CTTI: Nurturing digitally enabled change across Catalonia’s public services
Lluís Anaya, head of innovation at the Centre de Telecomunicacions i Tecnologíes de la Informació (CTTI)
Portrait photography: Ulrike Frömel
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CTTI: Nurturing digitally enabled change across Catalonia’s public services

Mark Samuels & Kenny MacIver — September 2020
The innovation arm of Catalonia’s regional administration is looking to technologies as diverse as RPA, AI and blockchain to transform the services it delivers. Its director of innovation and data, Lluís Anaya, outlines the forward thinking.

Ambitions are running high among public authorities around the world about how rapidly advancing digital technologies can transform the services they deliver to citizens — and the way those are delivered. No more so than at Generalitat de Catalunya, the regional administration of Catalonia in Northern Spain.

Lluís Anaya is leading its pioneering developments as director of innovation and data at the Centre de Telecomunicacions i Tecnologies de la Informació (CTTI), the public company created by the Catalan Government to oversee technology strategy and procurement. And he believes that public sector executives must embrace digital transformation if they want to provide the kind of high-quality, efficient and convenient services that citizens, local businesses and internal employees increasingly expect.

“Public administration organizations everywhere are under real pressure because of digitization,” he says. “The digital world is moving ever-faster, offering greater flexibility and adaptability [to everyone]. Yet public administration organizations are often not as dynamic [as those in the commercial arena] when it comes to adapting and new decision-making. So we need to change the rules — and thinking — if we are to succeed in the new digital world.”

Some of that change is already evident — though it is far from universally embraced.

“Five years ago, if you talked about innovation in a public administration, the workforce regarded you as crazy,” he says. “Nowadays, though, a lot of them — especially the younger generation — recognize that the digitization process is necessary,” says Anaya.

That shows in internal reactions to developments and proof-of-concept projects that CTTI is leading in areas such robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
New ways of working

CTTI has recently demonstrated to senior stakeholders at Generalitat de Catalunya how RPA can be applied to take over many areas of repetitive work.

“It’s a surprise to many people when they see how the software can automate a task that has been traditionally carried out by colleagues. Naturally they wonder what it means for their own future employment,” he says. “But our strategy is to show how this future will affect parts of the organization in positive ways, and to try to stimulate the thinking of these workers.”

Anaya and his colleagues at CTTI are already making significant progress in driving this transition. In particular, he is seeing a shift at the Generalitat de Catalunya beyond classical ways of working.

“We have strategic and technical teams that are exploring the future, trying to define new ideas with new technologies, new processes, and so on,” he says. “These teams try to show the other parts of the organization what the future of the workplace might look like.”
Innovation in action
Anaya and his team are constantly exploring the potential of other emerging technologies. He cites the use of AI to help in fraud detection, including as a way to identify those hotels that might not be paying the correct returns from the local tourist tax (a major source of regional revenue — at least until the advent of the coronavirus pandemic). The system cross-references hotels it can see on public online platforms, such as Google and TripAdvisor, with hotels declaring appropriate levels of visitor tax to spot those which are avoiding payments.

 

“Barcelona=
Catalonia's capital Barcelona: Smart city pioneer (Image: Getty Images)


The CTTI innovation team is also exploring blockchain technology, in particular its application to instill greater trust in how important documents are handled. Anaya argues that the move towards digitization in recent years has created a potential unfairness between administrator and citizen. Instead of both having access to a definitive paper copy of a legal document, such as a planning application, which is filed away for safe-keeping, public sector organizations now create digital versions of these — with all the potential for altering these that digital enables.

That’s a boon in terms of efficiency, but it creates a dilemma as citizens can’t always be sure if and when a public body makes an update to these digital documents, says Anaya. The capabilities of blockchain provide a way of overcoming this imbalance, as the technology can be used to create a single, immutable version of any document.

“Blockchain could be a great way to bring more integrity and transparency to document handling; it addresses the asymmetry that has been produced during the digitalization process,” he says.

Anaya and his team have already tested this trust-building approach with the hope of extending it across other areas of the regional government.

“We need to change the culture so that the impossible becomes the possible.”

But Anaya recognizes that the transition to the new digital world involves far more than just the adoption of technology. Public sector leaders who want to embrace digital transformation need to place as much effort — and possibly more — on cultural change. This focus involves a mind shift, where people need to think of technology as the route to solving their business challenges, he says.

“We need to change the culture so that the impossible becomes the possible,” says Anaya. “Coming from the innovation area I find it curious that when a new idea is proposed we often get resistance. For example, a response like: ‘We couldn't do that because the law won't allow it.’ As an approach to achieving our goal I suggest, ‘Maybe we need to change the law?’ [as we are, in many areas, the legislator].” As he argues, new opportunities require new ways of thinking.

Anaya recognizes that the appetite for cultural change is far from universal.  “We try to feed our business with these ideas for change,” he says. “Today, 15% to 20% are thinking about future models. But we are trying to push the whole public administration to make the leap to that other side.”
Joining forces

Given the organization’s ambitions for transformation, its technology partners are likely to play an increasingly critical role. But to do so, rather than simply fulfilling contracts and meeting KPIs, Anaya says the teams at the Catalonia administration need to cultivate deeper relationships with vendors based on an idea of co-creating solutions.

“This new digital world has changed a lot of things. One is the relationship model between technology providers and their clients. The traditional approach of vendor and client is dead. In the new digital world, you need to see your technology provider as a partner who you work closely together with to get results,” he says. And that extends to what comes next.

“Rather than just provide today’s contracted services, we want a partner who’s also thinking about the next years’ services and beyond,” says Anaya.

First published September 2020
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