Auslandsservice Application (Foreign Service-Application)
Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs

The Problem

The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs is available for citizens in need around the clock. Usually, citizens get in touch by telephone or e-mail which takes up a reasonable amount of time and effort on both sides. It often took too long until people calling the Foreign Ministry got the information they needed. After the crises in Fukushima and in North Africa in beginning of 2011, the Foreign Ministry realized that – although overall good service was provided to the affected Austrian citizens – the level of information had to be improved even further. Since new media was was gaining more and more importance, the Foreign Ministry decided to use the new media for the development of a new tool – the travel-App.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
In 2011, a smartphone application called “Foreign Service application” was developed for a faster and easier access to information and to Austria’s Embassies worldwide if needed. During the crises in North Africa and in Japan/Fukushima the Foreign Ministry experienced that it should expand its services for the persons affected by a crisis as well as their family members. The Ministry received approximately 300 phone calls per hour at its call-centre which was set up to answer all inquiries. At this point, the idea was born to create an App that would help answer questions and to offer it via the new media. Not only should the smartphone application be useful in a crisis situation but also for individuals travelling abroad experiencing any kind of emergency. During their 24-hour on-call duty 90% of the questions people posed were identical. These questions were thus collected and implemented as “most frequently asked questions” in the new smartphone application. Furthermore, the Ministry realized that one of the main concerns for travellers are telephone roaming fees. That is why a solution had to be created which is cost-effective for all customers. The application itself can thus be downloaded free of charge but as people would mostly use the application in foreign countries, the Ministry made sure that all the information, data and addresses were available without internet connection as well. Our ´customers´ now have fast access worldwide to information they need. One additional service was included in the application although the Ministry was aware of the need of an internet connection: not only does the application show all Austrian Embassies and Consulates in a particular country but – if an internet connection is available – the location is shown automatically via Google-maps and directions are given to the closest Embassy.
The aim of this project was to provide individuals in emergency situation with an even better service than before. The application had to be user-friendly, free of charge and easy to handle and navigate.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The idea of developing a tool applying the new media by the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs first came up in 2010 with the spread and popularity smartphone applications worldwide. The Press and Information Department thus developed the idea for fast consular advice and direct access to the nearest Embassy abroad. No other public institution in Austria had any experience in that field. Therefore, particularly Great Britain and the United States served as role-models for the use of social networks and new media in their public diplomacy. It became soon evident that the application should not be used for ´spreading policy information´, but that it rather had to be a hands-on service tool for all citizens in need of consular advice and assistance. The application consists of answers to the questions most frequently asked of the Foreign Ministry’s citizen desk as well as of the addresses and contact details of Austria’s Embassies and Consulates worldwide. The implementation and programming was done by “Wunderwerk”, a small Austrian based company specializing in developing websites and smartphone applications. Together with the Foreign Ministry the company developed the technical implementation. Utmost importance was given to easy navigation and simple handling. The design had to be modern and visually pleasing, the colours red-white-red – reflecting the colour scheme of the Austrian flag – were applied.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The main strategy of the project was to improve the service to our citizens around the world - free of charge. In addition to the telephone and the internet, the new media channels should be used to extend the services of the Foreign Ministry. The mastermind for this project within the Foreign Ministry was the press and information department together with the department for citizen concerns.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The idea was born in spring 2011 during the crisis in North Africa. The citizen desk in the Foreign Ministry did not have enough employees because of the long duration of that particular consular crisis and therefore, the Foreign Ministry came up with the idea of developing a smartphone application for the relief of the citizen desk. Before choosing the company which would do the technical job, it was necessary to persuade the Foreign Minister himself of that idea. Although the Foreign Minister did just start to engage in new media channels, he was convinced about the project and the departments had full support. “Wunderwerk”, the company which programmed the application needed about 2 months to finish the application in a first step. After small changes and adaptions had been made, the application was submitted to the Apple store and Blackberry and Android market for release. Very surprising was the fact, that it took Apple 8 weeks to clear the application. Because of a Government project, the check is very strict and it takes a lot more time than regular applications. It was a bit of a set back because the Foreign Ministry intended to launch the project before the main travelling season in summer. Due to the delay it was then available for download in August 2011. The Foreign Ministry presented the application to the public at the International Airport with the support of the CEOs of the two Austrian Airlines. In 2012, updated versions were developed as well as an optimized version for tablets.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The main obstacle was to retrieve the relevant data which already existed for the website without using any additional resources. It was a technical issue which was eventually solved by the Foreign Ministry’s IT department together with “Wunderwerk”. An important part of the problem was that relevant data from the Ministry’s database (e.g. contact and address information of embassies and consulates) needed to be harmonized and displayed in a coherent and user-friendly manner. The telephone numbers, for example, contained all kinds of special characters and therefore it was impossible for the application to recognize them as phone numbers. Only after harmonizing the Ministry’s database was it possible to retrieve the phone numbers in such a way that they could be used for direct dialling.
Another issue was the unexpected long duration for the app-approval by Apple. Because of its nature as a Government application, the approval process was very strict and took more than double the time it usually takes. Therefore the release date had to be postponed to mid-August 2011.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The goal of developing the application was to achieve the best possible service for Austrian citizens while at the same time keeping the burden on financial, technical and human resources low.
The costs for developing and programming the application amount to 50,000 Euro, that is less than 1€ per download. In terms of technical resources we were able to establish direct interface between the existing database of the Ministry and the smartphone application. We thus ensure automatic and instant up-dates on the smartphone application. Our citizen services department is also experiencing a reduction in inquiries on travel advice via phone calls and e-mails. After the development and the launch of the application the overall burden on financial and human resources is insignificant.

