Tag Archive for: Public Sector Transformation

“The public sector needs more dialogue and less garden-variety thinking”

In order for the public sector in Switzerland to really take off digitally, there needs to be a cultural change in which all those involved have to overcome the “garden-variety thinking” that often still prevails. Thefederal government, cantons and municipalitiesinparticular should network more closely beyond their borders, says e-government expert Alain Gut, Director of Public Affairs at IBM Switzerland. From your point of view, how has the public sector transformed over the past five years from a business perspective? Are you satisfied with today’s maturity? The public sector has improved technologically in the last five years, but only very slowly. It still takes a lot of time to get to grips with new technologies and their possible influences and then to initiate corresponding projects. One benchmark in the public sector continues to be progress in eGovernment, and Switzerland is not really making much progress in this area. In comparison with other countries, we are not necessarily getting worse, but the others are getting better. In this sense, we can’t be satisfied with the Matura either. We are years behind with important basic services such as a functioning and widespread E-ID. Although we are (still) considered an innovative country, it is difficult for the public sector to accept and implement new developments. Political framework conditions and our pronounced federal system do not help to ensure a little more flexibility and sometimes speed. When we talk about transformation: Where should the public sector go? What are the expectations of the economy? One major obstacle to transformation is certainly procurement law, which imposes very tight constraints on both the administration and the providers. This also means that larger projects take a very long time and are often in need of “renovation” by the time they are implemented. With more dialogue (this is provided for in the old as well as the new procurement law), better and more innovative solutions could certainly be found. In addition, it is absolutely essential that a cultural change takes hold in the public sector. With today’s and tomorrow’s technological possibilities and the necessity of continuous end-to-end processes, the “garden-variety thinking” of departments, directorates, divisions and offices must become a thing of the past. This requires the political will and the necessary technological understanding of the executive and an administration that, as one unit, enables its customers, the citizens and the companies, to have modern and simple interactions around the clock. How does innovation happen in the public sector? This is a question that has occupied me ever since I have been involved in the public sector, and that is quite a few years now. What are the characteristics of an innovative culture? They certainly include creativity, trust in employees and the acceptance of mistakes – in other words, you have to be prepared to take risks – and a distinct and transparent communication behaviour. It is certainly not presumptuous to claim that these are not the distinctive behavioural characteristics of an administration. Moreover, procurement law almost does not allow the public sector to conduct pilot projects or tests together with suppliers. On the one hand, the administration wants to avoid invitations to tender for this, if possible, and on the other hand, providers do not want to expose themselves to a preliminary consultation and contribute know-how without being able to count on a corresponding contract. Innovation therefore needs an appropriate cultural environment and framework conditions that allow for innovative ideas. The OECD has developed a framework that summarises the problem very well: People, Knowledge, Ways of working, Rules and processes. On 20 November 2019, the Federal Council adopted the eGovernment Strategy Switzerland 2020-2023. The binding regulation of cooperation between the Confederation, cantons and municipalities is emphasised in this strategy. In this context, the final report of the “Digital Administration” project of the FDF and the CCC, which was published at the end of October, mentions three variants, according to which the third variant is the establishment of an authority that would be responsible primarily for transversal matters. Whatdo you think of the proposed models? It is gratifying that it has been recognised at all levels that a change in strategy is needed in the area of eGovernment and digital administration in order to be able to master the technological challenges. The proposed models are a typical Swiss compromise. Actually, everyone wants the best, third variant, but they are aware that in our federal system the necessary (legal) framework makes this (almost) impossible and takes a lot of time. The pressure for a nationally coordinated solution is probably also too low; our administrative apparatus still functions too well for that. The police forces also have a comparable project with HPi (Harmonisation of Swiss Police IT). After eight years, the results achieved are manageable and many hurdles of an organisational, legal and project-related nature had to be overcome. The “Digital Administration” project is about governance and cooperation. Should we urgently put other aspects on the agenda? The “Digital Administration” project covers the most important areas such as strategy, standards, innovation, services and networking very well. As always, it is not the strategy itself that matters, but how the strategy can be implemented. In principle, it is understandable that the Confederation, the cantons and the municipalities see themselves as responsible. That is certainly right. It would be desirable if there were more cooperation with the economy and science. Whether this takes place in the form of PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) or in working groups is secondary. What is important is the exchange of ideas and possibilities, working together to find the best solutions and the broad anchoring of results at all levels of government, especially among the population. We have invested a lot in projects and services in recent years. Brussels gives us bad marks because we are lagging behind in an international comparison in the area of basic services (cf. EU benchmark 2019). Which basic services should be prioritised? What is planned in concrete terms? Where do you see the challenges? Certainly, electronic identity, digital mail (electronic sending of documents and information between the state and the population/companies), eDocuments (documents can be securely downloaded and uploaded) and authentic sources (authorities fill out forms with known data in advance) should be prioritised. The basis of all this, however, is the electronic identity. It is in itself a prerequisite for all official processes. Switzerland’s new eGovernment strategy provides for corresponding measures in the area of basic services and infrastructure. Standards and interfaces must be created for this purpose. Without these, identity, access and data management can hardly be implemented. The Confederation, cantons and municipalities are challenged here. However, it must always be borne in mind that Switzerland is not on an island. The interfaces must also enable electronic exchange with other countries, especially from the EU. A referendum is likely to be held against the E-ID bill. Opponents of the bill believe that proof of identity is a sovereign task that cannot be left to the economy. Is this basically a question of trust or rather the role of the state in the digital age? It is about both. The state must in itself be able to offer an electronic identity. Why it does not want to do this under the new E-ID law is a matter in itself. The idea is that the state will check the identity and that the solution itself will be provided by third parties. Whether the state can be forced to do this by a possible referendum remains to be seen. Nor is this an ideal starting position and would delay the introduction of electronic identity by years. More important than who issues it is that the solution fulfils the necessary “blindness”, i.e. that no one – not even the issuer of the E-ID – can see who has carried out a transaction with whom. This is the prerequisite for trust in the electronic identity. The role of the state in the digital age is an exciting and still unresolved question and will require an intensive dialogue between the state, the population, companies and, above all, politics. At a panel discussion at the2019 networking event “Digital Administration for the Benefit of All”, Michel Huissoud, Director of the Federal Audit Office , proposed taking a constitutional initiative to redesign the administration of basic registers.Would this be the right approach to launch the public discourse on the topic of data policy? A constitutional initiative would certainly be one way to launch a broad discussion on the topic of data policy. However, there are already some efforts to raise awareness about the handling of data and to bring it onto the political stage. Open government data, data governance, data portability and Swiss Data Space are just some of the terms that are relevant in the context of a data policy. For Europe, IBM has developed such a vision for the year 2024 – “For a responsible, open and inclusive digital Europe”. An accepted data policy is necessary not only for eGovernment, but also for initiatives such as eHealth or eMobility. Open data as the new raw material not only of digital administration, legal requirements and framework conditions that make Switzerland an attractive data location must be the goals of data policy. After the major scandals involving social media platforms that spread dangerous information and misuse personal data to an unprecedented extent, there is in itself a high degree of sensitivity to the topic of data. But here, too, the administration, the economy, science and politics are needed. Only together can a data policy be established. In your opinion, which topics should be included in the political discourse? Is the Swiss public sector ready for artificial intelligence? Basically, the public sector should deal with all new technologies. Whether blockchain, artificial intelligence, quantum computing or hybrid clouds, they will all influence the public sector. However, it will be necessary for the public sector to integrate both the traditional and the new systems. This requires both business expertise and knowledge of new technologies. It is actually not only a matter of “integrating” them with each other, but also of transferring them into each other. A culture of agility and innovation is becoming increasingly important. Understanding an administrative process and how technology can be embedded in that process will be the key factor for the future success of the public sector. In this sense, people are also not (yet) ready for a concrete use of artificial intelligence. And here, too, it is important to keep regulation in check. The Federal Chancellery (with NZZLibro) has just issueda publication on Switzerland 2030 :What does digital administration look like in 2030? And based on that: What are the next steps? There are only ten years left for digital administration 2030. That is very little time for the administration. However, if we succeed in implementing all strategies – such as the eGovernment Strategy or the Digital Administration Strategy – as planned, Switzerland will certainly be in a better position than it is today. However, there is a great danger that we will not succeed in introducing new technologies, such as 5G, in time. The Confederation has an important role to play here in sensitising the population in advance and preparing the relevant information. Digitalisation is increasingly becoming the driving force for innovation in the economy and society. It is necessary to proactively seize the opportunities of this transformation in order to position Switzerland as an innovative and competitive business location in the future. It is therefore important that employees in the public sector – regardless of whether they are men or women – are given new perspectives and are appropriately empowered for the new jobs and skills. Let’s see digitalisation as an opportunity – also for the public sector!


