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Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy
Assessment and Audit Committee
Toward generalised use
of digital public services
January 2016
Pursuant to Article L. 132-5 of the Financial Jurisdictions Code,
the President of the French National Assembly wrote to the First
President on 7 October 2014 to request his assistance in carrying
out a study in conjunction with the work of the Public Policy
Assessment and Oversight Committee (CEC) to assess "the
impact of electronic procedures on government modernisation".
The First President agreed to provide such assistance in a letter
dated 23 October 2014.
This summary is intended to facilitate the interpretation and
application of the report of the Cour des comptes. The Cour des
comptes is bound solely by the report.
The French government has not remained indifferent to the fundamental
trends produced by the rapid development of digital technologies that are
affecting the means of production, disintermediation, the emergence of new
modes of communication and every other dimension of the economy. When
speaking of the digital modernisation of government in general, there have
unquestionably been changes in how public services function and how the
public uses them.
Nevertheless, considering how long ago the government declared its aims in
this area, the overall results do not represent an unqualified success.
International studies, including ones conducted by the European Commission,
point to a respectable performance by France. In 2015, it ranked thirteenth, four
places higher than in 2014, based on an index composed of four key criteria
(availability of dematerialised services, numbers of users, use of pre-filled forms, and
data accessibility). Its performance is slightly above the European average, ahead of
Germany and the United Kingdom, but trailing Spain, the Netherlands and
Denmark. This ranking is reasonable and consistent with our country's standing as
measured by the main economic indicators (notably, GDP per capita). However,
France's results are not all that could be expected given that it has longed claimed
to be engaged in a technological modernisation programme.
In fact, digital public services do not seem to have had a leading role in the
modernisation of government and its relations with their users. Even when the
possibility exists, digital access to public services is not users' preferred choice. A
comparison with other European countries highlights this. Although the offering
of digital services to private individuals is satisfactory, potential users avail
themselves of these services only to a limited extent. The usage rate in France is
low considering the length of time such services have been available and the
practical features like pre-filled forms offered with them. Thus, while use of
online services is increasing, even in population categories where it was very low
a few years ago, it is still not widespread. The benefits for the public in terms of
the savings of time and money are real, however, as impact studies have shown.
But few such studies have been done, and their findings have received little
attention: the advantages of dematerialised procedures are thus not sufficiently
highlighted. Likewise, user satisfaction is not systematically measured, which
would allow services to be adapted to the public's expectations.
Nor does the government appear to have fully seen the light and recognised the
many benefits of developing online services. Generally speaking, public services
have not been reorganised in fundamental ways, and the productivity gains that
digital services could potentially yield are not being realised. Although budget
conditions have brought the need for government belt-tightening and personnel
cutbacks, the capacity of digital reforms to make these necessary measures
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
User relations and government modernisation
Toward generalised use of digital public
supportable has not been specifically evaluated or included in the ways of
addressing this situation. Realising the potential impact of digital public
services on the organisation of government, notably in the regions, analysing the
new dematerialised flows, and fully benefiting from the large quantities of data
now available to the government assume that all the steps in modernisation –
dematerialisation, simplification, budget savings – are structured and coordinated
and that a genuine digital culture spreads throughout the government, which is
not the case today. The development of public services is not being truly used yet
as a lever of government modernisation.
This observation is confirmed by the way public services function at several
levels. First, even though the digital modernisation programme was long ago
declared a policy commitment, the government has still not finished structuring
it, despite the progressive consolidation of the groups and resources involved. The
programme was initially focused, starting in 1966, on introducing information
technologies into the administrations, but it was soon reoriented with the government
action programme for the information society (PAGSI)), announced in 1997, to
include digitalisation, too. Attention then shifted to networks and interoperability as
well as to user relations, with the latter given a higher priority as of 2011 and 2012.
Along with this longstanding policy commitment came a gradual consolidation
of the resources needed to actually carry out the policy, with the creation of
structures for cooperation and decision-making, uniform standards, and management
and monitoring systems. Following numerous changes in the management of the
government's digitalisation programme, the offices of the Prime Minister and within
them, the Secretariat General for Government Modernisation (SGMAP), are in charge
of it today. Their management activities are carried out through the chairman of the
Government Information and Communications System Advisory Board as well as
through the common strategic framework defined in 2012 and obligatory analysis
and cost reporting for the largest projects using a specified method (MAREVA) to
obtain a certificate of compliance from the Prime Minister's offices.
