Interview: Merve Ay
Dr. Ali Taha Koç, President of Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) accelerated digitalisation both in the private and the public sector. We talked to Dr. Ali Taha Koç, President of the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, an icon of Turkey’s digitalisation initiatives, about many issues for the readers of Business Diplomacy. “There is a direct positive correlation between the digital transformation and growth,” says President Koç and adds: “We want to work in close synergy with all shareholders while building the digital future of our country.”
“Digital services are used now more than ever”
If we compare the recent past and today, what can you say about interest and expectations for digitalisation before the pandemic and today?
Affecting our lives, lifestyles, and habits, the COVID-19 outbreak reminded us how important digital technologies and telecommunication infrastructure were and bore new opportunities to get over the crisis. As the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, our aim is to ensure a holistic transformation in terms of people, business processes, and technology in order to increase economic and social welfare by using and developing digital technologies.
We also aim to take the pandemic under control through digital technologies and put an end to its severity. Using digital services to ensure business continuity and flexibility has been more important than ever during this period. The e-Government Gateway is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about digital services. Our studies show us that by July 28, e-Government Gateway has 49 million users, and provide 5,108 services from 667 different institutions.
As Digital Turkey Portal, we received 1.2 billion visits in 2019, and we have already reached this number within the first seven months of 2020 with the effect of the pandemic. The use of some services has increased up to 10 times compared to the pre-pandemic period. We continue to work on providing our citizens with integrated services through which all information can be accessed from a single page over the Digital Turkey Portal and won’t require any information or document submission.
“Information and Communication Security Manual has been published”
What can you say about Turkey’s management of this period, when the video conferences, distance education, and expectations for healthcare technologies have increased? How effective have the domestic and national solutions of our country been in managing this crisis?
We went through a period of travel restrictions, lockdowns, distance learning applications, restrictions in sports, and arts activities to protect the health of society and individuals. In order to minimise the effects of this rapid change on social life, the use of digital technologies increased quickly, and concepts of remote working/education gained importance.
Video conferences started to be used worldwide and tested against safety and overload due to the increased number of users and frequency. These tests showed that foreign video conference applications used widely could give your personal data to others and harm your privacy. This led to the examination of some video conference applications and even prohibition in certain countries.
As the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, we started testing open source video conference systems, all created with domestic and national software, in reliable environments as a result of the increasing need for reliable video conference systems. We started a project with the T.R. Ministry of Industry and Technology to assess all domestic and national video conference applications in terms of functionality and security. Within the scope of the project, the technical specialists of The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) and Digital Transformation Office closely investigate the solutions. With reports acquired from the study, we contribute to developing the related products.
As you know, the Presidential Circular No. 2019/12 on Information and Communication Security Measures entered into force on 06.07.2019 for state institutions and organisations and businesses that provide critical infrastructure services. In line with the circular, Information and Communication Security Guideline as the first reference document of our country in this regard was published recently in coordination with the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey. Information and Communication Security Guideline will support our country by disseminating the use of domestic and national cyber security products and solutions and pave the way for us to produce technologies to compete with the world. In an era where powerful economies and powerful technologies gain importance, the steps and measures we take today will allow us to lead technology, not merely follow it. Our priority is to keep our country’s data within our country. In this regard, our Office supports domestic software to turn them into world-famous brands.
Especially the increasing number of digital health data has improved the diagnosis, test, and treatment methods. As the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, we work on artificial intelligence-based innovative solutions in cooperation with our healthcare workers and universities in order to minimise the effects of the pandemic and inform the society on the issue. We want to add our own values to this process called digital transformation and bring life to it with innovative technologies that will be beneficial not only for our country but for all humanity.
“Turkey rose to 4th rank in EU 2020 e-Goverment Index studies”
Parallel to the advancing technology, public services are becoming digitalised more and more in today’s world. And the pandemic has no doubt accelerated this transformation. Can you give more detail on Turkey’s latest situation considering the public and citizens?
In the research of the United Nations (UN) for determining the e-Government development levels of the member countries conducted every two years since 2001, a systematic evaluation of the use of information-communication technologies in order to increase the effectiveness, transparency, and efficiency of the public sector is presented.
As a result of the studies conducted with public institutions and organisations in coordination with the Digital Transformation Office under the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, our country advanced 40 steps compared to the previous year in the United Nations e-Government Development Index 2018, Online Service Index and ranked the 27th among 193 countries. Recently, the UN published the e-Government Development Index for 2020. According to the report including 193 countries, our country ranked the 22nd in the Online Service Index and the 23rd in the e-Participation Index. The e-Participation Index focuses on the facilities of information-sharing from the state to the citizen via the internet (e-Information Sharing), mutual interaction with shareholders (e-Consulting), and integration into decision-making processes (e-Decision Making). In this regard, it is a significant achievement for us to rise to the 23rd rank among 193 countries.
Our country has also achieved great success in the user-focus title of the EU 2020 e-Government Index studies yet to be published. In fact, Turkey rose to the 4th rank from 24 among 36 countries within a year. This achievement is not limited to user-focus.
We have risen from the 21st rank to the 9th in the basic infrastructures category, to 13th from the 26th in the transparent state category, to 22nd from 31st in cross-border service delivery, and to 13th from 26th place in general Index. And France ranks the 14th, England the 22nd and Germany the 26th in this evaluation.
“We compete in digital transformation as we do in every field globally”
What can you say about the contribution of digitalisation to independence and national economies?
Digital transformation investments, which are among the determining factors of global competitiveness, are seen as indicators of economic recovery, employment, and growth. Hence, a direct positive correlation with digital transformation and growth.
In the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report of the United Nations published on May 13, 2020, it is estimated that the global economy will shrink by 3.2 per cent and the developed economies by 5 percent this year due to COVID-19. The report points out the sharp decrease in global demand and disruptions in the supply chain and predicts that international trade will shrink by approximately 15 per cent this year. The Research Report published by International Data Corporation (IDC) in May 2020 foresees a decrease in the field of hardware, software, and information services, but a growth of 3.8 percent for the infrastructure.
Affecting our lives, lifestyles and habits, COVID-19 outbreak reminded us how important digital technologies and telecommunication infrastructure were and bore new opportunities to get over the crisis.
Innovative technologies rapidly change the production structure and service delivery ways. Today, we are competing in digital transformation just like in every field globally, and at this point, we can only achieve success with domestic and national technologies. We aim to contribute to our country’s digital transformation in many areas, especially healthcare, with our domestic and national technologies.
I would like to finish my words by stating my desire to work in synergy with all shareholders while building the digital future of our country.