Various applications can be uploaded to the system servicing these cards. All it takes is a contract between the card issuer and the organization providing the service. After an agreement is concluded, an application can be installed. It is rather easy technically, but the relevant legal framework is needed.
Pensioners hardly use the Internet and it will be difficult for them to get used to an ID card. How will they be able to get electronic services?
We are fully aware of the issue. To address it, we will use the infrastructure of the Belpochta post service, the most branched access point all over Belarus. Belarusians will be able to order and receive electronic services at any post office of Belpochta that will act as an information intermediary.
The scheme will be as follows: a person will come to a Belpochta office with a passport; the chief of the post office will make an inquiry into the NAIS, confirm the information using a digital signature and give it to a customer. This will become a reality by the end of this year. At present, the State Property Committee of Belarus, Belpochta, and Beltelecom are implementing a pilot project to provide electronic services related to real estate transactions.
Similar services might be provided at public telecom access centers and service centers of Beltelecom.
Can you update us on the situation with electronic document management? Do Belarusian companies cut down on hard copies of documents?
By the end of 2011, 77 government agencies switched to electronic document management, including the Presidential Administration, the Office of the Council of Ministers, the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Ministry of Communication and Information Technologies. Another 100 government bodies are to join them in the years to come. More than that, an archive will be created to analyze document flows.
Service documents might be processed remotely. This means that an employee will be able to get access to documents using a laptop, tablet or smartphone, view them, put their digital signature, etc. We have already tested the 3G technology that will be used for the purpose.
From the technical perspective, everything ran smoothly. Data protection remains a matter of concern. We are busy working on it. By the way, remote work with documents will greatly benefit the military and diplomats.
With regard to the reduction of paper flow, especially in business, this does not seem like a problem. Businessmen easily adopt new solutions to reduce operating costs and save time. But there is one “but”. Digital documents seem like the
best choice if there are many of them: If a public authority or any other large organization processes a large amount of information on a daily basis, the use of digital documents does make economic sense. If an entity applies to government bodies on a rare occasion, preparing a hard copy of a document and sending it by mail would seem a lot easier.
However, Belarus will have to start using electronic documents given its membership in many integration associations. Thus, the countries of the Customs Union agreed to create a system that will enable customs services to exchange relevant information. The countries have recently ratified the agreement to use information technology in the exchange of electronic documents in foreign trade. That is why today we are building a cross-border system which will enable the exchange of information between states.
The 2011-2015 national program of accelerated development of ICT draws to a close in 2015. What has the program achieved so far?
In 2011, work began on 82 activities of the national program. Twenty four of them are expected to be completed in 2012. I will not list them all. I just want to say that they will benefit literally every citizen of Belarus, be it a civil servant, businessman, or a retiree.
In the future we will be increasingly using home computers to contact government bodies, receive documents with certified digital signature, enhance our skills, receive distance education, work at home, plan our holidays and make purchases. In general, the Belarusians will become more involved in the life of society, without even leaving their homes.
By the way, in 2008-2011 alone, 33 legal acts were adopted to develop the IT sector. Perhaps this figure gives some idea of the scale of work that has been already done and that still needs to be done for the development of the information society.
In the long run, the national program is designed to help Belarus make it to the top 30 countries on ICT development index by the end of 2015.
And two more questions, if you do not mind, about the most unconventional and most traditional form of communication – courier and postal service. In November last year a bill on courier service was introduced to the House of Representatives.
The document was finalized and submitted to the government in January 2012. Considering close economic cooperation in the CIS, and also in the Eurasian Economic Community, the law is important in terms of interoperability of courier services of these states. Back in November 2005, the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly adopted the model law on courier service with a view to harmonizing national legislation. Several countries have started preparing the relevant national laws and regulations. Russia, Moldova, Armenia, and Tajikistan have already adopted laws on courier service.
Belarus started working on the bill in 2011. The work involved representatives of the Communication and Information Technologies Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus and other departments concerned. I would like to note that the new law should create the legal framework for courier service in Belarus, its status, rights and obligations, the place and role of courier service in the system of state authorities. Today not all aspects of courier service are governed by the law.
The new document regulates fast delivery of correspondence, its safety and integrity, terms and conditions of using physical force and firearms. The document also regulates logistics of courier service, legal and social protection for its employees.
Is Belarus planning any postal system reforms?
Principles of operation of Belpochta are largely based on the recommendations of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The industry is regulated by the state but operates in a market environment. Therefore it should be self-sufficient and selfdeveloping.
For the purpose of commercialization of Belpochta, its integration into economic processes, we applied to the UPU to help us prepare a plan of reforms. They quickly responded and sent their specialists. International experts have already prepared a draft comprehensive plan of reforms and development of mail service in Belarus. In February, we hope to get the latest revision of the document, and in March-april we will submit proposals to the Council of Ministers.
First the Communication and Information Technologies Ministry plans to upgrade the legislation governing the postal system in the country. Reforms will be held to adjust the structure of Belpochta to the needs of the domestic and foreign markets. In turn, this will allow for more efficient use of the network and transit opportunities of Belarus.
Unfortunately, until recently, Belpochta, unlike Beltelecom, did not carry out large-scale comprehensive reforms. However, the situation is rapidly changing: the mail industry starts using information technologies, many processes get automated. Stages of reforms have been defined. A possibility of attracting investment is being explored. So the postal system of Belarus is also trying to keep pace with innovations.
Beltelecom’s data processing center