The positing of a single information system, the definition of standards, and the
launching of structural transversal projects (based on the government-platform
idea) form a coherent whole. However, five years after its launch, the programme's
implementation is still hampered by several missing elements. For example, no
real budget monitoring procedures have been put in place yet. The preponderant
influence of the principal ministry departments and the weak leverage of the
ministerial secretaries-general have slowed the government digitalisation
programme, too. Above all, the instability of management structures is hindering
its deployment, since the government seems to be paying too much attention to
the institutional dimension of its programme. To strengthen the programme under
way, priority should thus be given to stabilising the coordination and management
framework for the government's digital modernisation.
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
User relations and government modernisation
Toward generalised use of digital public services
Another obstacle is that budget decisions are not consistent with government
digital modernisation. First, even though electronic procedures are recognised
as an important factor of international competitiveness, there are obvious
shortcomings in the budgetary and economic assessment and monitoring of
IT spending. Budget decisions in the IT realm are thus not well informed, and
they generally lead to the choice of short-term approaches that result in
under-investment in digital public services. Indeed, already-limited IT funding
is getting smaller owing to across-the-board budget cuts. The largest share
goes to the maintenance and regulatory updates of software used internally by
the government, so little remains for new investment, including in digital public
services. At the same time, the allocation for personnel costs is growing, with
priority still given to professional skills that will not be needed in the future
owing to the development of digital services. Dematerialised services are
being introduced, but at too slow a pace to bring about a real transformation
of relations with users. Budget decisions are thus sub-optimal from an economic
As for human resources management, the government has not fully taken into
account the new needs created by digital public services. Management of IT
personnel is fragmented among government departments, with no mobility
and no updating of hiring requirements. A recent reform was supposed to promote
more coordination in personnel management among the ministries, but the
measure is too limited to be fully effective, notably because it will apply neither
to current personnel nor to all public employers.
Despite these critical observations, the conditions exist to enable digital public
services to be a lever of government transformation. For one, more people have
computers and are accustomed to using them; for another, structural projects
concerning user identification, authentication, data exchange between
administrations and other such issues are being undertaken: these two factors
point to widespread reliance on online services in the future. Generalised use
should, in turn, make it possible to respond to users' expectations (notably in
terms of faster and easier access to public services); to maximise the capacity
of digital services to reduce costs and improve productivity at a time of budget
tightening; and to make work more rewarding for the personnel. This trend is
consistent with the policy pursued in France for several years and particularly
with its most recent developments.
This policy, which is designed to be progressive and to take into account the
diverse categories of users, is aimed at making electronic systems the means of
providing the right of access to public services. This objective can be achieved in
stages. It might begin with services that are already fully accessible online such
as the payment of income taxes – something recently decided by the
Parliament. The methods of this transition can also be flexible. Several relevant
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
User relations and government modernisation
Toward generalised use of digital public services
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
approaches are available – for example, for differentiating users – that have already
been explored in several countries. Nevertheless, how effective and efficient the
investments will be will depend largely on whether digital services are in generalised
use. Only a very proactive approach will achieve this objective within a reasonable
timeframe and maximise the impact of this transformation. This policy should thus
be explicitly adopted, and a road map and implementation calendar drawn up for
all administrations. Parliament should receive regular reports on each phase of the
project so as to be informed of any planned changes, to hear the results of the
implementation, and, whenever necessary, to adapt the legal framework.
To develop digital public services and increase their impact on government
modernisation, any regulations or laws standing in the way must be removed.
Some recently begun projects are intended to do this, and it is important to see
they are actually carried out.
It is absolutely essential to simplify electronic identification of users, which
became mandatory under the European eIDAS regulation adopted in July 2014.
Although several European countries that are more advanced in the realm of
digital public services have opted for the electronic identification card and digital
signature (which offer a strong guarantee of authentication and data transmission
security), French law obliged the Prime Minister's offices to institute in summer
2015 the FranceConnect identification system based on a single certified account
for users.
Likewise, to deal with the problem of the compartmentalisation of government IT
systems, which have been built in silos as new needs arose, the government-platform
programme will replace repetitive requests for the same information from users
with requests and flows of information between administrations. The "Tell Us Once"
(Dites-le nous une fois) initiative is part of this programme, which may, as it does in
other countries, also include a ban on repeatedly storing user data ("Store It Once" –
Stockons-le une fois). This assumes, however, that legal and financial impediments
to exchanging data between administrations can be removed and the issue of
invoicing the exchanges between administrations can be worked out.
