Digitization is a major challenge facing all of society, including churches and the public sector. That’s why institutions in these areas have taken concrete action to set themselves up for a successful digital future.
Author: Roger Homrich Photos: rbb, rbb/Gundula Krause/epd-Bild/Jens Schulze, shutterstock.com, dpa
Bedtime stories from the public cloud
When its news pages became overloaded during breaking news events, Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) decided to move its Internet presence into the cloud. Today, the broadcaster’s websites are always available, even during high traffic periods.
Parliamentary elections: an exciting time for journalists, a challenge for television broadcasters’ IT departments. All across the country, news desks provide minute-by-minute coverage of the reactions of politicians, parties and ordinary people to the election results. With live reports from campaign headquarters, voter interviews from Flensburg to Berchtesgaden, and initial projections at 6 pm, news organizations have to run like well-oiled machines. Breakdowns are unacceptable. That also goes for the website operated by the rbb public broadcasting corporation, which visitors tend to flood on election days or during breaking news events. In the past, bottlenecks used to bedevil rbb’s online presence. The servers and leased line just couldn’t handle the onslaught of visitors.
Add servers and bandwidth or move to the cloud? For rbb, the answer was clear: it embraced the cloud. Today, the broadcaster uses scalable IT resources from the Open Telekom Cloud (OTC), Deutsche Telekom’s public cloud service. The benefits are hard to beat: on-demand access to computing resources in the cloud. If website hits spike, the cloud automatically activates additional resources to absorb the deluge of traffic. Once visitor numbers normalize again, the add-on computing resources are deactivated. That means rbb doesn’t have to maintain costly servers for the occasional surge of visitors, but only pays for what it uses. The Open Telekom Cloud also satisfies Germany’s strict data security and data protection requirements – a must-have for rbb.
A webcache holds copies of rbb’s ten most important news sites: from rbb Online to Inforadio and Kulturradio all the way to Antenne Brandenburg or Radio Fritz. Every ten seconds, the system updates the cached copies. All Internet requests end up here. The webcache in the OTC acts as a kind of shock absorber for excess traffic. That helps keep rbb’s websites online all the time, even during breaking news. The broadcaster only has to pay for outgoing data traffic and the computing and storage resources that it actually consumes. Even rbb’s page for “Little Sandman” bedtime stories is now hosted in the cloud, accessible to millions of families throughout Germany – so the Little Sandman never has to go to bed early.
Using and paying for government services online
If you try to use e-government services from home, you will often fail at a key juncture: paying for them. Not so in Bavaria. All Bavarian agencies and ministries have had access to an e-payment service since January 2017.
Online payment – it’s the goal of Bavaria’s state government. Since taking over as the chief information officer of a state of nearly 13 million, Bavarian Finance Minister Dr. Markus Söder has pushed for digitization. His efforts have borne fruit, too. For example, Bavaria has introduced an e-payment service for all state agencies. The system, developed by T-Systems along with the Free State of Bavaria, is based on the central ePayService platform. Its standout feature: direct integration with Bavaria’s integrated budget and treasury process. Now, accounts can be settled automatically without any need for paper-based payment. All downstream activities (account postings) are performed automatically, too, creating a digital end-to-end process in which all data communications are securely encrypted. That allows digital payments to be easily integrated into existing business processes.
ePayService is a boon for ordinary citizens, too. They can pay for a growing number of Bavaria’s fee-based public services and products with payment methods ranging from Pay-Pal to credit cards. With ePayService, they can also pay online for services provided by institutions such as the State Surveying Agency (digital geodata) or the State Research Center for Agriculture (fishing license test). Bavaria’s criminal justice system even gives citizens the opportunity to buy felt bags, garden furniture and home furnishings handcrafted in Bavarian prisons at www.haftsache.de – thereby helping inmates reintegrate into society.
When help is a blessing
A big part of being a pastor is talking and ministering to congregation members. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria has rolled out digital solutions to help pastors look after their flocks.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria has taken digital steps to help pastors tend to their flocks. Pastors, after all, “dedicate themselves like no other occupation to people, with all their hopes, fears, worries and value systems at every stage of life,” according to the official education portal of Saxony, Bavaria’s immediate neighbor to the northeast. Like every profession, clergy members have to juggle administrative activities. However, many tasks can be done on smartphones and mobile devices. First, though, the rectories and pastors serving Bavaria’s 1,500-plus Lutheran congregations need constant mobile access to emails, calendars or congregation contact details as well as documents on the state church’s intranet.
To make this vision a reality, T-Systems put together a mobility package that reduces the clerics’ workload. It supports every step involved in procuring new phones – from the initial order to the roll-out to handset lifecycle management – replacing defective devices and operating the central enterprise mobility management solution, including a help desk. That frees up the church’s information center to focus on providing the IT infrastructure and IT services needed to keep the church running.
Since mid-2017, the pastors have been able to pick their work smartphones from an electronic catalog. T-Systems technicians then fully prepare the chosen device by installing a SIM card with an appropriate cellular plan, backing up the data and shipping it to the pastor. Once the shipment arrives, clergy members merely have to open the box, pull out the smartphone and switch it on. It’s ready to go right away. The smartphones can support every type of church ministry since confidential data is specially protected and fully segregated from less secure areas of memory. The whole process is remarkably painless for pastors.
The church picked this package largely on data protection grounds. Pastors often handle very sensitive data about members of their congregations: contact details, appointments or emails about deaths, marital problems or pre-baptismal meetings. This information mustn’t fall into the wrong hands. That’s why all the sensitive data relating to ministry work is locked away in a secure container on the smartphone. Security is assured even if pastors lose their phones since T-Systems centrally tracks every device and keeps it updated. It can even remotely lock the device and delete all confidential data if needed, including for handset replacements or exchanges. For the church, this roll-out is just the first step in a longer process. One day, it will launch apps that help pastors do many of their administrative tasks while on the go.