In 2011 Polish government introduced a new, simpler method for authentication of official communication with governmental offices — the Trusted Profile (Profile Zaufany). In 2013 it has crossed 100’000 users mark. History of legally recognized electronic authentication in Poland was long and bumpy. It started in 2001 with qualified electronic signature (QES), named “secure signature” in Polish law (bezpieczny podpis elektroniczny). Number of people who purchased it over the next 7 years reached 16’000, which was not impressive for a country with 38 million of citizens. Over similar period number of users of much simpler Government Gateway in UK reached 20 million (with double country population) and in Poland itself number of users of electronic banking reached 10 million.
Until 2008 the 16’000 number accounted for voluntary users. In 2008 a law was passed that forced companies employing more than 5 people to purchase qualified certificate to be able to send reports to Polish social security office (ZUS). As expected, number of active certificates bursted to around 250’000, which approximately reflected number of companies in scope. And growth stopped, contrary to QES fans theory that it just needs a “critical mass” to kick off.
As result of wide discussions and criticism of the current model, the government designed a much simpler system — Trusted Profile (Profil Zaufany). Unlike QES, it only required a web browser and an email account, and comes at no cost to the user (although citizen needs to visit specific office in person to authenticate it). It went into production in 2011.
Even though it’s fully voluntary, the TP showed stable growth and over 2 years it reached 100’000 registered users. It’s still far (well, 100x) behind the number of users of electronic banking or similar services in other EU countries, but finally Poland has a service that is usable and designed with end-users in mind (very much unlike QES). And the growth is happening with little or even no advertising by the government.
There’s however one large group of users that endemically stays away of the new communications model. And unfortunately, this group is absolutely critical for efficiency of administrative processes in Poland — these are administration employees themselves.
As result, you – as a citizen – can initiate a number of processes in a minute, by sending proper form electronically with TP signature. But then the whole processing in public offices will take months to complete, with majority of that consumed by paper letters endlessly circulating over traditional mail between various divisions of administration’s backoffice.
So if you ever wondered why it takes over 300 days to complete 29 steps of obtaining a construction permit in Poland (Doing Business 2013) the answer amazingly resembles many other absurds from former Soviet block.
It’s because the public administration created a great and modern communication channel that it encourages citizens to use, but… is reluctant to use it itself!