The long road to the digital state
e-Government in Germany // The economic workhorse of Europe is having a hard time transitioning its statutory functions to the digital age. Several hurdles have already been cleared with the implementation of the first digital administration services, but further steps, in the form of register modernization, are urgently needed by the end of the transformation.
The digital transformation of the public sector is an ongoing issue in Germany. However, not least the coronavirus pandemic has shown that the country is having a hard time progressing with digitalization, and that the urgently necessary structural and cultural change is proceeding slowly. Germany is trailing behind other countries. This has been verified by the United Nations E-Government Development Index (EGDI), among others. Denmark and Estonia are at the top of the ranking, while Germany is currently in 25th place – 13 places lower than it was in 2018.
Long lead times for the necessary structures
The federal government, states and municipalities do not lack the will to digitalize administrative processes and offer user-friendly services. On the contrary, everyone involved knows that digitalization means more than providing a digital front-end for citizens and businesses. The urgently necessary increase in efficiency will only be achieved when the underlying processes behind administrative services are completely independent of paper forms. However, federalism, complex structures and complicated legal requirements have hindered progress for many years.
In previous legislative periods, it was first necessary to create the legal bases with the E-Government Act, the Online Access Act, and the Register Modernization Act. In addition, government bodies were established: the IT Planning Council coordinates the cooperation of the federal and state governments, FITKO (Federal IT Cooperation) assists with the practical implementation of digitalization, the Digital Innovation Team of the Federal Ministry of the Interior supports the federal administration with software development, and Digital Service 4 Germany works on digitalization projects of the federal government.
Working together for digitalization
Most recently, the government has provided an additional three million euros for the implementation of the Online Access Act. The federal government, states and municipalities are expected to digitalize a total of 575 administrative services and offer these on portals by the end of 2022. The portals will furthermore be interlinked for increased user-friendliness. This is an enormous project, for which administrative services have been divided into 14 subject areas. Each of these areas is assigned one federal ministry and up to two states respectively, who will work together as a development team to spearhead the digitalization process. A service is considered digitalized when all documents can be fully requested online and all decisions can be issued electronically.
For example, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is working with the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to digitalize 27 services in the area of work and retirement. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are cooperating on construction and housing. In this area, there are 48 services to be digitalized, to name just a few examples of how the federal government and states are working together. Some of these services will subsequently be the responsibility of the federal government; others, that of the states. To save time, money and personnel, the state services will be developed centrally, before being provided to other states and municipalities. These can access services online via a standardized interface and will share the costs for the operation and further development of the services.
What is the current state of affairs?
The federal government is responsible for a total of 115 services, of which 85 are already available digitally. The implementation is on course to be completed in 2022. The larger portion of the services by far, 460 in total, has to be digitalized by the states and municipalities. They have a longer road ahead of them. By the end of 2021, 200 services should be available as federal reference implementations. However, the experts of the National Regulatory Control Council, an independent advisory committee of the federal government, doubt that the implementation will succeed in full by the end of 2022. This is because the resources and degree of organization in the individual states and municipalities are very different, despite the “one for all” principle.
Register modernization is only just beginning
Digitalization is slowly gaining traction in other areas too. For example, it is now legally possible to digitalize the administrative data of individuals using their tax identification number, thanks to the Register Modernization Act. And for businesses, the Basic Business Register Act enables the digital utilization of data. However, its implementation will be similarly challenging to that of the Online Access Act, according to experts. Administration can only function effectively when citizens and companies only have to enter the necessary data for administrative services once. Authorities then have to pass this data onto other authorities, when it is required for other services. Processing and central storage of the data is therefore indispensable, so that this can be used as input for digital administrative services.
Additionally, there is a need to create binding standards, so that services function at all levels of administration. A platform must be found that enables all the components of digital administration to interact, from a portal network to service accounts for citizens, company accounts, registers, and directory services via coordinated IT architecture management. And finally, access to service accounts and the authentication of citizens and businesses remains to be clarified. If Germany wants to keep pace with other, digitally advanced states, it urgently needs to put its foot down to achieve these milestones in the coming years.
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