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How the European Union went for cloud cover

Tom Auwers from the Belgian Federal Public Service Social Security explains how cloud computing became integral to his country's running of the European Union's presidency
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'For government organisations, communication and transparency is key to ensuring that projects are completed successfully', says Tom Auwers

On 1 December 2009 the Treaty of Lisbon came into force and the practice of a Trio Presidency was formalised. To ensure that there is continuity between each successive six month presidency and the long-term priorities of the European Union (EU) are progressed, the three countries participating in the rotating presidencies now have a legal obligation to establish a common work programme together.

As a result of these institutional reforms, the Belgium Federal Public Service (FPS) Social Security currently finds itself at the heart of an historic event. For the first time, three countries – Spain, Belgium and Hungary – have to work together to prepare for the Presidency of the Council of the EU and co-operate to ensure the continuity of their policies.

In January this year, the three countries set out their roadmap for their 18 month presidency and, until the end of June 2011, the Belgian FPS Social Security will be working with teams across Europe, from numerous administrations and organisations. It was clear from the outset that to successfully collaborate on this scale, without constantly travelling for face-to-face meetings, the team would need to be supported by innovative technology.

To break down the barriers of communication between organisations, administrations and geographically-dispersed teams, we joined forces with Huddle, the online collaboration platform that lets you connect and work securely with other people in the cloud.

Collaborating in the cloud

During Belgium's six month Presidency, which started on 1 July, the FPS Social Security's EU 2010 Presidency Team is responsible for all matters relating to social policy issues. As well as providing input for negotiations, we are organising conferences and meetings with the aim of driving forward social protection in Europe.

To ensure these events and negotiations run smoothly, we need to share files, have discussions, manage approvals and capture input on documents from multiple parties. These include people from national and local public institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGO), research centres, universities and colleagues on the presidency teams in Spain and Hungary.

In the run up to Belgium's Presidency, it soon became evident that our in-house network, shared drives and email system were simply not suitable for the project. Our mailboxes were exceeding their limits due to the extensive use of email and external experts and consultants from different administrations could not access relevant documents stored on our servers. It was clear that, while departments and teams could work together in their own silos, there were obvious barriers of communication preventing cross-department and external collaboration.

We required a system that was accessible to contributors from both inside and outside of the organisation, enabling us all to come together in a secure online environment. Using Huddle, everyone can access the information they need, from wherever they are located, and it is easy to identify the final version of a file. We also have the ability to limit the accessibility of sensitive documents to specific users.

Working together seamlessly

For government organisations, communication and transparency is key to ensuring that projects are completed successfully, efficiently and on time. As an administration team that strives to be both dynamic and efficient, the Presidency presented us with the ideal time to examine the benefits of cloud computing and deploy new technology that would help everyone organise and execute their work effectively. There are now more than 100 participants in the Presidency project that have access to all the information they require via Huddle. The number of letters sent via post has been significantly reduced, email traffic has decreased and our shared network drive for this project is obsolete.

In the run up to Belgium taking over the Presidency, communication with our Spanish colleagues significantly increased to ensure a smooth transition. I am sure that towards the end of Belgium's Presidency, cloud computing will again prove to be invaluable as we increase communication with the team in Hungary and support the move of the Presidency to its third country.

Tom Auwers is Director-General of the Directorate-General Strategy, International Affairs & Research within the Belgian Federal Public Service Social Security

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