6. September 2022

Public administration: from analogue hick to digital pioneer

Public administration: from analogue hick to digital pioneer

The year is 2022 and paper is still a faithful companion in our daily work – especially in public administrations. This even goes so far that the fire brigade these days sometimes still informs about deployment details via fax or health insurance companies reject a general obligation to vaccinate because they do not have enough paper to implement it..

But enough with the doom and gloom, because Germany is well on its way to gaining momentum in terms of digitisation – at the latest since the public administration has been

has moved into the public eye with the onset of the Corona pandemic. Although Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, is currently still ranked 24th among the EU27+ countries in the area of e-government, pioneers such as Denmark, the Netherlands or Austria provide Germany with noteworthy examples of how administration can be thought differently. Therefore, it is now necessary to leave familiar paths and enter new, uncharted territory. With the passing of some laws, the first foundations have already been laid.

For example, with the E-Invoice Act, it has been mandatory since 27 November 2020 to transmit invoices to public bodies only digitally. With the passing of the Onlinezugangsgesetzes (OZG) in 2017, the legislator continues to stipulate that all administrative services must also be offered digitally by the end of 2022. For the administrative landscape, this law is the prelude to a change that many have longed for in three respects. On the one hand, it stimulates all participants to a new sustainability in e-government; and on the other hand, many public agencies are taking this law as an opportunity to digitalise their specialised applications and internal processes. In order for citizens and organisations to be able to use the digitised services of all public authorities nationwide, a suitable technical OZG infrastructure is required. Among other things, it consists of a portal network linking the administrative portals of the federal government and the federal states. In this way, all desired online services and the corresponding information can be accessed centrally throughout Germany via an administrative platform.

But what fundamental trends does the digitalisation of public administration bring with it?

  1. Adaptation to the needs of the administrative environment

Digital municipalities have the advantage that their agility enables them to react faster and smarter to changes and customer needs. This not only strengthens their ability to act, but also makes them more attractive to citizens. Especially with the current shortage of skilled workers, digitalisation will benefit them greatly.

  1. Building digital services, processes and structures

The OZG enables public authorities to revolutionise their dusty processes, to digitise them and to open up multi-channel access. The aim is to automate the recurring, standardising processes, to avoid repeated data entry and to provide administrative services without orders. For citizens, this means that in future they will not only receive their desired services faster, easier and more barrier-free, but that this will also result in smooth processing in the administration. Since the renewal of the identity card or the registration of the motor vehicle should be possible with just a few clicks via the smartphone, long waiting times will be a thing of the past in the future and the desired services can also be accessed outside opening hours.

  1. Change in internal communication and mindset

When an organisation becomes more team-oriented and agile, the flow of communication among employees also begins to gain momentum. Since internal communication in public administrations is often still very rigid despite the increasing degree of digitalisation, it is important to build an open and transparent communication culture that is lived both internally and externally. The same applies to the existing error culture. Administrations where mistakes and clever failure are allowed are more willing to experiment and less driven by pressure and success. This mindset supports them to develop creative, reliable and error-free results and to give themselves permission to jettison cumbersome and inappropriate solutions. This flexible approach gives them the opportunity to question processes and establish innovative structures. This new type of administrative culture makes a significant contribution to working together on new solutions and driving digitalisation forward as a team.

  1. Mobile working

The digitalisation of processes and procedures also makes it possible in public administration to complete tasks from home or on the road without having to be tied to a specific location. This flexibility not only supports administrations in the acquisition of new employees, but also contributes to a good work-life balance and health promotion for existing employees. Incidentally, mobile working reduces annoying travel times, travel costs, traffic jams and thus the emission of environmentally harmful CO2 emissions. Furthermore, new spatial concepts allow office space to be used efficiently and empty areas to be put to innovative use.

Interest in digital services at a high level

According to a recent survey by the industry association Bitkom According to the survey, 77 percent of respondents are very interested in digital services offered by their city or municipality. Three out of four Germans want to communicate digitally with public authorities in the future and be able to deal with their concerns automatically and digitally. Expectations of administrations are also rising continuously. For example, 87 percent of those surveyed expect to be able to see the current processing status and the expected processing time online at any time and would like their requests to be processed more quickly.

