01. June 2022

“Digitalization that bypasses citizens leads to action for the sake of it”

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HR // Technology is just one aspect of digitalization. Successful transformation hinges on the culture and the people behind the projects. We talk to Angélique Hulliger, head of Human Resources at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy and the Environment of the Canton of Bern, and Roberto Capone, head of the Office of Digital Administration of the State Chancellery,about the canton’s experience of successful change.

How does digitalization influence col­laboration between you at the State Chancellery of Bern? Is there any kind of ‘battle’, so to speak, between HR and IT?
Digitalization is a classic cross-cutting issue that affects all departments, not just IT – even though it naturally falls to IT to take on a key role in the technical implementation of it. But as the ideas and momentum don’t come exclusively from IT, there’s no conflict between the departments in terms of digitalization. We see it as a shared challenge; a journey we take together. Digitalization is a mindset – not a method – for achieving certain goals.
The changes we’re striving for are not purely technological in nature; they encompass cultural aspects too. The Canton of Bern has addressed this in its digitalization strategy. This is where HR can lend a hand, and make an important contribution to cultural development, for example in matters of management and in implementing new ways of working. Digitalization opens up synergies for this kind of interdisciplinary collaboration, which we’ll be able to make even better use of in the future. Examples would be the agile implementation of customer/citizen requirements, or the development of prototypes with design thinking.

How exactly are you pushing ahead with digitalization in the Canton of Bern?
When we set up the Office of Digital Admin­istration, various committees were established to hold regular meetings and promote digitalization in the canton. As part of canton’s Priority Planning, which is continually being added to, we define which areas of digitalization to focus on over the next few years. We also engage with other communities, cantons and the Confederation to find out what their experiences have been and what projects they’re working on. Institutional exchange takes place, for example, at the Swiss Conference on Informatics (via the eGovernment Switzerland program), or through the Intercantonal eGovernment Group of the Swiss Conference of Can­tonal Chancellors. In future, dialog between all state levels will be via the Swiss Digital Administration organization (DVS). At the same time, we already have a history of lively exchange in the Canton of Bern, and indeed across the country, on the subject of digitalization in HR and the challenges this poses for the world of work. In demand are best practices which also demonstrate the limits of digitalization in supporting and managing employees – in keeping with the concept of “both” instead of “either/or”.

What topics do you discuss in the eGovernment group?
The various portal strategies of the cantons, sustainable IAM solutions, and the results of the EasyGov architecture review are just some of the things we’ve been talking about lately. From an HR stand­point, questions about designing future-proof work models, how to develop and retain employees, and the challenges of demographic change in relation to digital­ization are also hot topics.

Agility remains a buzzword in the context of digitalization. But at the same time, public projects often come with long time frames attached. Isn’t that at odds with agility?
If you consider agility to be the ability to act flexibly, proactively and with foresight in order to introduce necessary changes in good time, then we don’t see any contradiction between agility and public administration. Our customers, i.e. the people and the economy, want efficient services that are independent of time or place. As in the private sector, we try to meet our customers’ requirements as best we can. Agile methodologies help us incorporate this into everyday working life. From an HR perspective, of course we have to ask ourselves: are people with an agile mindset attracted to the private sector instead? If so, how do you encourage these people into administration? We are certain that most employees have realized that you can also initiate projects and make a difference in public administration, not only in the private sector.

“Every change starts
with the right people in
the right positions.”

So the difference between the public and the private sector isn’t actually that big?
Not as big as it’s sometimes perceived to be, or would like to be perceived. But certain things do run differently here. Public administration is, for example, heavily dependent on political processes; the pattern of parliamentary sessions determines the workflow. An election year too always leads to changes that need to be consid­ered. Cantonal digitalization projects are generally quite complex, as lots of differ­ent parties from different state levels are in­volved. As is the case with all projects: don’t do everything at once. Proceed gradually so that the employees concerned also have time to digest the subject.

Digitalizing the administration is in full swing, as highlighted by the Confederation in its e-government strategy. How do you encourage employees to get on board with a change that not everybody wanted?
In business too, lots of changes come from the top down, and new developments aren’t always accepted by employees. The important thing is to give employees as much design input as possible and not to lose motivation while you’re implementing it. To do so, we have to support employees while the change is being made, and lead accordingly. The second point in particular requires investment in management development and in setting an example. And it means that change and communication planning is just as important as project planning. And, most importantly: you need to attract talented people. Every change starts with the right people in the right positions.

Today’s analog administration works well: processes are fundamentally reliable and many citizens find them satisfactory. How do you then make the leap to digital administration?
We also think that the Swiss administrat­ion does a very good job all in all. Perhaps a little bit of customer focus is lacking some­times. The various stakeholder groups need to be incorporated better, and asked what they really want and need. Digitalization that bypasses citizens leads to action for the sake of it. And nobody wants that. If we are able to better integrate the citizens’ point of view in our digitalization projects, then it becomes more meaningful, and that, in turn, increases employee motivation and commitment. In the private sector, the use of digital services has long been standard: whether with health insurance, online banking or purchasing, we all rely on a range of digital services to manage our private affairs. In public administration too, you can feel the desire to not be tied to a time or place when using digital services. In this respect we can certainly benefit from the experiences and observations of the private sector.

What are the biggest obstacles to digitalizing public administrations?
In the private sector, it’s a case of: “Any­thing that isn’t forbidden is allowed”, while in the public domain, the legal principle is: “Anything not explicitly allowed is forbidden”. In addition to a better culture of failure, it’s important to find a remedy for this by making changes to the law. In general, people are much more critical of administrations than of the private sector if they carry out a bad project or make mistakes – accusations about wasting taxes are never far away.
Citizens naturally want to know that their tax money is being invested meaningfully. Another problem, in our view, lies in the tendency of administrations to be perfectionist. Digitalization also means stripping back and making processes leaner.

What digitalization projects has the Canton of Bern already implemented?
Taxme, our digital tax portal; the elec­tronic notification of a change of address; electronic building permits; and of course switching to e-forms are just some of the successful digital services Bern has put out there. But we don’t just have projects aimed at citizens; there are things happening inside the administration too. For example, here are two of our projects: with “eDossier” we are digitalizing our HR files, and other internal HR procedures will follow suit with the introduction of SAP by 1 January 2023. We also have a planned Employee Self-Service, where employees get an important additional service. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed that our digitalization projects aren’t always very visible. Showing citizens that we are making great strides in digitalizing the administra­­-t­ion is something we can work on.

 

ti&m special e-government
What about the digital transformation of the public service? In our magazine ti&m special, we asked further digitalization experts from politics and government. to download


Angélique Hulliger
Angélique Hulliger

Her passion for people and organizations drives her to meet the challenges of HR. Her experiences of change and cultural developments help to ensure interdisci­plinary collaboration on equal terms. As a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) Angélique Hulliger tackles current issues in HRM. Angélique Hulliger is Head of HR, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy and the Environment, Canton of Bern.

Roberto Capone
Roberto Capone

Roberto Capone is an IT business engineer and has worked in digitalization for many years. Since May 2020 he has been in charge of the Office of Digital Administration of the Canton of Bern. The Office manages and coordinates the implementation of the Canton of Bern’s digital administration strategy across the canton, on behalf of the cantonal government.

Magdalena Koj
Questions?

Contact our expert Magadalena Koj, Head of e-Government.