Portugal's reliable & innovative digital public services

Interview: AMA's Sara Carrasqueiro talks about digital transformation in Portugal

Published on: 26/05/2021
Last update: 17/02/2023

AMA logoThe Administrative Modernization Agency (AMA) was created in 2007 and is responsible for promoting and developing digital government and administrative modernisation in Portugal. We interviewed Sara Carrasqueiro, member of AMA’s Board of Directors, to learn more about AMA’s activities and find out whether these can benefit other Members States, too, with the help of the Joinup platform.

Could you introduce to us the Administrative Modernization Agency, and describe the main activities and goals that are pursued by AMA?

Sara pic
Sara Carrasqueiro
Member of AMA’s Board of Directors

The Administrative Modernization Agency (AMA) was created in 2007. We are a government entity that works to create the conditions for citizens and businesses to benefit from the best public services they can hope for.

We do this by developing and disseminating in Portugal digital government best practices and building blocks for a seamless government – however, leaving no one behind. We provide, for instance, interoperability, digital identity solutions and the Portuguese single digital gateway (ePortugal.gov.pt). Simultaneously, we are investing in an omnichannel approach and also manage a network of Citizen Shops and Spots, that provide integrated services respectively F2F and in a digital assisted model.

To this end, AMA collaborates with entities from the whole public administration having a leading and transversal role in areas like:

  • ICT strategy and governance (chairing the Technical Committee of the Council for Information and Communication Technologies in the Public Administration);
  • Interoperability (managing the Public Administration Interoperability Platform);
  • Open data (managing the public sector open data portal, Dados.gov);
  • Emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (by participating in the drafting and implementation of the national digital strategies);
  • Digital identification (managing the eID ecosystem);
  • Administrative modernisation and simplification (with the technical coordination of the SIMPLEX programme, aimed at simplifying the lives of citizens and businesses);
  • Innovation, cocreation & experimentation in the public sector (the Experimentation Lab for Public Administration – LabX is an organic unit of AMA);
  • and other building blocks and areas such as accessibility, data governance and so forth.

AMA’s activity can thus be summarised into three major areas: public services delivery (both digital and onsite); digital transformation; and innovation & public participation – always with a view to provide simpler, more efficient and proactive public services to citizens and business.

We also work to foster innovation and a collaborative culture within the Public Administration, by promoting both silo-breaking between different areas of governance and the co-creation of services with its end-users.

Portugal is one of the pioneering countries in the field of digital identity solutions (eID). The Portuguese eID ecosystem contains important solutions such as the ‘Citizen Card’, ‘Digital Mobile Key’, ‘ID.gov app’ etc., some of which are already on Joinup. Could you briefly describe these solutions and the benefits they provide to citizens?

AMA is responsible for the national eID ecosystem, consisting of a central platform, Autenticacao.gov.pt, that provides the various means of electronic authentication and signature available.

Portugal has since 2007 its eID-based Citizen Card, which is the national identity card. It is a physical smartcard that allows both visual and electronic identity authentication, including digital signatures. The Citizen Card is mandatory for all Portuguese citizens over 20 days of age and gathers five different “identities” such as the social security, healthcare, tax and other.

However, mobile environments are here to stay and most citizens use more and more mobile devices to navigate the web and use with private or public services. As so, we launched the Digital Mobile Key, in 2014, which is a mobile solution associated to the Citizen Card or passport. Like the Citizen Card, it allows digital authentication and signature but without the need for a smartcard reader. The DMK uses a similar system to home banking solutions: the user just needs to insert their mobile phone number and chosen PIN number, followed by a one-time password which can be received via a dedicated mobile app or by SMS, e-mail or Twitter. By March 2021, there were over 1,7 million active Digital Mobile Keys, and growing.

It’s worth mentioning that both the Digital Mobile Key and the Citizen Card are eIDAS- compliant identification schemes, notified with a Level of Assurance “High”.

In 2018 we made available the Professional Attributes Certification System (SCAP), featured by both the Citizen Card and the Digital Mobile Key. SCAP allows citizens to digitally authenticate and/or sign based on their professional roles, according to professional or business attributes.

And, following the investment on the mobile channel, in 2019 we released the ID.GOV.PT, a digital wallet available for iOS and Android that allows users to view, save and share certified versions of personal identification documents. The digital documents generated by the app have the same legal value as the original paper versions. They can be validated by public and private authorities in real-time, through a QR code available in the application or through the insertion of a temporary code in a reserved area of Autenticacao.gov.pt.

The variety of these eID solutions, targeting different end-users, provides citizens and businesses with more straightforward and efficient interactions with both public and private services and are pushing the uptake of eID in Portugal.

It seems the abovementioned eID solutions are interconnected with the ‘Autenticacao.gov’ platform, which plays a key role in this ecosystem. What exactly is its function, and how do Portuguese public administrations benefit from its use?

Indeed, the Autenticacao.gov platform (https://www.autenticacao.gov.pt/) centralises the different means of electronic authentication and signature available in Portugal and provides detailed information about these mechanisms. It includes, for example, technical manuals, open source components for reuse, information about the modalities of enrolment and usage statistics.

This eID mechanism concentration also facilitates their implementation by businesses and the public administration themselves, with several large companies (particularly in the banking and utilities sectors) and most public websites already integrating secure digital authentication via Citizen Card and/or Digital Mobile Key.

In 2020, the Autenticacao.gov platform processed a total of 12,876 million authentications, with the mobile channel already collecting the most significant share (around 45% of the authentications).

