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Nationwide interest: Competence Center Digital Administration has been launched

The new Competence Center Digital Administration at Hof University of Applied Sciences has opened. At an online kick-off attended by around 300 guests from all over Germany, speakers from politics, public administration and academia spent the entire day reporting on digitization projects and model projects in districts, municipalities and other institutions. They shared their experiences, but also discussed the hurdles on the way to a citizen-friendly digitization of the German administration

The event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Heike Markus and Prof. Dr. Thomas Meuche from Hof University of Applied Sciences, who together head the new Digital Administration Competence Center. Hof University of Applied Sciences has already received various inquiries for the practical implementation of research projects.

Competence Center Digital Administration is an important pillar of the Digital Campus Bavaria

University president Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Jürgen Lehmann welcomed all virtual participants to an exciting day and quoted Bavarian Minister President Dr. Markus Söder, who could not attend the opening due to scheduling reasons: “He would have said: we have to launch the next rocket stage, we have to keep going, become faster, become better.” And that’s what the opening is all about, he added. In doing so, he said, it is not only important to provide suitable tools for digitization, but to make changes in people’s minds, and that is difficult

“The current situation shows us that there is huge need for action in the area of digitization of public authorities and that we have to do a lot.”

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Jürgen Lehmann, university president

In her welcoming message, Bavarian Minister of State for Digital Affairs Judith Gerlach described the Competence Center Digital Administration as an important pillar of the Digital Campus Bavaria, with which a digital teaching and learning platform is to be gradually built up over the next few years, especially for employees of local government in Bavaria.

Committed, well-trained employees with the right digital mindset are the central prerequisite for a modern service state. Hof is and will remain an important source for this. In addition to the highly sought-after IT experts who have already been trained in Hof for more than 20 years and who form the technological backbone of digitization in the administration, it is important that “someone is there to drive the digital transformation organizationally and legally, someone with smart methods, with social skills, to take the employees along in the digital transformation process in the administration.”

This is precisely where the bachelor’s degree program “Digital Administration” comes in, which is offered part-time and largely digitally at Hof University of Applied Sciences. Starting in the winter semester of 2021/22, the Bavarian State Ministry for Digital Affairs will be offering 30 partial scholarships for it. “Up to EUR 370,000 has been earmarked for the development of the KDV and the scholarship program in the bachelor’s degree program in digital administration,” she said.

The challenge of administration is “change”

Prof. Dr. Thomas Meuche introduced the topic with his lecture. “Citizen-centric agile administrative management” is the new buzzword of the future, he said. The structures that were developed for administration 100 years ago by Mx Weber can no longer apply in today’s more complex and agile environment. The role of managers must also change, he said; process thinking not hierarchy will shape the administration of the future

“We need self-directing teams and we need to involve employees much more, they need to take responsibility and make decisions independently within the given framework.”

Prof. Dr. Thomas Meuche

And mistakes are also part of the job. “We need a different error culture. If we want to work in self-directing groups and follow rapid changes, then you also have to be able to try things out. And yes, we will make mistakes, we will stumble. But standing still doesn’t work at all!”

Making greater use of the potential of employees

This view is also shared by Thomas Popp, State Secretary for Digital Administration & Administrative Modernization and Head of the Saxon State Chancellery. He presented very clearly that it is precisely not only IT that is responsible for digitization, but that each specialist department itself must look at its own processes and be held accountable

“A bad process that is digitized is a bad digitized process.” CIO of the Saxon State Chancellery.

Thomas Popp, CIO Saxon State Chancellery

In his experience, he said, there are enough people who want to work on the digitization of public administration and who are capable of doing so. “And that’s exactly who we have to bring along, and we have to let them run!” So the potential is there. Numerous studies show that university graduates and well-trained employees want to work in public administration today. People want to make a difference for the state and for the people. “We have to take advantage of these opportunities, and we have to let these people do it.”

