Five key takeaways from Austria’s mobile government (mGov) experience

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Using mobile phones to access government services. Using mobile phones to access government services.

Imagine being able to change your home address, receive official documents, and order an election card all in one place.

These simple tasks in reality can take an extremely long time for citizens in other parts of the world but in Austria, you don’t need to look further than your mobile phone.  

European Union (EU) governments have embraced the paradigm shift from “eGov” (electronic Government) to “mGov” (mobile phone-based access to government services)  through the Berlin Declaration on December 8, 2020. The rationale was simple: even if governments have implemented e-government portals and online solutions, not everyone has access to the internet via a laptop or personal computer. Mobile phones, on the other hand, are almost universal and more than 70 percent of EU citizens prefer to use mobile phones to access services.

Peter Kustor, Austria’s Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, shared the government’s experiences through a session on Mobile First: From e-Government to m-Government - Austria’s transition and whole-of-government approach to mGov organized by the World Bank.

Here are the five key take-aways from Austria’s mGov experience:

  1. A legal framework is key. The Austrian government passed an e-Government Act as early as 2004. The amendment of the Act which entered into force last year provides a “right to digital interaction” and states that “everyone has the right of electronic communications with courts and administrative bodies in matters of federal legislation”. 
  2. Institutional arrangements require whole-of-government coordination. A whole-of-government approach was adopted, and an overall framework of coordination was developed under the leadership of the Ministry of Digital and Economic Affairs. To strengthen the oversight and alignment, the government established the Digital Austria Federal ICT Board for coordination of the federal ministries, and a ‘Digital Austria Local Government Board’ for the coordination of the provinces, municipalities, and regions. Members of the boards include representation from the government, the Chamber of Commerce, and social security. 
  3. Consider the big picture of the technical building blocks to avoid duplication for different services. The government looked at the new system through a cohesive, government-wide architecture to avoid reinventing the wheel for each service. This included a consistent approach to ensure interoperability, integration of core registries, the use of e-ID, availability of e-payment options, e-Backoffice, among others. This infrastructure enabled the adoption of the ‘only once’ principle: citizens only need to provide their data once in the system to access different services across government.   
  4. The key enabler is e-ID. The legislation on e-ID laid down the foundations for digital transformation. Since the legislation didn’t specify any one particular technology, the government could more easily adapt and keep up with the quickly changing technology. Chip cards and later mobile devices were used to implement e-ID solutions. The mobile device-based e-ID evolved through various stages, as mobile technology evolved. Initially, when smartphones were not widely used, SMS was used to authenticate citizens for online service provision – an SMS code was sent to a citizen’s mobile device when the citizen requested for a service online – change of home address, for example. The citizen could complete the change of address service by entering the SMS code as authentication mechanism that the right person is making the address change. With the rapid growth of smartphones, a QR (Quick Response) code  was developed to authenticate and provide e-signatures. The latest solution uses the ‘secure elements’ of smart devices allowing for secure use of the same device for the service as well as for authentication and identification.*
  5. Start with high demand services. The Austrian government prioritized services that were in high demand from citizens. These included passport renewal support (notification before expiration), birth registration, address changes, application for social security and health cards, requests for election cards and/or ballot papers, and support to citizen initiatives. 

By moving to mGov, government service delivery has gotten more effective and efficient in Austria.  How can developing countries learn from Austria’s experiences and adopt their own mGov systems? Stay tuned! We’ll have the answers for you in our blog next week. 

*Editor's Note: Point 4 was updated to include, "The latest solution uses the ‘secure elements’ of smart devices allowing for secure use of the same device for the service as well as for authentication and identification." Updated January 29, 2021.


Khuram Farooq

Senior Financial Management Specialist

Peter Kustor

Director for International and Legal Affairs

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