About the person

Dr Alain Gut is Director of Public Affairs at IBM Switzerland. He is involved in numerous commissions and committees on the topics of education and IT, cyber security, mobility and data policy.

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EasyGov.swiss: eGovernment according to the needs of businesses

Two years ago, the then Minister of Economic Affairs, Johann Schneider-Ammann, announced the new online platform of the authorities: “The EasyGov.swiss online counter brings administrative relief to SMEs”. At the beginning of December 2019, the third major expansion of EasyGov with new services for public authorities took place. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO is thus demonstrating that e-government is possible at a high level in a federal state The goals set are high: on EasyGov, government services are to be made available in such a way that they can be used from a single source without special knowledge of government responsibilities and without specialised technical knowledge. “The business processes of the administration will be consistently aligned with user needs, simplified, standardised and optimised in terms of their efficiency,” states the Confederation’s “Digital Switzerland” strategy. “The most important principle of EasyGov is customer centricity,” Martin Godel, head of SME policy at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, tells governmenttobusiness.com. In order to know the needs of businesses in the area of eGovernment, these were surveyed at the beginning of 2019 in the second National eGovernment Study in collaboration with eGovernment Switzerland. For example, 60 percent of businesses are of the opinion that finding government offerings makes them most difficult to use. This is precisely why the central goal of EasyGov is to offer a bundled range of government services on a single platform. Step by step, a one-stop shop is to be set up on which companies can process all public authority services offered via a single account with uniform user guidance. In this way, regularly required company data such as address data or the commercial register number only have to be entered once. EasyGov thus already fulfils the once-only principle, which the EU has defined as a benchmark for good e-government solutions.

