The e-record – ensuring staff don’t become the Achilles’ heel of transformation

E-records can only be rolled out successfully when combined with a modern training concept that closes gaps in acceptance and is tailored to the needs of staff. But which learning tools are up to this Herculean task and genuinely able to boost user adoption in the workforce?
March 30, 2023
8 min
Thomas Jähnig, Public Sector Learning Solutions @ tts Thomas Jähnig

It is fair to say that modernization in Germany’s public sector is not exactly going smoothly. Even though authorities at federal, state and municipal level are all working hard to push the switch to electronic records (the e-record concept), the success rate so far has been modest.  

Trips to the filing cabinet are still very much part and parcel of day-to-day work in Germany’s public sector offices, even though electronic record keeping hugely speeds up collaboration within an organization and paves the way for uninterrupted data flows and the consistent handling of applications and cases. According to a recent survey (German language), only just under a third of authorities have fully implemented electronic record keeping. As for the rest, they are still working with paper records either entirely, partially or in parallel. Evidently, the public sector is still nowhere near leveraging the full potential of digitalized, modern administration.   

People must come first

There are many reasons why progress with digitalization is moving much more slowly than has been stipulated in eGovernment legislation. On the one hand, in many cases, there is a distinct lack of suitable interfaces for linking to the relevant specialist processes. There are also still a lot of discrepancies when it comes to implementing standardized technical and organizational standards.  

On the other hand, a large number of authorities have not yet succeeded in adequately preparing their workforce for what is probably the biggest cultural change in the history of German bureaucracy. In many cases, even extremely motivated employees feel abandoned and overstretched. They either don’t have the right support, or don’t have enough of it to establish the level of user adoption that would help them master the change and make efficient use of electronic records.  

The direct result of that is a lack of acceptance in certain areas, which is toxic to any project. Several studies have shown that when digital transformation projects put technical systems and processes first and neglect change management and skills building, around 70 percent of them either fall short of their targets or fail completely.  

A different perspective can boost user adoption

How can staff be actively brought on board and given exactly the training they need? For starters, people need to be put first. It is crucial to adopt a user-focused perspective and consider what moving away from paper records and toward electronic alternatives really means for public authority staff and which challenges they will face as a result. The main issues include: 

  • Changes to familiar procedures and tasks: 
    E-record systems involve new standard functions and processes for handling relevant documents and procedures, and for filing and retrieving documents. Familiar procedures and tasks can no longer be carried out in the usual way.  
  • Anxiety and uncertainty about new things:  
    Changes to working procedures and responsibilities when it comes to handling documents and records are often experienced as a loss of something familiar. This generates uncertainty, and it is not uncommon for staff to strongly resist new developments. Staff start to question how their day-to-day work will change and whether they will be able to complete their workload with the new system and procedure. 
  • Lack of clarity about expectations: 
    When it comes to rolling out electronic records, many employees aren’t sure what is expected of them or how much their responsibilities will change. They want answers to questions such as: What requirements am I expected to meet? Where can I find help or information without having to spend ages searching or constantly asking colleagues? How am I supposed to remember everything until I actually have to work with the new records for the first time?  

When you consider the situation from the user’s perspective, it’s easy to see why one-dimensional training concepts that focus solely on software functions and general changes often fall flat. Of course, it will always be essential to teach staff the new e-record-based working procedures in as much detail as possible. However, the problem is that this teaching rarely comes across as expected. After all, staff will only be prepared to learn and support change projects once their organization has addressed their uncertainties, clarified expectations and answered fundamental questions. 

A holistic training concept helps to break down barriers

This can only be achieved if staff are brought fully on board with the roll-out process for e-records and if the training concept deals with the various changes and requirements in each phase. To do that, it should answer three basic questions from the employee’s perspective:  

  • WHY? The reasons behind the change: Why is the document management system being switched over to electronic record keeping? How does an electronic management system benefit the organization and what advantages will digital record keeping offer me personally?  

  • WHAT? The forthcoming changes to procedures and tasks: What is going to change for me? What are the new processes and tasks that will have to be carried out in the future?  

  • HOW? Clarification of the new, uncertain situation: How will responsibilities, tasks and duties change for each individual? 

Answering these questions gives staff the information they consider necessary if they are to understand the planned switchover to digital documents and actively support the roll-out of e-records.  

The above questions become even more important when planning to implement e-records and similar solutions (also called ECM systems) in areas with special requirements. Examples include keeping digital personnel records, rolling out electronic forms in the judicial system and introducing electronic invoicing. 

