My focus is the digitization of administration, which is where catch-up is badly needed in accelerating the conversion process. The coalition agreement sets an ambitious target requiring additional efforts and resources. Not by 2031, but as soon as 2025, the state administration should be fully digitized. This means we must cut the time window nearly in half. The acceleration is, therefore, particularly necessary in the process optimization, that is, the improvement and digitization of internal processes.
A formal decision has not yet been made, but it will happen here at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitization and Energy. First pilots in the sense of a model ministry are already underway. A pilot example involving the central department, my department, and the top management is electronic transaction processing or, in other words, electronic circulation folders in connection with e-files.
The participating units practice – after previous training – electronic transaction processing on a pilot basis, since we have the technical requirements for both e-files and e-circulation folders. But dealing with both requires practice and, of course, the pilot also serves to recognize and remedy any shortcomings of the application. After all, the state administration oversees upwards of 600 agencies with about 120,000 computer workstations (i.e. employees). It is important to launch pilot projects so that the subsequent introduction and rollout in other agencies is not met with the same introduction and conversion difficulties that come up and are worked out during the pilot.
However, it is not so much the technology that proves to be a special challenge, but the transformation process itself. This has a lot to do with organization, but also becoming accustomed to a different way of dealing with hierarchy.
Again, I would like to limit myself to the digitization of administration when addressing this question. NRW is not lagging behind in Germany... Germany as a whole is lagging behind. We are not in Europe’s rearview mirror, but by no means have we reached the pole position. In other words: We are not yet where we want to be.
We are on the right track, but we need to move faster. Since the beginning of the year, an “access hub” has been up and running that The same applies to the “service account,” which I can use as a citizen if I want to process a service electronically. Also, by the end of 2018, we will have the basic components for e-payment built into our services so that, as a citizen, I will not have to pay the five euro fees in person.
We are working on all other basic projects simultaneously: E-billing is another example. The legal basis must be established, the technology needs to be set up, and internal processes must be adapted. In the future, simply being able to accept invoices electronically will not be an advantage. Efficiency increases only when the invoice can be further processed electronically. Only then is there potential for saving time and money.
At the core is always the question: How can administrative processes be made easier and faster – for the employees themselves, but also most importantly for their “customers”? Citizens and businesses should be able to reach the service or information they seek in a maximum of three clicks. At this point, the right step is to intelligently link the portals of the municipalities and the state portal we are currently building. This will allow everyone to find their way easily and quickly.
As I said: We are on the right track, but we need to move faster. And, of course, we always need to keep an eye on technical developments. It may well be that other technological developments offer new possibilities by 2025. We must preserve our openness to react to technology. Blockchain technology, for example, does not play any special role in our administration today. This will change in my opinion.
For the first time, the predominant topic of the future is the topic of digitization under one roof. This is a good step, but it does not mean that “digital” technology is necessarily the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitization and Energy. Digitization plays into all areas of life and this affects all departments – telematics and transport, e-health, ‘digital education,’ just to name a few examples.
The bundling does not lead to changed competences for the CIO. And, of course, there is always the “classic conflict” between central IT control and departmental jurisdiction. We are still working too much next to each other with individual IT solutions and have too few universal, standardized solutions. But today there is a much greater willingness to interpret departmental jurisdiction to achieve something more for the greater good.
A few examples are: When we introduced the e-file, except for the judicial system, which was already using electronic legal transactions, all departments were obliged to play catch-up to implement the solution. That would have been unthinkable ten years ago, maybe even five years ago. We also have one solution for all other so-called basic components such as the electronic circulation folder, the access hub for electronic inputs, and the service account. Plus, there is a central budget for implementing our e-Government Act, that is, the digital administration program. This means: We are responsible for the program, but we agree on the timetable and the use of resources with the departments, of course.
That is definitely a factor to keep in mind. Financial administration, justice, police – there are areas that are involved in nationwide agreements. We must accept this in NRW, but it naturally also increases the need for votes. However, when it comes to compatibility, they are done in a very constructive way these days. Different solutions must at least be able to work and communicate with each other.
So that all participants have gained insight into a dynamic process: We will fail if everyone tries to tackle problems with conversion to digitalization on their own. And those who outsource their administration will neither understand nor accept this.
The term is not completely unknown to us in public administration. But as I said: The understanding that we need to not only work together much more closely, but also develop universal standard solutions is much greater today than just a few years ago.
No, not a no-go, but we are still hesitant when it comes to public clouds. We deal with the topic intensively, but we look at it in a discerning way. There are areas that do not deal with very sensitive data, but still raise concerns about data protection and privacy. Cloud solutions are a serious alternative, not least for cost reasons.
The outlook is really good. We must deal with the subject, which is exactly what we are doing. The constantly increasing amount of data storage alone is forcing us to do so.
Absolutely. The administration hierarchy of the future will look different from what we are accustomed to. The classic journey of a paper document is as follows: it is written by the clerk, then sent to various colleagues or superiors for “advance notice,” where it is countersigned and then passed up agency management. This path is useful for informing and involving all relevant parties. But today, information is requested and delivered so quickly, top down, and vice versa, that the classic ‘chicken ladder’ does not always work. And all hierarchical levels must learn to handle this.
With our ‘Digital Administration Program,’ we are committed to a vision to make one thing clear: Why are we doing this? We must ask this, because it is an immense challenge for everyone working in administration. Which, in turn, causes some worries. Therefore, it is so important for everyone to understand the goal: It’s about making the lives of employees and our customers easier. If we complete this process by 2025 – with noticeable success already achieved – then customers should be saying: ‘Working with agencies in NRW is outstanding, fast, and efficient.’ And at the same time, employees should be saying: ‘Administration work is fun, and we are good at what we do.’ That would be the ‘next big thing’ for me personally. And here we come!
It annoys Hartmut Beuß, IT Commissioner for the North Rhine-Westphalian state government, that public authorities are not directly associated with digitization. The so-called access hub, the service account and many other digitization projects have been launched on his watch. One of the targets for 2018 is the statewide introduction of an ePayment system. The eFile and the electronic circulation folder are also being piloted. In his view the tight schedule in North Rhine-Westphalia’s eGovernment Act is less of a specification than an incentive to make official processes more efficient and life even easier for both citizens and state employees. In this film he explains that digitization only works if the decision makers constantly have it in mind.
(Video in German)