When it comes to training these employees, however, methodological knowledge takes precedence over detailed knowledge, according to Prof. Dr.-Ing. Detlef Rätz, head of the Digital Administration program at Meissen University of Applied Sciences. “Preparation for the dynamic life after graduation must be anchored more and better in university education.” Expertise can become obsolete after just two years, so it’s even more important that employees are ready to tackle new topics and know the methods to deal with those new topics as well.

“The digital work environment is becoming more and more complex, we have apps, portals, platforms, cloud solutions – these tools don’t even feature in traditional training courses today. We have a whole cloud of challenges that we have to respond to in education and training.” prof. Rätz emphasized. Above all, these include generic competencies that enable students to better adapt to the dynamic processes in practice.

Measuring maturity

What level of digital maturity do public administrations actually have today? In order to be able to measure this, a digital maturity model was developed by the Competence Center Digital Administration in cooperation with AKDB. Prof. Dr. Heike Markus took over the presentation of this model, which on the one hand records the current status, but on the other hand also shows the need for action. “It is not enough to know the need for action. Implementation is a continuous process. And it’s also about measuring whether the measures are successful and thus whether the goals are achieved,” says Prof. Dr. Markus.

When it comes to digitization, he says, it is important to think processes, which in many cases go beyond organizational boundaries, from start to finish. What good is it, he said, if citizens’ data is received digitally by the authority, but is then printed out, typed up and filed away there. A process can only be digitized well if the entire process chain is thought through

It is essential that the technical examination of digitization comes before the use of the technology. Currently, you hear a lot about artificial intelligence and it seems as if people are literally looking for projects to do something with AI as well.”

Prof. Dr. Heike Markus

It is crucial to be clear beforehand where you want to go with your organization in the next few years, and only then can you use technology as a tool to achieve these goals.

Prof. Dr. Heike Markus and Prof. Dr. Thomas Meuche jointly head the new Digital Administration Competence Center at Hof University of Applied Sciences; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

Katja Köhler, Digitization Officer at the Institute for Municipal Data Processing in Bavaria (AKDB), is concerned with what the reality looks like in the municipalities. She is on the ground at the municipalities in Bavaria and knows the difference between theory and practice. When asked if there are clear priorities in the planning and implementation of digitization projects, she says: “One gets the impression that projects such as the digital building application are implemented because they have to be implemented. But that is still happening today in a detached way and not integrated into an overarching strategy.” Redundant data storage often prevails in our government agencies, simply because of uncertainties about whether documents need to be kept in paper form or not. An enormous additional workload

“Technically, many things could be done better, but local authorities have only limited scope of action of their own here within the scope of the legal possibilities and are dependent on assistance from the legislator.”

Katja Köhler, Digitization Officer at AKDB

How can the maturity model benefit public administrations now? The Competence Center Digital Administration is currently developing an online tool that organizations can use to determine their digital maturity level. As a result, the organization receives its very individual characteristics for the individual digital dimensions and, in addition, concrete recommendations for action and implementation. The second step can be to conduct structured interviews in order to critically question topics, find out about connections between processes, or even to concretize measures. As a third option for public administrations, the Competence Center Digital Administration at Hof University of Applied Sciences offers to participate in practice-oriented research processes

If you as an administration, municipality or authority want to tackle a concrete process but don’t know exactly how to implement it in practice, the Competence Center provides an open test area and you can test and try out various approaches there in the form of a “model authority.”

Data protection important from the outset

The State Commissioner for Data Protection in Bavaria, Prof. Dr. Thomas Petri, emphasized the importance of data protection in digitization processes. He said that data protection is about protection against misuse and the individual’s right to privacy. Another core element of data protection, he said, is to establish responsibilities in the organization and to ask whether the processing of data is lawful and legitimate. Data subjects must be able to understand the processing in a transparent manner.

In this regard, he said, the state does not only have a defensive posture, but must also promote integration and confidentiality

“My great wish would be that students think process management in public administration with data protection in mind, and integrate data protection and fundamental rights from the very beginning of digitization projects.”

Prof. Dr. Thomas Petri, State Commissioner for Data Protection in Bavaria

We need to train employees digitally – and then they’re gone?

