How the corona crisis digitized the country

How the corona crisis digitized the country

Public administration is a routine world. A world in which clearly defined tasks are processed serially. This makes this microcosm particularly reliable and predictable, but sometimes sluggish. The main task of the authorities is to keep processes going – and not to track down innovations and modernize themselves.

It is different when crises shake the public sector . In history, pain and high pressure have often led to processes and methods having to be rethought, that new ways had to be found to avoid alternatives. How will the public sector get out of the coronavirus crisis? Will the offices later be more digital than before? Tagesspiegel Background asked around.

“In our organizations, we have long been talking about living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. But we humans don’t really understand what that really means, ”says Vincent Patermann. The corona virus crisis is now making this clear to everyone “the hard way”. “The corona virus shows public administration its digital limits. There are too few laptops for home offices and too few uniform tools – for example for video conferences . ”This learning process could cost lives, he wrote on Twitter.

The 30-year-old, who originally comes from the music industry, is the managing director of the Next network. An association in which employees from more than 30 authorities have already come together to digitize the German administration. Patron is the outgoing federal CIO (Federal Government IT representative) Klaus Vitt.

Patermann works in the IT department of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The authority and its vice president, Markus Richter, are considered pioneers in digitization of the administration. Richter founded the Next Network, was IT director at BAMF and was named European CIO of the Year three years ago.

Background about the corona virus:

How did that happen? The 2015 crisis year triggered leaps in innovation that continued to this day, say those involved. Because the great pressure made possible what previously seemed impossible. In just a few weeks, Richter’s team developed the data exchange platform “Asylum Online” together with federal and state authorities. IT projects in German federalism often take months – if not years. There was simply no time for this: with the old systems, the challenges of the many asylum applications could not have been mastered.

The BAMF has also had its own IT laboratory for three years, in which the agile development method Scrum is used in software development – in one of the first German authorities.

IT patchwork in Germany

One of the largest administrative projects of the past decades was also almost born in 2015, says Marc Reinhardt, Head of Public Sector at Capgemini in Germany: “The Online Access Act (OZG) was launched against the background of overwhelmed administrations in the refugee crisis.” The law passed in 2017 provides for the digitization of almost all administrative services by 2022.

Wenn die Aktenberge nicht mehr zu schaffen sind, muss sich die Verwaltung etwas überlegen.

If the mountains of files can no longer be created, you have to think about the administration. Photo: Stephanie Pilick / dpa

A mammoth task because Germany’s public IT landscape is like a patchwork . The goals are unlikely to be achieved, there are more open than resolved questions – and yet: The law jerked through the federal government, the states and the municipalities as far as the digitization of the public sector is concerned.

Are digital conferences well received?

Jan-Ole Beyer is one who should know. As head of the Digital Innovation Team at the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), he is supposed to make the administration digitally fit. He can currently observe that crises increase the pressure to innovate. For example, his team had already considered organizing a purely digital conference before the corona virus. So far he was unsure how such an idea would be accepted.

“Now digital formats will be indispensable for some time and we have already received a few inquiries as to whether we have ideas on how large events can be digitized “He tells in conversation with Tagesspiegel Background. The necessity is already rethinking, a change seems to have no alternative, if you want to maintain the operation.


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Nils Hoffmann is not surprised. Until recently, he himself worked in the public sector – as head of the innovation laboratory GovLab Arnsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia. Now he is leading a program to bring start-ups together with the administration. “Definitely, administration pain is one of the big drivers, like any other large organization,” he says. And this pain always occurs when practiced processes no longer work. This is exactly what happened in 2015 – and it is happening again now.

Even if crises increase the pressure to act, there are other important factors, adds Jan-Ole Beyer: “Innovation is a question of culture, of Mindsets and awareness of organizations and their employees. ”Because ultimately everything depends on specific people in specific positions. And these, according to Marc Reinhardt, would have to make decisions: “A strong political will is able to shape politics with foresight even away from crises.”

The administration is being changed permanently from the crisis Vincent Patermann at least hopes to go out: “Once we have survived Corona, I hope that we have all learned what agility means.”


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