5 Digital training components in the public sector 

To push through the far-reaching changes that are needed to switch administrative procedures from paper copies to electronic records and move on to transaction processing, it is a good idea to make targeted use of training components. Any roll-out of e-records or digital administrative work should therefore also specifically incorporate the use of electronic acceptance and training measures. When it comes to giving staff the skills they need and managing change, it is advisable to develop the following components: 

  1. A basic concept for training that addresses both initial and further training and provides a structural framework for ensuring public sector workers have the skills and qualifications relevant to digitalization. This concept helps when considering which measures are most suitable for the organization and the task at hand. 
  2. A training requirements analysis that covers all the target groups. This defines all the training content and formats so that differentiated training elements can be developed. 
  3. Ultimately, there should be a balanced mix of electronic and classic training media (an approach known as blended learning) that covers all organizational units of the public sector body. 
  4. Web-based training and electronic support tools in the workplace that complement in-person events and traditional, personal user support, which often takes the form of a telephone helpline.  
  5. A communication plan that sums up the benefits of the change and the measures that will support acceptance. 

Achieving digital administration through user adoption 

Employees should be encouraged to carry out their new tasks independently and seek support or further information as necessary. To ensure this works in practice and can become a natural part of the learning culture, public sector bodies must put in place the essentials for systematically building up user adoption. User adoption is the yardstick for employees’ attitudes to the e-record and the extent to which they embrace this new tool. It is crucial that the right tools and appropriate content are in place to help build up user adoption across the entire organization. It is only when everyone pulls together – from the senior hierarchy through to staff in the filing department – that e-records will have the desired effect and deliver the intended cost efficiencies in the public sector. 

Planning user adoption from the outset

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Given that there is never enough time and resources are always scarce, project managers and decision makers should take care from the very start to clarify how much they want to – and are able to – promote user adoption in their organization and which methods they will use. It can help to answer the following questions: 

  • Have adequate resources been planned for the cross-sectional “Training” sub-project and the “Process analysis” and “Process optimization, reorganization and software roll-out” sub-projects, so that staff can be given the skills and knowledge they need? 
  • How can the project break through routines and habitual workflows in the office? 
  • How can operations be safeguarded during the roll-out and training?  
  • Do staff and staff representatives have concerns about digital training formats? 
  • Does the current situation even allow the arrangement of in-person training for e-records? 
  • Are elements such as change management, training and user support adequately covered in the project’s budget? 

Checklist: Measures designed to promote user adoption

After answering these questions, the next task is to identify which measures are appropriate for the organization in question. The following checklist is designed to help ascertain which components may be of use. 


Recommended method of implementation as part of the transformation 

Change management 

  • Staff meeting – a classic format that gives the senior hierarchy the opportunity to introduce the issues in person 
  • Webinar – an electronic information-sharing format for larger groups and regular dates 
  • Project newsletter – regular updates about project achievements that have a motivational effect 
  • Motivational video – a digital format for getting across precisely framed motivational messages, and one that is permanently available 
  • Print media – using bold messages to grab employees’ attention and bring them along on the journey  
  • Qualifying change agents, digital pilots and digital experts who can clear up uncertainties by assisting staff with general and specific issues relating to the e-record solution  

The basics of the new e-record application / procedural workflows 

  • Web-based training (WBT) – an established electronic learning format that provides an interactive means of training staff in the new solution and business processes as part of a simulation 
  • Supporting the organization through the roll-out of e-records – having specialists on site or temporary floor walkers who can answer entry-level questions about issues such as accessing content, electronic record management, digital archiving and avoiding compliance problems 

Key aspects of work and specialist knowledge 

  • In-person or virtual training in classic group sizes of up to ten people – building on the basics and dealing with specific aspects 
  • WBTs for large user numbers and departments with high staff turnover or as a sustainable knowledge library 

User support 

  • Classic IT help desk – telephone support for user queries that arise during work 
  • Electronic step-by-step guides at the workplace provide brief context-specific instructions and answers to frequently asked questions, thereby easing the workload of the IT help desk team 
  • WBTs and guides are always available for staff who are new or want to refresh their memory 

Digital assistants 

  • Software at the workplace that collates all information materials centrally in one place and ensures all users can get exactly the help and information they need within the working process  
  • Step-by-step guides that show how to operate the user interface and functions for e-records 


When it comes to rolling out e-records successfully, utilizing them and ensuring their long-term success, it all comes down to the people involved. If organizations are to satisfy all relevant statutory requirements, leverage the many benefits of electronic record keeping and really boost cultural change in the public sector, they must secure the acceptance of their staff, utilize their expertise and motivate them to actively support the transition away from conventional paper documents and records. Achieving all that requires a change of perspective, an openness to new things and a willingness to let go of the old. 

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