We were delighted to speak to Widar Wendt, Leader of the Academy at atene KOM, to explore the ways in which digital technologies are helping to reshape the German public sector, as well as the barriers that remain
2021 was an exciting year for the Germany telecoms sector, a year which saw the rollouts of the latest mobile and fixed broadband technologies accelerate rapidly. Indeed, when it comes to fibre, for example, Germany achieved record network expansions in 2021, according to German fibre optic association BREKO.
But building out infrastructure is just a small part of ensuring the digitalisation of society at large, where both individuals and organisations are often slow to take advantage of new technologies.
This is where the public sector has a critical role to play. From increasing digital education throughout the community to providing improved access to services, the public sector must first undertake their own digital transformation before they can begin delivering benefits to society.
Germany’s unique environment
For Widar Wendt, Leader of the Academy at atene KOM, one of the biggest challenges facing the German public sector when it comes to undertaking this transformation journey is the federal nature of the country itself, broadly leaving each state to devise its own strategies towards digitalisation.
“For the municipalities, one of the challenges is the complexity of the federal structure,” he explained, suggesting that this made it hard to develop easily reproducible strategies and implementing an efficient use of resources.
This reality has not gone unnoticed by the German government. In fact, the Online Access Act was introduced in 2017, pledging that all federal and state government administrative services will be online by 2022. As a result, large scale reform has been underway for the past five years, with the public sector pushing to digitalise almost 600 services.
Naturally, there is still much work to be done to truly digitalise public services, but the necessity of doing so is beginning to be recognised, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven people online both at home and at work.
You can watch our full interview with Widar from the link above.
Of course, when it comes to driving efficiencies within the public sector itself, the importance of this digital transformation for the public sector cannot be underestimated.
“Digital transformation is a complementary tool that helps us save time and money on both sides of the customer journey,” explained Wendt. “It increases efficiency and flexibility and enables administrative staff to devote more time to interpersonal activities.”
Wendt suggests that effective adoption of digital technologies by the public sector could reduce the time and costs spent on administrative work by up to 50%, while automating tasks could reduce case handling efforts by up to 60%.
So, how can the public sector reach these goals?
Strategise to succeed
For Wendt, digital transformation always starts with an effective strategic roadmap – something that many public sector organisations do not realise they need or have been slow to implement.
“The majority of municipalities in Germany are still in the conceptional phase, developing strategies in order to start their transformative processes,” he said.
This is especially true for smaller, rural areas, which are clearly lagging behind their larger, more metropolitan counterparts. Wendt suggests that around 24% of municipalities with 5,000 inhabitants or less in Germany have not even started devising a digital strategy.
These areas need the most support and guidance, both in terms of demonstrating the value of digitalisation and presenting a viable path to achieving this goal.
This brings us neatly to the second part of the transformation process: bringing together the relevant stakeholders to undertake digitalisation collaboratively. Expanding digital services is a process that will have a major impact on all parts of society, from individual citizens to the broader public and private sectors, start-ups, and industrial players. As a result, all of these stakeholders must collaborate throughout the process, sharing knowledge and helping to devise solutions that meet all of their varied needs.
The final step in the journey is, according to Wendt, realising that these is no end of the journey. Digitalisation is a constant learning process, whereby continuous training is needed to ensure that the stakeholders continues to make the most of emerging technologies.
Building the smart cities of the future
Ultimately, the goal of this digitalisation process is to build smarter societies, remembering that the term ‘smart’ should not be limited to cities.
“Smartness does not just belong to cities. Rural areas and regions are affected to the same level, if not even more, by digital technologies. So, planning and developing smart cities and regions is not a linear process, but rather a complex and constant process to increase living quality by using ICT as a supporting instrument. There’s no one size fits all,” said Wendt.
“Decision makers need to create the conditions for this, such as providing quality and affordable infrastructure, and putting an emphasis on digital education.”
He emphasised that the main characteristic of ‘smart’ municipality is inclusivity, creating benefits that extend to every corner of society. Ultimately, however, this will require engagement and trust from all stakeholders, something that can only be developed through and open dialogue and mutual education.
“We need to have this education on both sides. We need to have education for the staff in the municipalities, but also for the citizens, teaching them how they can participate in all of this. It’s crucial to offer the same opportunities to all citizens,” he concluded.
If you want to learn more about ateneKOM and the challenge of digitalising the German public sector, join us 5–6 April in Frankfurt for our live Connected Germany conference