“It’s quite clear that you have to train employees digitally – but at the same time, you also have to look at what you have to do to ensure that they don’t leave afterwards,” says Dr. Christine Meyer, Head of Human Resources at the City of Nuremberg. On the one hand, there are the young people, the “digital natives,” who are newcomers from outside and have learned how to deal with digital technologies, and on the other hand, there are the existing administrative employees, who are on average 45.7 years old and have completely different expectations and whose fears must be taken into account. In principle, however, the digital training of employees at the City of Nuremberg is understood as a work assignment

“On the one hand, the employees themselves should be able to continue their education in order to be more satisfied in their jobs, but on the other hand, the organization itself must also continue its education in digitization in order to meet the requirements as an attractive employer.”

Dr. Christine Meyer, Head of Human Resources, City of Nuremberg

Studies show that for employees in administration, the design of the workplace is very important. The compatibility of private life and work is an important factor in the attractiveness of a job. This involves working time models such as part-time work, home office, mobile working, but also childcare. These issues need to be sharpened.

On the subject of the workplace of the future, there is an exciting project in the administration of the city of Nuremberg. The former Quelle site is being used to set up an open-space office – with all the benefits that this will bring for employees, but also with the cultural change for the administration and the employees that must be accompanied and undergone.

Albert Roesch, Head of the Office for Information Technology of the City of Nuremberg begins his presentation with an exciting statement

“We want to become more flexible and dynamic, we want to think like a start-up, but remain a city administration!”

Albert Roesch, Office of Information Technology City of Nuremberg

So the work culture in the administration has to change. Adaptations in processes, but also in IT are required, which becomes an enabler of flexible working. “Without the appropriate process and organizational changes, even the best technology is of no use.” In many cases, regulations and framework conditions no longer fit current requirements.

As a link between core administration and IT, the city of Nuremberg relies on digitization coordinators. “These are translators who bring the digital spirit into the administration. People who are very familiar with the department, the workflows and processes, but who also recognize the benefits that IT or digitization can bring to the department.”

It is precisely such employees who are being trained in the bachelor’s degree program in digital administration at Hof University of Applied Sciences. The city of Nuremberg is currently enabling 15 dedicated employees to study in this pioneering degree program. Both the participants and the employer are highly satisfied with the results.

“Now my city with an app, too”

Markus Losert is CIO and CDO of the city of Karlsruhe and has been director of the newly created Office for Information Technology and Digitalization since 2017. He received the eGovernment Kommunal Award in 2019 for his work and was awarded first prize at the Future Congress on Government and Administration. “The idea behind our app is to combine municipal with digital private services. This makes us close to the citizens and increases the attractiveness of the app.” he enthuses.

No one needs a pure eGovernment app, he says, which is why the city of Karlsruhe has opted for a much broader approach. This assumes that citizens have far more contact with the city than just through the office, for example with the library, public transport, the zoo or the museums. To further increase the app’s appeal, there are also plans to incorporate private services, such as the regional daily newspaper or a discount system for the retail association. The already existing defect notifier is also available in the app. In the future, thirsty trees will then also remind their godparents to water them.

“If you think about how many processes you have to issue tickets for the zoo or library cards, for example, there is considerable added value for the city here.” Even more, having the app with you at all times, the ID card might be at home in the kitchen. Another benefit now in the pandemic, for example, he said, is that access restrictions could be activated through the app and exactly how many people could be allowed onto the zoo grounds.

“We see the main benefit of an app in the direct address from the administration to the citizenry – for example, the Staatstheater Karlsruhe can send a push notification to citizens: “We still have 50 tickets for tonight’s event, they’re half-price from now on.” or “Remember, tomorrow is green garbage can.” or if tomorrow is city marathon and you enter your street “At your place, the runners will come by around 11 a.m.”

Markus Losert, CIO and CDO of the City of Karlsruhe

The digitization of administration is a question of attitude

“And in the process, almost anything goes if you just want it to,” says Thorsten Wilcke, responsible for government innovation, digital strategy and transformation at the Nordfriesland district

“Changing course takes time and a lot of perseverance. The special challenge of an area county compared to a city is the division of tasks between offices and the county, and how to bring these tasks in a common direction.”