Finally, I would like to highlight that the Autenticacao.gov website received the Gold Usability and Accessibility Seal, which indicates the highest level of compliance with international standards and best practices (namely WCAG 2.1 from W3C) for websites and mobile applications. This means a formal recognition of accessibility best practices, including tests and co-design with citizens with disabilities.

Interoperability is clearly in AMA’s top agenda items. Which of your solutions could be reused by other Member States? Do you believe Joinup – as the Commission’s official interoperability solutions platform – could help promote such national interoperability solutions among Member States?

Interoperability is a major challenge in all public administrations: to have different systems “talking” with each other, exchanging data and sharing resources are key determinants to enable a modern, efficient and innovative public administration.

In this domain, I must highlight the Interoperability Platform (iAP), managed by AMA. It provides public entities with a shared tool for interconnecting systems, enabling the provision of more efficient, agile and increasingly seamless services that address the real needs of citizens and business.

Available since 2007 and based on open standards, the Interoperability Platform encompasses four main components that allow us to design services based on the only-once principle: the “Integration Platform”, that provides a simple and integrated delivery of cross-cutting electronic services; the “Authentication Provider”, that allows digital authentication via Autenticacao.gov; the “Payments Platform”, enabling the integrated management of multiple payment methods for different channels; and the “SMS Gateway”, making available the exchange of SMS between citizens and public administration bodies.

Examples of services enabled by the iAP are the dematerialised Medical ePrescriptions (mandatory and fully electronic since 2016 in Portugal) and the Automated Social Energy Tariff, which automatically processes social benefits related to the energy bill by integrating data from Social Security, Energy supervision authority and private energy providers.

Not directly related to technological interoperability, we are exploring blockchain applied to public participation, with the portal Participa.gov.pt. It is a centralised platform to support Public Administration’s participatory processes (e.g. participatory budgets), making use of blockchain technology for attributing votes to citizens in a transparent, secure and anonymous way. It is open and very easily reusable, and I think this could be a very interesting solution for other countries.

The Interoperability Platform is one of the Portuguese solutions shared on Joinup, which we believe to be a valuable knowledge-sharing platform among Member States. Nonetheless, Joinup could eventually have a match-making functionality and a specific section dedicated to cross-border services – this eventually would be helpful.

When you visit Joinup, what are you looking for usually? News? Events? Interoperability solutions? Best practices?

My primary motivation for visiting Joinup is to keep up to date, reading my colleagues’ interviews and learning about their challenges.

Likewise, I try to get my teams to consult Joinup regularly to keep themselves updated, as cross-border collaboration is more and more fundamental for European prosperity and, currently, recovery from this negative year.

Portugal is holding the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Is there anything you would like to share with us concerning this presidency, like actions or activities related to digital transformation/interoperability in public administrations?

The Portuguese Presidency of the Council is managing several structural dossiers in the Digital area, such as the Data Governance Act, which will be essential in leveraging the European data economy. Data governance is one of the most challenging areas we are facing, and we are discussing it quite actively.

Also, the revision of the eIDAS Regulation, which brings together the discussion on the creation of a European Digital Identity and constitutes a cornerstone of the digital single market, as the unequivocal identification of citizens is an essential requirement to access national and transnational public services – and increasingly private services as well.

Also noteworthy, the ongoing implementation of the Single Digital Gateway Regulation will be critical to foster the provision of cross-border digital services, which will also benefit from the financial envelopes provided under the new Digital Europe Programme and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

In my opinion, we are currently in a very interesting period for digital government. We are elaborating the future European Interoperability Strategy, working on the policy instrument that will follow the European eGov Action Plan, signed the Berlin Declaration after Tallinn, and the Digital Decade 2030 / Digital Compass were recently launched. It is up to all Member States to work together to achieve the objectives stated in these documents and build a resilient, sustainable and prosperous digital Europe, focused on the needs of its citizens and businesses and capable of reinventing itself in the face of crises such as the covid-19 pandemic.

What do you think are the main challenges for EU decision-makers on digital government?

In this thrilling emergent technologies context, I believe the main challenge is to ensure that we deliver value-based projects, with a positive impact to society, while enhancing civic participation and ethics.

In addition, data governance and interoperability at the European level are other main challenges. Of course, areas such as accessibility and digital skills, from both public servants and civil society, also play a key role.

Digital government will be critical for this recovery period and the pandemic showed how important it is to be prepared to respond to a crisis and pandemic situation in which the digital services are the only way to keep the State functioning and interacting with citizens.

We need to define common standards and guidelines and develop our critical infrastructures based on a collaborative model. It may demand a bit of effort but the outcomes will surely pay off.

At a European policy level, we should observe the goals defined by the Digital Compass and, of course, with special attention to the pillar regarding promoting the digital transformation of Public Administrations. The foreseen progress monitoring system will be helpful to assess deviations from the EU’s common objectives for 2030 and to identify investment gaps.

Any last thoughts you would like to share with Joinupers?

It is important to stress out that digital transformation, with all its benefits, also poses new challenges to democracies, making it necessary to ensure, for example, that no one is left behind in the process and that the use of technology is aligned with European values and individual’s rights.

These concerns are addressed in the Berlin Declaration (2020), which advocates a digital transformation based on values and in which the Member States reaffirm their commitment to respect and defend individual freedoms and rights, ensuring ethical use of technology, while fostering the uptake of building blocks and ensuring Europe’s digital sovereignty, building upon the objectives previously outlined in the Tallinn Declaration (2017).

Portugal is perfectly aligned with these values and we want to implement cross-border, reliable and innovative digital public services. We are open to work with fellow countries who wish to develop collaborations of different kinds that envision more efficiency and quality to the daily life of our citizens and businesses.

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