Training for specialist procedures – a never-ending task for public authorities?
It’s a scenario we’ve all come across before. First you catch the flu, then all that lying down causes you to have issues with your back, too. It’s a similar situation when it comes to the major undertaking of updating public administration processes in Germany. Just as it became clear that the original objectives of the Online Access Act (Onlinezugangsgesetz, OZG) would not be achieved, and even more effort would be required to modernize the interface with the public, focus shifted to the back end of things, especially the specialist procedures that help the public sector fulfill its statutory tasks with IT support.
As a result, representatives from several cities put forward the “Dresden Demands” in mid-2021. These demands pushed for the OZG to be seen as a means of driving forward the end-to-end digitalization of administration processes and for cutting-edge specialist procedures to take some of the burden off local authorities. Just recently, the leading German business associations made their opinion clear in a position paper. Focusing on a crisis-resistant state apparatus capable of innovation, their demands include the systematic electronic processing of civic services.
Electronic procedures actually increase workload
Changing expectations are among the primary reasons why calls are growing for outdated specialist procedures to be completely digitalized. After all, when people are able to use a website to register a change of address or apply for student grants, planning permission, or family allowance, they also expect faster processing and quicker decisions.
In many cases, the opposite is true, however. Procedures and systems are technologically outdated. At the same time, requirements for things to be submitted as hard copies and the ongoing lack of upgraded registers mean even new procedures don’t run smoothly and are not automated. In other words, even the expectations employees have of what digitalization can do for public authorities are still far from being met. Instead of seeing added value, they are experiencing higher levels of complexity, and far from being reduced, their workload is actually increased.
Systematization of processes makes things easier
The good news is, however, that federal and state governments have formed development groups to drive forward the development of electronic procedures, or at least are following the principle of “one for all”. All 16 German states and around 11,000 district authorities, in some cases using several hundred procedures, therefore have no need to come up with or maintain solutions themselves. This approach enables solutions to be used by other authorities, too, saving significantly on resources, while also ensuring standardization and interoperability.
One example of this is the joint procedure for the justice department. In the future, all justice staff in the courts and prosecutor’s offices in all 16 German states will have access to this. Another new and extremely effective software project is MODUL-F from the IT and Digitalization Department of the Hamburg Senate Chancellery. This involves developing a central modular system of services that can be combined by any of the authorities that go on to use it from 2023. The contents of the modular system range from application registration and processing to data storage in the archive and automated transfer of information into the relevant e-records.
However, the extent to which these new developments really make life easier will only become clear in retrospect. What’s more, the IT procedures are always having to be adapted to changing legal standards, workflows and new interfaces. In addition to the individual members of staff, the authorities themselves also need to keep adapting to changes in the requirements as quickly as possible – and this represents a real challenge.
Markus Richter, CIO of the German Federal Government
Staff attitude is key
As the implementation challenges already described show, technical innovation on its own is not a solution. After all, whether it is outdated procedures or approaches, new one-for-all software or collaborations between federal and state governments, the staff always have to be instructed on how to use the service applications correctly. The people in the administrative offices are therefore key to the success of the projects. It is their acceptance, attitude and skills that will ultimately determine the success of any roll-out of updated specialist procedures and how well they deal with these systems.
The people at federal and state level who are responsible for the roll-out are well aware of this, as Markus Richter, CIO of the German Federal Government, stated in an interview, for example: “It’s about having the skills to navigate rapidly changing circumstances, engage with them, see them as an opportunity, and to shape things.” It is a similar picture with public authorities. Generally, they offer electronic training courses to accompany the roll-out of new IT procedures so as to ensure the electronic procedure is implemented reliably. However, there remains a question mark over whether this isolated support is sufficient, even where there is a high level of take-up. After all, the staff are constantly coming across changes or new content, and if they don’t have the key information needed to continue with their work, they keep having to interrupt what they are doing to go find out.
Complex demands for training
A much more effective way of achieving the required level of agility is to place more responsibility for ongoing training in public authority offices on the staff themselves. In this way, the matter of technical and specialist training does not become a constant work in progress, and the amount of training remains at a reasonable level. After all, these kinds of specialist procedures place particularly complex demands on training.
- Depending on the area in which the IT procedure is to be used, the target group could comprise a few individuals or whole departments.
- Training needs are highly individual, because staff members are responsible for different parts of the administrative chain – from processing to archiving.
- Process training can’t be done on a “one size fits all” basis, because workflows are defined in very different ways – some are overarching, while others may cover a single unit or department.
Winning the support of staff for new business processes
For staff to have the courage to organize themselves, manage themselves and take responsibility for themselves, they have to first understand the broader context of the upgrades and what exactly the associated change will mean for them. If they are to accept and actively support the use of electronic procedures to its full extent, they must be informed at an early stage – preferably by the management team. The questions they want answers to are:
- Why are the existing procedures being replaced by business process that are, in some cases, very much simplified? What added value do the new procedures offer, and what will I personally gain from using them?
- Which new processes and tasks will be carried out using the electronic procedures? Are there any content changes?
- How will responsibilities change for me personally as a result of the new procedures?
Providing structured answers to these questions in the course of a training and communication concept helps alleviate fears and highlight opportunities. At the same time, this approach boosts motivation to learn how to deal with new things and try out innovative forms of collaboration.
New procedures call for new training strategies
Addressing these questions also offers a solid basis for a training needs analysis. This helps identify the training modules that are necessary for successfully rolling out the new procedures. Public authorities generally use a mixture of conventional and electronic training formats for this, in the form of blended learning courses. However, there is a clear trend toward virtual training formats such as web-based training and virtual classrooms. This is far from the end of the road as far as training is concerned – there are even more innovative techniques.
For example, more and more organizations of all sizes and from all sectors are also turning to intelligent platforms that encourage digital adoption – that is to say, the acceptance of new technologies, processes and software. The platforms provide a long-term basis for centralizing existing knowledge and delivering information to users exactly when they need it – customized to their individual role and task.
Digital adoption platforms – turbo boosting procedures
The decisive added value offered by this kind of digital adoption platform (DAP) is that it brings training into the workplace and places it broadly in the hands of staff. This cuts down the training outlay and training workload considerably ahead of the roll-out. At the same time, users get access to precisely the information they need, at any time, in any application, whether they are in the office or working from home. This information could be in the form of step-by-step guides, process guidance, documentation, or useful advice.
You could say DAPs are something of a turbo booster for digital transformation. That is why leading analysts and corporate consultants are also advocating greater use of these platforms. For example, the “Market Guide for Digital Adoption Platforms” published by Gartner in 2022 says: “Organizations seeking to accelerate digital transformation must enable employees to easily adopt new and changing technology. Application leaders should examine digital adoption platform providers that enable employees and/or customers to better adopt technology and perform at a higher level.”
Of course, there can also be arguments against using a digital adoption platform for upgrading administrative processes, especially budget limitations and a shortage of staff resources in public authorities. On the other hand, there is no time for dithering or going off half-cocked. Public authorities have proved plenty of times that they are prepared to prune out the dead wood. Perhaps they are also prepared to dare to be really innovative when it comes to ongoing training.