Thorsten Wilcke, e-government officer for the Nordfriesland district

He says that the administration must see itself much more as a company and not just administer, but actively participate in shaping. “We have to give up thinking in terms of responsibilities and hierarchies and make it so that our people see themselves as players who contribute to a whole.” He said there is a need for generalists who can think outside the box, and a process and tool competence must take hold in administration. “Curricula also need to change because we need different skills in administration. Employees* need to become producers of their own solution. They need to get out of the offices and get out among the people a lot more.”

But the goal is also to free employees from tedious tasks, and that can only be achieved with well-functioning IT. And with solution and process training geared to the workplace. “That’s more effective than software-related training. It doesn’t help to do Microsoft Teams training because people can’t transform it for what purposes they can then use the tool purposefully as well.”

Pictured: all speakers at the online kick-off.

How a cloud solution finds its way out of teaching and into practice

Solution and process orientation also play a major role in the Digital Administration bachelor’s degree program. Here, the connection between theory and practice is the focus of all study modules. “It helps a lot that our lecturers at Hof University come directly from professional life. You can tell them about your experiences or even about their failed projects, so that you don’t even have to repeat mistakes that have been made by others,” says Claudia Klein.

“Depending on how you choose the study modules, we will be trained further so that we can mediate between IT and administration, and become so-called digitization coordinators,” she explains further. Ms. Klein and her fellow students Tanja Norgall and Bernhard Meier work for the city of Nuremberg and are studying part-time at Hof University of Applied Sciences. At the online conference, they presented their application-oriented and very challenging project work in the X-as-a-Service module.

A process from their daily work was chosen for the topic: “In 2017, the digitalization strategy of the city of Nuremberg decided that the approximately 160 Nuremberg school sites should be connected to the Internet via the broadband network of the fire department. Our idea was to introduce a workflow management system for this purpose, in which the complete process of digitizing the schools would be mapped. All documents should be stored centrally in the system so that everyone involved can access them,” explained Tanja Norgall. Later, the individual schools can even access the current status of their individual processes via cell phone. All communication takes place from within the system and is stored centrally in the system. In the project, everything was worked out by the three students, from the idea, to the concept development, to the realization. Bernhard Meier concludes: “Projects like this show that, with the help of the degree program, we are in a position to provide significant support to public administrations on their further path to digitization and to help drive it forward.”

Simplifying the complex world of work in public administration

“One of the key challenges in public administration is digitization itself,” opens Steffen Fuhrmann, Head of ServiceNow at Media Solutions GmbH and cooperation partner of the Digital Administration Competence Center. The key characteristics that distinguish digitization are simplicity, speed and convenience. This can only succeed if the focus is on those who use the service, i.e., the employees of the public authority

In the future, a changed administrative culture must focus on service and debureaucratization in order to create simplicity and speed, because ultimately an efficient and service-oriented administration will itself become a competitive factor for the states and regions

Steffen Fuhrmann, Media Solutions GmbH

The goal of ServiceNow’s cloud platform, he said, is to support public administration in its digitization project and to simplify the complex world of work.

Digitization as a joint task

All speakers at the event agree on one point: digitization is not a topic that concerns IT alone; it is a matter of involving the entire organization. Employees, strategy, control and leadership are important elements in successfully advancing digitization. But it also became clear that there is still a long way to go. The online survey during the kick-off, which was intended to provide an indication of the maturity of the participants’ organizations, showed that most activities in digitization are currently to be found in technology, followed by data, processes and employees. Strategy, leadership and governance, on the other hand, are currently hardly considered.

A long way to go, but a very exciting one!”

Prof. Dr. Heike Markus

And further: “The speakers have shown many great starting points and possibilities for this in their presentations; and this regardless of whether it is an area district or a city or municipality. The different challenges can be solved. Now it’s a matter of continuing to address, advance and implement the issues.”

All of the speakers’ presentations can be accessed at any time at www.kdv-hof.de.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Thomas Meuche

Daniela Klier
Rainer Krauß

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