Last, people who want to use digital services are still obliged to deal with multiple
public and private websites today. In early 2016, it was announced that two sites, and, would be brought together in one
portal, but this new arrangement will solve the problem only if the portal
becomes the single gateway to all government services and the information they
provide. needs to become the address users go to automatically.
If the government is to make development of digital public services a real
means of modernisation, they must be improved in other ways, too. They must
be user-oriented, with a primary goal of their becoming fully digital. When that
is impossible, a maximum of complementary services (appointment scheduling,
downloadable forms, updates on pending matters, electronic payment, etc.)
User relations and government modernisation
Toward generalised use of digital public services
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
should be offered. The SGMAP has a crucial role in this process. It must see that
inter-ministerial projects are carried out to develop technical solutions for the
various digital channels (computers, smartphones and tablets). More generally,
the government must be committed to using existing systems and expanding
its offering, particular for businesses.
The success of the government's digital modernisation efforts will depend on
addressing two sets of conditions.
The first involves providing adequate user support. The digital divide should be
regarded not as an obstacle to the expansion of digital services, but as a situation
of inequality that needs to be improved by promoting wider use of these services.
To deal with the absence of Internet coverage in some areas and with the individual
lack of access in homes, an important first step is to make digital public services
available at more locations through the many existing access points, notably in
rural areas (community service facilities), and including those created specifically
for vulnerable population groups (information-mediation-multiservice points).
More terminals also need to be installed at public facilities (prefectures, town halls,
post offices, libraries, etc.). It would also be a good idea to offer personalised help
to users through remote support or people physically present at locations access to
digital public services is provided. Civic service volunteers, for example, could be
added to the personnel who offer such assistance. Last, online public services
cannot come into general use unless they are accessible to everyone and therefore,
unless government websites actually comply with accessibility standards for all
types of disability.
The second condition is to increase people's trust in digital services. To do this,
government websites must be made easier to find by creating a single portal for
accessing public services. It must also be possible to quickly distinguish government
websites from private ones, and a campaign should be conducted to inform
users about them. Above all, compliance with IT security standards and norms
and protection of civil liberties should be taken into account at the outset of
projects, and these issues should be dealt with more openly.
User relations and government modernisation
Toward generalised use of digital public services
Orientation and recommendations
To progressively make electronic systems the means of providing the right of access
to public services; to draw up an inter-ministerial road map for this purpose setting
forth the pace and stages of this process according to the maturity of digital
public services and specifying the user-support measures necessary for smooth
deployment. This road map would be presented regularly to the Parliament to
take stock of results and to consider legislation needed for the implementation
of this process.
Conduct satisfaction surveys systematically on digital public services and
report the findings at least once a year;
Reinforce the activities of the general data administrator by creating a data
managers network within the ministries;
Set aside a budget from the appropriations administered by the secretaries-
general for transversal digital public service projects in each ministry;
Append to the finance bill a document on the transversal policy for the
digital transformation of government;
Specify more precisely the portions of IT budgets to be used for digital
public services and set priorities commensurate with stated goals;
Integrate into the inter-ministerial corps of ICT engineers all government IT
teams, starting with those too small to have management responsibility in
their original corps;
Reassess the advisability of developing a national electronic identity card;
Establish the principle of reference data, meaning that a single administration
is responsible for collecting certain data, serving as their primary storage site,
maintaining them, updating them, and providing them to the other
Compile a directory of the databases in the administrations containing
information that is considered a secret protected by the law; determine
the actual legal constraints that may restrict its communication to the
administrations; and define a method for these administrations to use it;
Make the future portal the single gateway to public
services and the information they provide;
Develop, following a preliminary advisability study, inter-ministerial
technical solutions for appointment scheduling, updates on pending matters,
electronic signatures, digital mailboxes and electronic payment;
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee
Formalise at the inter-ministerial level and adapt for each ministry a digital
public services communications plan and training programme for users,
opinion leaders and the press with support from existing local networks;
Increase the access points to digital public services (post offices, libraries,
etc.) open to the public and equipped with printers, with a person to provide
help, including, if need be, trained civic service volunteers;
Process and store the personal information of public service users in secure
servers that comply with ANSSI standards and are located within France;
Make it obligatory in each ministry to designate a French Data Protection
Authority correspondent with the secretary general and obtain CNIL
Certification of Privacy Governance for all government sites.
Orientation and recommendations
Survey requested by the National Assembly’s Public Policy Assessment and Audit Committee