Blog // Digitalization

How digital are German public administration systems?

The idea of paperless offices was already 30 years old but the intention now was to actually implement it. And as the practice of digitally transferring tax returns to the tax office was realised just a few years ago, it should be a model for many other administrative processes.

However, central government, federal states and municipalities are confronted with big challenges now: The existing IT infrastructure cannot cope with the obligations taken on for 2020 because doing away with paper involves enormous quantities of data and therefore substantial requirements for memory, network and server technology.

Furthermore, experts expect a good 160 million enquiries every year when the system for citizens' enquiries goes over to e-mail. And the number of enquiries from companies is expected to be many times higher. This flood of e-mails will pose further substantial challenges, especially on account of the high expectations that people and companies have in terms of quality and speed of processing.

Forty per cent discount for administrative services used online

Another declared objective is to allow citizens access to their stored digital data ("transparency law"). This application will have to run on a very powerful, flexible system that has the capacity to cope with enquiries from several million people at the same time. One can hardly imagine what impression it will make in the public arena if the systems fail due to overload.

Experts are now sounding a note of alarm 2, because two years have now passed and not much has happened. Many authorities are focusing their attention on issues of public interest such as asylum and security. Countries like Austria, Estonia, Great Britain and even Italy, Portugal and France are ahead of Germany where just 39% of the population make use of digital services provided by authorities. Austria is forging ahead with its citizen's card with mobile phone signature, which is being used by more and more people: Anyone who requests a birth certificate, criminal record check or parking permit via an e-government portal will pay a much lower fee. A 40% discount is granted when administrative services are used online.3

Austria and Estonia, Europe's Silicon Valley, are the leaders in digitalisation in the public sphere. By 2015 public offices in Germany were being cut down. This changed with the arrival of a huge number of asylum seekers, which resulted in a large number of people working in the public sector again. Digitalisation could relieve the pressure on public finances if there is a will to bring it about.




2 FAZ, Deutsche Behörden verpassen die Digitalisierung, 15 June 2016, p.18


4 Geschwill, Roland & Nieswandt, Martina, Laterales Management, Das Erfolgsprinzip für Unternehmen im digitalen Zeitalter, Springer 2016