“What is taken for granted in countries like Denmark is also what people in Germany want: to be able to conduct official business regardless of time and place. This would save the offices metre-thick piles of files, millions of letters would become superfluous and the switch to paperless communication would not least be an important contribution to saving scarce resources such as wood and water and to protecting the climate. In administration, digital information can be directly recorded in a structured way and processed without media breaks – faster, more efficient and less personnel-intensive,” says Bitkom President Achim Berg.

How is the digitisation process shaping up in public administration?

For an initial assessment of the degree of digitisation of a service, the European Commission has developed the so-called Maturity model was launched. It makes it possible to assess the digital development status of individual services and is intended to serve the authorities as a reliable basis for assessing the OZG conformity of their existing and planned online administrative services. The model measures the online availability of different services on a scale from 0 to 4. The former indicates that the service under consideration is only available offline. If, on the other hand, the rating is 4, this service can be handled completely digitally. If administrative services have reached maturity level 2, they are considered to be available online and are digitally available as an application. Complete digital processing of the online service is possible from maturity level 3. This includes the application process, authentication, transmission of evidence and digital delivery of the decision, provided the user opens a corresponding digital return channel. In level 4, applicants no longer have to provide any evidence that is already available to the administration (“once-only principle”).

If administrative services are already online, they will be further developed until they are available in a user-friendly manner throughout all municipalities in Germany.

Grafik Reifegradmodell Digitalisierung Verwaltung english 830x415 - Public administration: from analogue hick to digital pioneer

A look at the practice inspires confidence

But how far has digitisation actually progressed in the municipalities? The Digital Administration Dashboard provides an overview of the status of important projects for the digitisation of public administration in Germany. In the chart on the online availability of all OZG services, North Rhine-Westphalia clearly emerges as a pioneer when it comes to the digitisation of administrations – closely followed by Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.

One practical example is the city of Aachen. It is considered one of the five digital model regions in North Rhine-Westphalia and has developed the „Digital Strategy for the City of Aachen“ in the course of this. This script shows the ideas and solutions with which the city on the border triangle wants to embark on its path to digitalisation and the form this path will take in the coming years. In doing so, the city starts with the vision of its digital strategy, gives a look into the fields of work and reveals its milestones and roadmaps.

Another lead municipality of the funding project is Soest. As the smallest municipality in this project, Soest is exemplary for medium-sized towns and rural areas. The „Soest Digital“ “team team has specialised mainly in the areas of eGovernment, data management, event organisation and New Work. In think tanks and joint citizen events, the city on the edge of the Sauerland region considers how digitalisation in public administrations can be designed in the future so that administrative services are citizen-friendly and optimise administrative action. In their work, the focus is not only on digitising the actual application, but also on the underlying process of processing the administrative service.

Also the city of Dortmund sees clear advantages in the digitalisation of administrative processes: “The city administration has taken an enormous step forward in the digitalisation of services. The advantages of online services are that services can be requested around the clock and regardless of location. And why not, since we are all used to smart ordering of services around the clock,” emphasises Christian Uhr, head of digitisation. “They can also be used mobile via a smartphone and without waiting times. The option of submitting applications in paper form remains, of course.”

But things are even bigger at the EU level: in order to make it even easier to do business and deal with official matters online in future, the pilot project of the EU Digital-Wallet is to be launched in autumn. The European digital identity will serve as a counterpart to the analogue identity card and can be accessed via an app.

And now?

Digital administration and smart urban development concepts are among the most pressing future issues of our time and have been treated far too stepmotherly in the past. However, with innovative technology solutions and already implemented approaches, such as the e-billing or online access law, the first milestones in the right direction have been overcome. Now it is a matter of creating a stable foundation on which the state provides a platform that is well thought out and not just built on facades.

With digital identities and databases that alert people to a free day-care place with an automatic text message, digital signatures, overarching payment options on the net and uniform standards that are obligatory for everyone, we can take a good example from countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria.

Do you want to support your city or municipality in the digitisation of its projects? Take a look at the website of the town or city where you live. Many municipalities are calling for interactive think tanks and citizen participation to involve their citizens in their decisions and to shape digitisation in their region in a citizen- and future-oriented way.

Jana Treptow
Jana loves writing and communication. That's why she is responsible for the editorial contributions and the maintenance of the blog. She is also the contact person for all press issues.

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