The smartphone application was mainly developed to improve the citizen service of the Foreign Ministry. All citizens should be able to get information and help within seconds at no additional costs. The aim of this project was to provide users in emergency situation with an even better service than before. The application had to be user-friendly, free of charge and easy to handle. All of it could be achieved. So far (December 2012), the application has been downloaded approximately 50.000 times. At the end of every month the Foreign Ministry receives the numbers of downloads worldwide – a number that is constantly rising! The Ministry receives a lot of feedback from the citizens: the content as well as the application itself is seen as very useful. The Foreign Ministry presented the application to the Austrian public at the Vienna International Airport with the support of the CEOs of Austrian Airlines, Fly Niki and the CEO of the Austrian travel agent’s association.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
There is a clear and sustained trend towards using smartphones in Austria. Downloads of our application is also constantly rising, given that the the download is free and provides easy access to information. Therefore, we are convinced that this initiative is sustainable.
The smartphone application has been developed specifically for Austrian citizens who need information, help or service by the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. The concept of this application can, however, easily be transferred to other government entities or foreign ministries who are interested to develop a similar service for their citizens. It is also possible to to develop an application for the exact same purpose on the level of the European Union given that EU-citizens of all member states are entitled to so seek the help from all representations of other EU member states outside of the European Union.
It is also conceivable to develop a similar app which provides specific information on cultural sites and initiatives of Austria worldwide and a GPS service to museums or cultural sites with connection to Austria.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
A lesson learned is that in order to provide the best service possible for Austrians worldwide the use of new technologies is not only helpful for and well-received by our citizens in need but also a great assistance to our staff. The use of new technologies as well as social media helps to reach particularly the younger age groups who in general are not that conscious about the risks when being abroad as well as the service provided by us in case of emergency. The application is a fairly low-cost and effective tool to assist Austrian citizens in need. The application allows you to access information quickly and easily anywhere and anytime at no cost (except if using the GPS system).

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Stephanie Jakobitsch
Title:   Magister (Mag.)  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43 (0) 50 11 50-3720 / +43 (0) 50 11 59-3720
Institution's / Project's Website: /
Address:   Minoritenplatz 8
Postal Code:   1014
City:   Vienna
State/Province:   Vienna
Country:   Austria

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