Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez is a programme manager at the Interoperable Europe Unit of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Informatics. He is the engine behind the National Interoperability Framework Observatory (NIFO) and is responsible for the monitoring and reporting of the uptake of digital public transformation and interoperability in the EU public administrations. The promotion of the use and the adoption of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) has a central place in his work too. “I see myself as an EIF champion,” he says.
Miguel is also involved in various semantic interoperability projects around SEMIC, including creating and promoting semantic interoperability assets.
With two master's degrees in Telecommunications Engineering and in Business Administration, his early career includes a position as a radio telecommunication engineer in Cambridge and an IT official at the Spanish government. In 2012, he joins the European Commission.
Miguel describes himself as a person who is interested in the public sector, digitalisation of public services and new technologies. “I have always had an appetite to work in the public sector. For me, working for the public interest, doing something for society, for the citizens, has always been a huge motivation,” he points out.
Q: What is NIFO? How does it support the interoperability and digitalisation of the EU public sector?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: NIFO is an Observatory, we call it National Interoperability Framework Observatory. It has been in place for quite some time, and it is the main instrument of the Commission to understand how Member States are coping with the digitalising of their public services in relation to interoperability.
Historically, digitalisation was done in isolation. Taxation, justice, ministries, regions - it was obvious after a while that it was impossible to share data and to bring in efficiencies and economies of scale to the digital public sector. That is when interoperability came into the spotlight - bringing together different IT systems, using different instruments to ensure integration, data sharing and seamless communication. There is a thing we call the “once-only principle” - data being shared in such a way that citizens never have to provide the same information more than once.
In the Observatory we are monitoring those specifics. We provide a holistic view - what the current state of the union is in relation to digitalisation and interoperability.
The Observatory is also a community building project. In Joinup, we regularly hold seminars, meetings, webinars where Member States share best practices. NIFO is becoming a digital hub and a knowledge center for policy makers, managers, and IT experts. In addition, we have a EIF course and a toolbox to provide an overview of solutions supporting the actual implementation of interoperability across digital services.
This year, we have also added the first report on the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society and Value-Based Digital Government to the monitoring activities. We are using a business intelligence tool to check dynamically the level of implementation of the KPIs of the EIF and we are making all the information as accessible as possible.
Q: You mentioned the monitoring of the Berlin Declaration and the EIF. What are the main findings?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: The Berlin Declaration is a political declaration on digital society and value-based digital government. It is a commitment signed by the Member States and it follows the success of the Tallinn Declaration. We are committed to making societies more digital and at the same time to not exclude parts of society when it comes to access to modern technologies.
Thanks to the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, we put in place a new mechanism for monitoring the actions following the Declaration. We wanted to do something very practical. The monitoring applies a holistic approach, but it is also extremely specific in highlighting best practices. And we have a lot of them.
Q: Can you share some examples?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: We observed nice examples in different policy areas. For instance, we have spotted how the use of innovative technologies can support the transformation of public services - to make them more streamlined and easy-to-access on the backend and on the frontend. The case of Greece is quite outstanding. They are using transformative technologies for the justice system by developing a national integrated justice system, upgrading existing systems on the cloud, using AI applications to homogenise procedures and provide better service in the E-Justice domain.
Another example is coming from France. France has a legal framework ensuring that authorisation is based on algorithm processing, and they are also using AI. People get informed automatically of the decisions of the algorithm and there are no biases in the decision-making process, there is full transparency. The citizens have the right to know what happens behind these algorithms.
Q: Why is the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) monitoring important?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: The EIF has been the main instrument that we have in the EU to provide guidance to Member States on how to digitalise their public services in an efficient and user-centric manner using interoperability as the driving force. The first EIF was adopted in 2004. The current version is the third one that was agreed on and published in 2017. The EIF is a high-level instrument providing a set of recommendations and principles. Most Member States have adopted these recommendations and principles in their national policies and national digitalisation programmes.
In addition, we have a methodology based on good practices and specific KPIs to measure the success on the implementation of the EIF. Two reports cover the results quite well. The first one is the individual Member States Factsheet. The new edition will be published in the coming weeks. The second one is the State of Play on Digital Public Administration and Interoperability which is published annually.
Now, thanks to the new Interoperable Europe Policy, the EIF will have to evolve accordingly to meet the specific needs of this Policy and to fill the gaps that we have already spotted in the recent EIF evaluation.
Q: What does the latest EIF report show?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: We have observed that the twelve principles of the EIF like multilingualism, accessibility in practice, etc. have been well-implemented in measured policies. When it comes to the actual implementation, there are huge variations not only from Member State to Member State but also from sector to sector and one level of administration to another. Local governments, for instance, have less resources and more difficulties implementing these principles.
However, in this complex setting, there are interesting emerging initiatives. I encourage all of you to go to the NIFO collection on Joinup and have a look at the report “Digital Path to Recovery and Resilience in the European Union.” You will get a good overview of how the Member States use the Resilience and Recovery funds in various innovative ways to digitalise many aspects of their public administrations.
Q: What does the future carry for NIFO?
What else? We are preparing more information on the policies and programmes on interoperability as well as on who the competent authorities are - the different ministerial, regional, and local bodies. We aim to provide this information in a visual and interactive manner in the NIFO collection on Joinup. This improvement will save our readers the long browsing through different files. NIFO is evolving into a digital hub and a knowledge center for everything related to digital transformation and interoperability. In fact, we are also going to improve the business intelligence areas of the observatory, producing more specialised reports focusing on key areas and services. The EIF toolbox will improve the users’ experience by adding a wizard for the different profiles - IT manager, policymaker, public servant etc.
Finally, we are partnering with our JRC colleagues to streamline the monitoring of EIF and prepare the observatory for the new Interoperable Europe Policy.
Q: What is your vision for interoperability in Europe?
Miguel Alvarez Rodriguez: In the past years, I have observed in my country of origin and others, that the situation has been improving significantly. Public administrations, regions and local authorities have started to define a set of common specifications and standards, to reuse common solutions, to set up common digital service platforms. This has brought more efficiency and integration in the digitalisation efforts. At the end of day, those efforts result in a myriad of available digital services where data is shared seamlessly.
A good example of this is the integration of the national ID card which was a joint effort made by different administrative levels. At the EU level we need the same - finest collaboration and coordination mechanisms for EU administrations to bring together not only the ministries but also other policy areas and administrative levels. We need to invent flexible governance instruments in the years to come. And all of this is in the spirit of the upcoming Interoperable Europe Act.