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Transforming the Spanish Senate

As Spain faces the current coronavirus crisis, the Parliament has demonstrated a remarkable ability to continue its legislative business thanks to a largely digital working environment that was already in place. The Senate embarked on the route towards a digital parliament in 2010 and has since gradually implemented solutions and updated its regulations and procedures. The digital parliament is aimed at facilitating greater interaction with citizens and optimizing the Senate’s internal procedures. A transformational project of this kind requires a continuous redesign of procedures, of the organization and of its culture. As the 2016 World e-Parliament Report observed, “the challenges are not simply matters of adopting technology; many are strategic and need to be addressed at a systemic level”.

This digital transformation project was driven by a set of laws passed between 2007 and 2015, relating to providing citizens with electronic access to public services and transparency, access to public information and good governance, which laid the foundation for the external aspects of this digital transformation, such as communication between citizens and the public administration, including the Senate. Other laws concerning the administrative procedures in the public sector linked to the above laws promoted electronic filing, archiving and tracking, and enshrined requirements for electronic communication within the public administration.

At the supranational level, the Senate strategy for digital transformation aligns with European Union guidance on the digitization and transformation of public services, including legislative bodies.

Project scope

The Senate’s digital transformation project commenced in 2010 and is still ongoing. It has five phases:

1. Modernize the physical technology infrastructure.

2. Establish a parliamentary information processing system.

3. Establish transparent and citizen-oriented services on the web.

4. Introduce “horizontal” software components. Horizontal means that they are used throughout the entire administration (versus vertical e.g. used only in finance or in legislation management). Horizontal software components include systems for:

  • identity management for providing authentication and authorization
  • digital signature
  • certified digitization to preserve legal validity when scanning documents
  • electronic communications and notifications
  • centralized document management
  • electronic workflow management
  • electronic registry
  • digital archive management system
  • standardized framework for application development.

5. Electronic re-engineering of parliamentary and administrative procedures, which entails transforming daily work processes one by one from (semi) paper-based into a fully fledged electronic workflow, supported by a significant change management component.

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Currently (March 2020), phases 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been completed and phase 5 is 25 per cent complete. The transformation of the internal organization in a changing environment is continuous and, as such, the project has no completion date. Rather, there is a four-year plan that is regularly updated and published on the Senate’s website.

Implementation principles

The project follows key principles that include or allow for:

  • Gradual planning and agility in implementation: While the long-term goals provide firm guidance, medium- and short-term planning cycles are kept flexible, allowing for proper feedback and adaptation to the administration’s pace of change and adoption of new technology and processes. Also, shift and shocks in emerging market technologies can be absorbed.  
  • Constant focus on change management: This is facilitated by strong and engaged leadership, and demonstrated by support from senior management, the General Secretariat, and the political leadership represented in the Chamber’s Management Board.
  • Internal reorganization of parliamentary ICT services: It will be necessary for certain roles to evolve, such as the technicians who now control the systems and the data processing centre, who will have to become cloud technical managers. Furthermore, as the Spanish Parliament is bicameral and has an ICT division per chamber, constant coordination and cooperation is needed to harmonize services, if not work towards common services, and especially to align with the legislative process across chambers.
  • Monitoring: The technology market is evolving quickly and the project remains vigilant, looking out for accelerators and/or disruptors.

The change management approach is characterized by:

  • flexibility of hierarchies and promotion of horizontal communication
  • knowledge-sharing between departments through wikis, internal training talks, newsletters, etc.
  • promotion of training, not only technological but also skills (e.g. management of work teams, effective presentations, conflict resolution)
  • good treatment of and relations with users – taking their needs into account, yet showing firm guidance
  • use of agile development methodologies such as Scrum (in the ICT department)
  • short cycles of validation of functionalities with users (sprints)
  • training and early involvement of end users, even before systems have been developed and the procedures changed.

Achievements

Some of the notable achievements of the project include:

  • virtualization and centralized control of the entire physical infrastructure (100%)
  • re-engineering and redesign of the Senate website to adapt it to a responsive web design and guarantee its accessibility (100%)
  • establishing transparency and citizen-oriented services and an open data portal (100%)
  • establishment of a framework for the development of Java-based applications (100%)
  • development of all horizontal components and integration with internal systems (100%)
  • development of an electronic document management policy and implementation of the Alfresco document management system (100%)
  • extension of the use of the electronic signature to all internal procedures (80%)
  • re-engineering and digitization of parliamentary and administrative procedures (25%)
  • documentation of the processes and applications through a wiki, and training in agile development methodologies such as Scrum (100%)
  • reorganization of parliamentary ICT services to flatten the hierarchy and define less rigid positions (50%)
  • issue tracking and management of development tasks through a centralized tool (100%).

Lessons for other parliaments

Asked for advice, Manuel Pereira González, Chief of Projects in the Secretariat, suggested that other parliaments might consider digital transformation as:

  • an important project rather than an urgent one
  • an organizational change project, rather than a technical project
  • an incremental project, rather than big-bang implementation
  • a project that requires strategic support from above (i.e. parliament management board and secretary general) rather than an operational ICT project
  • relying on organization-wide/common tools (horizontal) rather than departmental do-it-yourself projects

Contact

Manuel Pereira González
Digital Transformation Adviser
manuel.pereira@senado.es

José Ángel Alonso López
ICT Director
jangel.alonso@senado.es