Interview with Zsofia Sziranyi

Zsofia Sziranyi: “I hope we will be ice-skating on a beautiful digital-ready lake someday.”

Published on: 30/05/2022
Last update: 01/06/2022
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Zsofia Szirany Zsofia Sziranyi is programme manager at the Interoperable Europe Unit of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Informatics, in which she and her team are responsible for Legal interoperability and digital-ready policy making. 

With two Master’s degrees in Economics and International Management she did a traineeship at the OECD in Paris, after which she joined the Commission in 2009. Before starting her journey in the interoperability universe within the Directorate-General for Informatics, she dealt with strategic planning and programming in the European and Hungarian public administrations.  

Zsofia describes herself as being already attracted to the subject of efficient public services during her studies and feels a large drive to serve the public society at large. This is why her current position, in which she promotes digital-ready policy making that can accelerate the digital transformation of public administrations and eventually the society at large, fits her like a glove. 

“I get in touch with people on the ground on a daily basis and can encourage them to cooperate and to find linkages between their works. These are activities that are close to my character, and which have an indirect, though true, impact.” 

Q: How important would you consider legal interoperability compared to other forms of interoperability, like the semantic or the technical aspect? 

Zsofia Sziranyi: For me, interoperability is in itself a very democratic concept. Linking IT-systems, sharing data, connecting actors with diverse professional backgrounds across borders and sectors... It can only happen if all layers of interoperability are intertwined. However, specifically in the context of the public sector, you need to have a legal mandate to create public services in most of the cases. So basically, legislation sets requirements to the whole implementation cycle. It is an unavoidable entry point for other types of interoperability or actors to leave their marks. Therefore, legal interoperability is a key enabler for the whole concept of interoperability.  

Q: You are dealing with both legal interoperability and digital-ready policy making. How closely related are those two domains? 

Zsofia Sziranyi: Very closely. I would say that digital-ready policymaking is largely covering our motivation regarding legal interoperability. Digital-ready policymaking is about ensuring that policy makers consider digital aspects early on during their policymaking, fostering digital transformation that includes interoperability. This way, they make sure that they do not create interoperability barriers and public services can flow freely. So this would tick the interoperability box.  

Digital-ready policymaking also entails another dimension, more specifically on providing digital tools to policy makers so they can design their policies more easily. Of course, we would like to have those tools interoperable-by-design. (laughs) 

Due to communication purposes, and because digital-ready policy making can thus be an umbrella term for legal interoperability, I talk about digital-ready policymaking more and more when I am interacting with policy makers. For them, this is an easier concept to grasp. Then, when they are at ease, I also try to bring the interoperability concept in the discussion, explaining why I am coming from the Interoperability Unit and nevertheless talking about digital-ready policy making.  

Q: Which potential do you see in the upcoming legislative proposal for a reinforced EU interoperability in order to move forward legal interoperability and digital-ready policymaking?

Zsofia Sziranyi: I hope it comes into force and I’m excited to see the moment when it does! The policy intends to introduce an obligatory assessment of the potential impacts that a new policy proposal would have on cross-border interoperability, in case this proposal requires the creation of new IT systems or the modification of existing ones. This way, this impact assessment should help to raise awareness during the policymaking phase of the proposal’s potential impacts on interoperability.  

Furthermore, the act will help to close the gap between policy design and implementation by creating a policy implementation support mechanism. Thanks to this mechanism, the Commission or the Member States representatives of the to-be-formed Interoperable Europe Board could call for a policy implementation support project already during the policy design stage at the European level. This would allow experimenting with new policies before they are carved into law.  

For the moment, if we are dealing with new European policy proposals for a certain sector, we are almost always limited to talks with expert representatives from the Member States’ ministries for only that specific sector. So in case we are dealing with for example a new maritime policy and related IT system, the total potential impact of this proposal on other sectors and their IT landscapes, like inland-waterways and environment, will maybe not be covered in our discussions.  

The new policy implementation support mechanism would give the policy maker new possibilities to gather evidence from Member States interoperability representatives that have an overarching view on their country context. And those people can also get the necessary feedback from their own experts in all relevant domains. 

I am optimistic that this new approach will not create an extra burden for the Member States. It will foster a win-win-situation instead. Eventually, the Member States are the ones who are implementing European legislation. They are the ones who suffer from the constraints of interoperability barriers and enjoy the benefits by removing those barriers.  

Q: Digital-ready policy making is rather still in its infancy. How difficult do you think it is to have digital-ready policy making as a standard feature in new legislation, from the local to the EU level? Would that not be hard given the sometimes large differences in legal systems between the Member States? 

Zsofia Sziranyi: I truly believe that it is partially a notion of time and maturity. A cultural change. The main challenge here is not that policymakers, regardless of whether they are EU or local, are not aware that the digital aspect is now almost everywhere and that it has many benefits. It is more about the how. 

Denmark is the true forerunner among the Member States when it comes to digital-ready policymaking. Their agency responsible for digitisation received a strong political mandate in 2018 to promote and oversee the implementation of digital-ready policymaking in all sectors and ministries. I am very happy we established contacts with the Danish colleagues back then at the time, so we could follow step by step what is happening there. Their work greatly influences our approach. Other countries, like Austria or Germany, start to follow in their footsteps as well, but we are still at a very early stage.  

However, we spotted that, despite the lack of an overarching umbrella, there are sometimes specific sectors within the countries that are very advanced in policy and digital working together. Taxation and finance are usually such sectors, simply because they are so close to the fields of industry and business that they are forced to go into the digital field. Next to the Netherlands or Finland, we were impressed by the good practices of Portugal and how closely the policymaker, the actual implementing agency and even business work together. 

Q: With this knowledge in mind, what are your hopes then on how the digital-ready policy making in Europe will evolve? 

Zsofia Sziranyi: Recently, a colleague gave me a nice visual metaphor, referring to the layer of ice that is forming on a  lake when it is freezing. The crystallisation process starts at various little points, and you are a bit frustrated, because nothing seems to happen. But then suddenly, the crystallisation speeds up, these little points find each other, and they connect. And then the ice is starting to be created very quickly. So I really hope that we will be ice-skating on this beautiful digital ready lake someday.

If you want to share your ideas and experiences with Zsofia and her team to think and act together on how to advance digital-ready policymaking in Europe, please drop an e-mail to EU-legal-interoperability@ec.europa.eu.  

Was this interview appealing to you? Are you hungry for more interoperability insights from our team? Check our April’s interview with Leontina Sandu, the Head of the Interoperability Unit at DIGIT!