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Coronavirus does the impossible: pushes Greek state online

The virus helped result in a rapid switch to the digital age by Greek the state and by several private business groups, many of which were laggards in using new technologies, despite announcements to the contrary.

What top multinational executives have failed to do for years for their businesses, and certainly what the Greek government has failed to do for itself, despite repeated attempts, seems to have been achieved almost overnight by the coronavirus pandemic. The virus helped result in a rapid switch to the digital age by Greek the state and by several private business groups, many of which were laggards in using new technologies, despite announcements to the contrary.

Particularly in the case of the government, the improvement is such that the majority of Greeks feel that they are in a different country, compared to a few days ago.

Such is the speed with which e-government services are being implemented by the core public sector and government agencies, that many who blamed the country's poor online services over indifference among officials and interest groups are being justified.  

In the last few days, several state services have come online, helping people save valuable time. Examples of such services are helping speed up processes on getting prescriptions, a power of attorney and formal declarations. At the same time, other services will be added to the gov.gr portal, which started operating two months earlier than planned. Public schools have already started offering distance learning, as do Greek universities, while books for the second semester will be also distributed online.

The development of new services did not require any major IT projects (that are rarely completed on time). Though contributions from crucial parts of the public service were needed, such as EDYTE SA (National Network of Infrastructure Technology and Research), under the guidance of the Ministry of Digital Governance. In the IT market, they are complaints that Digital Governance Minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis has not been handing out any major projects. 

The ministry says that in some cases all that was required was the connecting of two information systems that up until now were independent of each other. The government's switch to the digital era initially involves creating new online service, at a small cost, and a later stage, boosting its capacity with the help of external advisers and contractors.

While the coronavirus helped strengthen Greece's digital presence, it has also brought to the surface weaknesses in online services provided by private companies.

Some retailers offering online shopping are struggling to keep up with demand, resulting in large delays and complaining customers. Poorly organized storage facilities are causing delays, while a failure by some stores to coordinate the delivery of different purchases to the same customers is also creating unnecessary problems. Call centers are also experiencing difficulties in accepting deliveries or providing customer support. Phone support services from banks have come under heavy pressure as a growing number of transactions only be done online now.

These problems highlight that many Greek retailers may have an online presence, but one that is not essential to their business, and operates more as a complementary service.

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