“We Are on the Right Road”

What are the prime benefits of e-based communications and transactions between government authorities and business enterprises?

The key benefits include lower costs for both government authorities and businesses as well as enhanced levels of service. Authorities can make substantial savings by digitizing what were previously paper-bound processes. Take the example of the electronic Commercial Register where entries and archiving and now performed electronically. Information is also provided electronically via the Internet in the form of a PDF. This eliminates paper documents, a fact which in itself means substantial savings for both the authorities and the companies. The tiresome business of completing application forms manually is now a thing of the past. This is where the benefits of digital media really come into their own.

Service quality is also enhanced by the possibility of users accessing a whole range of services online regardless of time or location. Another possibility is electronic legal communications, where lawyers submit documents to court directly from their desktops using electronic signatures. These arrive at the relevant departments faster than letters or faxes and can be saved in digital form as electronic files. The data, being in electronic form, can be accessed and worked upon by several persons at the same time. This ensures that applications are processed faster.

While the Federal, state and local authorities are having to live with very tight budgets, experts are calling for e-government offerings to be expanded through investments in IT. Isn’t this contradictory?

There are various ways in which financing e-government offerings can be made as digestible as possible for the various budgets. Bundling resources is one solution. As with BundOnline 2005, basic components that represent the “basic functionalities” of different services only need to be developed once and can then be made available to all. This strategy is already being used, for example, in the Deutschland-Online initiative. Furthermore, we shouldn’t always want to keep reinventing the wheel, but instead should build on existing solutions and concepts such as those familiar from e-business. Public authorities do not need to do everything themselves. Outsourcing or the use of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) is often a useful alternative to developing and financing everything oneself.

What do government authorities need to take into account when planning and implementing e-government offerings?

As I see it, the authorities must take into account the needs and circumstances of companies when implementing e-government services. It is particularly important that data exchange standards that are also used in businesses are factored into the equation in the G2B sector.

It is also often advisable for the authorities to phase in e-government procedures instead of rolling everything out in one go. It may be quite expedient, for example – despite the fact that qualified electronic signatures are not available everywhere – not to make specific application forms available online, even though notification about their acceptance or rejection may be handled online. An e-mail – possibly signed electronically by the authorities if necessary – is often sufficient in this case.
If services provided by the government authority are to be offered online, it is important when developing a solution that the processes in place are not simply mirrored on the Internet. If the processes used in the past have called for a signature by a member of the public or a business, it may well be possible to offer the process online without a qualified electronic signature. The processes should preferably be examined in advance to determine whether potential for improvement can be harnessed as part of the “e” process.

How can government authorities with G2B offerings cut costs in future?

If we look at a typical application, the potential savings begin with the use of plausibility rules in the electronic input masks. This significantly enhances the quality of the applications and ensures that they can be processed faster, since the official has to spend far less time correcting faulty applications or clarifying points.

If the application has been sent to the authority electronically, the fact that the application is saved in electronic form means it can be processed simultaneously by several officials. This brings about considerable savings in both time and costs. Electronic archiving is the final stage in the procedure and offers significant advantages over conventional archiving. These include reductions in storage costs and the time required to locate an application.

A recent study from ibi research complained that Germany has considerable catching up to do when it comes to G2B e-government. What are the reasons for this and why are other countries doing better?

I need to qualify this statement slightly, since it is not a primary result of the ibi study. In the study, we have summarized the key findings of other studies which indicated that Germany generally does not lead the way in an international comparison. The studies look at the subject from different perspectives, but all agree that Germany’s federalist structure makes it more difficult than in other countries to ensure successful e-government.

But despite the many obstacles in the way, Germany is on the right road. Following a pilot phase involving initiatives such as BundOnline 2005 or Media@komm, the results are now being used on a variety of levels. Deutschland-Online and Media@Komm-Transfer are the first positive signs of this.

What stimuli could be provided in Germany to deliver additional improvements in e-government and to deliver the necessary drive in this direction?

Authorities that plan and implement e-government offerings need to focus more than ever on the needs of the customer, whether this be members of the public or businesses. They must also learn to communicate their offerings better in order to ensure that customers actually use them. I also believe it is important that, in the initial phases, not all processes are dealt with online, so that e-government services can be provided quickly, efficiently and with justifiable costs. With regard to financing, as I said before, the authorities should also intensify Public Private Partnership initiatives.

Dr. Andreas Schaffry
Dr. Andreas Schaffry