More than just implementing the Online Access Act (OZG): How can public administrations find a way out of the digitization jungle?

The Corona crisis has once again drastically highlighted existing deficits and the need for action in administrative digitization. While the focus of criticism lies primarily on schools and health agencies, the conditions prevailing there are representative of many other public institutions. Like numerous other sectors, public administration is facing the challenge of user-oriented, efficient and innovative digitization. Entrepreneurs, managers and decision-makers in public administration realize that they must find a way out of the thickets of digitization.

The successful implementation of legislation on the digitization of administration drives its digital transformation as an essential building block. What other building blocks exist and what role do processes play in administration? How important are data flow and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) on the way to smart government?

Legislation as a building block of administrative digitization – the Online Access Act (OZG) and the eGovernment Act (EGovG)

Digital services are integrated at all levels of administration in numerous federal and state regulations. Important requirements are EU regulations, the German Online Access Act (OZG) and the eGovernment Act (EGovG) of the German states or federal government.

Under the OZG, around 575 administrative service bundles must be offered digitally by the end of 2022, 460 of which are attributable to the federal states and municipalities.

Process-related solutions are being developed in digitization labs to benefit all concerned parties. The state and municipal IT service providers also operate according to this principle. However, the outcome varies greatly between the German states. Achieving the goal by 2022 seems a little overambitious.  Some administrations are not waiting for ready-made solutions.  Quite the opposite: for example, major district towns are themselves joining forces to digitize processes according to the public service principle.

The e-government laws of the federal states create the basis for OZG implementation by addressing topics such as digital administrative processes, payment transactions and the keeping of records.  These vary enormously in terms of design and deadlines, however.  For this reason, amendments have been introduced in the past and continue to be introduced now. For example, North Rhine-Westphalia is expanding their scope to include all schools, universities and almost all state administrations.

Further building blocks of administrative digitization – processes, data and technology

The mere implementation of legal requirements, such as the OZG and e-government laws, is by far not all. Administrative digitization distinguishes between three levels:

  1. Access (How do we establish contact with citizens and companies? What services are provided?)
  2. Processes (How do we handle processes and what happens in the systems within the administration?)
  3. Data (How do we securely store, transport and share data/information? How do we analyze data and develop new data-driven services?)

The chart shows the objectives at all three levels. A closer look at administration in 2021 reveals it is still far from realizing the potential of meaningful digitization and automation.

Source: own representation
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Access

At the access level, traditional contact channels such as telephone, letter and personal visits still prevail currently. Achieving the OZG implementation target by 2022 is an important first step towards realizing inter-operable administrative portals with user accounts and data entry based on the once-only principle. While the completion of online forms presents the façade of digitization, a look at the second-level processes and third-level data reveals that we’re still a long way from exploiting the full potential of meaningful digitization and automation.
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Processes

Physical documents form the dominant paradigm – pure data records are still the exception. Completed forms are often printed out or forwarded as PDF documents. In both cases, data entry occurs manually. A fragmented system landscape with many different specialist applications is not uncommon. The isolated solution is the rule rather than the exception.

At the process level and therefore in transaction processing, this results in massive inefficiencies that are difficult to reduce in the short term, such as media disruptions and interface problems.

In reality, processes occur across all maturity levels. Very innovative or high-profile processes are already digitized or even automated, while other processes are partially digitized or still analog.

AI is making its way into administration: from simple chatbots to text classification based on deep learning. AI allows process steps to be automated and significantly reduces labor in routine tasks.

Scheer PAS and Scheer.ai are examples in this regard. By automating plausibility checks, for example, the police in Saarland are providing an important impetus for successfully pressing ahead with the digital transformation. The Scheer PAS integration platform frees highly qualified employees from time-consuming and cost-intensive routine activities, so as to have more time for their core tasks. The amount of time spent on checking the circumstances of accidents can then be reduced by 80%.

Administrations can use such procedures at all levels – when checking applications, for example. Use by large city administrations or even municipal associations is conceivable.

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Data

Smooth data exchanges between administration and other partners in the digital ecosystem are fundamental.  A networked data infrastructure supports this endeavor. With GAIA-X, representatives from business, science and politics at the European level are currently developing a proposal for the design of a European data infrastructure. The objective is to provide, compile, confidentially distribute and utilize data and services in an open and transparent digital ecosystem.

GAIA-X thus has the potential fully to eliminate data silos and generate services that can be used in administrations at all levels through a low entry barrier for companies and start-ups.

Conclusion

Successful implementation of the legislation on administrative digitization (OZG and EGovG) is an essential building block for successful administrative digitization. But an administration can have these largely implemented and at the same time continue diligently to push paper through the office – while also being still a long way from a smart city concept.

At this point, a case must be made for expanded “digital readiness” that will also gradually include the digital ecosystem, E2E processes in the administration itself, data flows and the use of new technologies such as AI. Legal regulations such as OZG are only the tip of the iceberg; much more lies below.

MartinMAyer

Martin Mayer

Senior Consultant Utilities & Public Services

 

Scheer GmbH
Bismarckallee 17
79098 Freiburg im Breisgau

Germany

+4976176613212

About the author

In the Public/Government unit, I support public sector organizations in their digital transformation. In addition to traditional administration and utilities, the focus is also on educational and research institutions.

We see administrations as part of a digital ecosystem and support the digitization of access, end-to-end processes and data flows. In doing so, we build a bridge between current and innovative technologies, such as AI.

Do you also want to find a way out of the digitization jungle?