Three major updates in two years

SECO also takes into account the wishes of businesses as far as possible in the order in which new administrative procedures are launched. For example, the ten most common changes to the commercial register were integrated a year ago and all debt collection offices were connected last summer. With the current update from the beginning of December 2019, wage declarations can now also be transmitted to SUVA. All of these official procedures were at the top of the companies’ list of priorities. Since its launch in November 2017, EasyGov has already undergone three major updates. At the beginning, the platform was used in particular by founders, who can complete all the necessary official procedures for setting up a company online, from registration with the commercial register to VAT, social security and accident insurance. With the latest updates, EasyGov has now also become more attractive for existing companies.

E-Government in a federal state

EasyGov is part of the strategy of eGovernment Switzerland, the organisation of the Confederation, cantons and municipalities for the expansion of electronic government services. Every time new services are launched, new authorities must be involved. This is always a great challenge for Martin Godel’s team. “We can’t order the authorities to do anything, we have to convince them of the benefits each time,” Martin Godel recently told Radio RTS. Many public administrations today operate portals with correspondingly high costs for development, operation, maintenance, support and personnel. These costs could be saved by the authorities choosing EasyGov as their portal and focusing their activities on their core business – the processing of the actual authority process. Furthermore, this usually goes hand in hand with a higher standard of development and customer friendliness, as EasyGov offers many things that most platforms cannot provide. For example, a customer service desk is part of the EasyGov package, where SMEs can call from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in four languages. The ambitious approach of building a one-stop shop for government services in a federal state requires good stakeholder engagement and staying power. Each launch of a new service goes through the same process. This project management allows new government services to be offered to companies every six months or so.


Services offered by EasyGov.swiss Version 1.5

Currently EasyGov offers the following government services:

  1. Company formation
  2. Registrations with: a) Commercial Register, b) AHV (Compensation Funds), c) Value Added Tax and d) Accident Insurance (Suva and Private Insurers)
  3. Commercial register changes with cross-cantonal relocations of registered offices and public certifications
  4. Debt collection and debt collection information for companies, associations, foundations, cooperatives and private individuals
  5. Guarantees for SMEs The guarantee cooperatives recognised by the Confederation provide SMEs with easier access to bank loans. SMEs can contact the relevant guarantee organisation via EasyGov.
  6. Suva wage declarations Companies without their own payroll accounting software can enter their wage data directly in EasyGov and then transmit it to Suva.
  7. Licensing database Overview of professions requiring a licence and regulated professions in Switzerland at federal, cantonal and municipal level.
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January issue: Digital Administration Switzerland – from integration to transformation

There is a consensus that we are doing well in Switzerland – our health system, security as well as education, to name just a few examples, are top notch. The challenge is to do the right thing today – so that it will still be good to live and work here in 20 years’ time. Looking at the European market enables us to connect – in the legal, organisational and technical sense and shows us trends that we can put on the agenda ourselves. Let’s think, for example, of the once-only principle. Poor rankings from EU studies are an incentive to build up political pressure here in the country. Trend reports from the OECD are impulses for reflecting on our innovative strength. The Innovation Index of Cornell University and INSEAD has been published – we are No. 1 among the Innovation Leaders. Switzerland is top for knowledge and outputs in technology and creativity. So far, all good. But according to the European Commission’s eGovernment Benchmark 2019, we have some catching up to do: a lack of basic services leads Brussels to rate our performance poorly. We have put a focus on projects and services; now it’s a matter of implementing the digital data infrastructure. International analyses are not only quantitative and related to rankings. The OECD’s Observatory Public Sector Innovation collects concrete use cases and then clusters them into trends. It is not only about digitalisation – sometimes it is precisely the examination of other approaches that is enriching. For example, the city of Amsterdam is adopting the Airbnb concept for state buildings – it’s about meaningful interim use when they are empty. It is about addressing concrete challenges of a social, economic or ecological nature with innovative approaches. The current strategy period for eGovernment Switzerland came to an end in 2019: With the new year, the eGovernment Strategy Switzerland 2020-2023 of the Confederation, cantons and municipalities will enter into force. At the end of November, eGovernment Switzerland conducted an assessment of the current situation and examined the fundamental question of how the digitisation of the administration can develop the greatest possible benefit for society (more information here). In academia, we talk about a maturity model for the digital transformation of the state. While in recent years we have focused on optimising processes, improving data storage and – for us centrally – on inter-agency cooperation, now everything increasingly revolves around the smart state, which combines new resources with knowledge and know-how in order to approach concrete problems, make decisions or provide services. Switzerland has passed the communication and transaction phase and is currently in the integration phase – the National Address Service is a good example of this. From a research perspective, the question of how we reach the final maturity stage of this model is exciting. Three directions for the digital transformation of the state can be identified:

  • The openness of the state to decision-making and service delivery,
  • the relevance of trust in state action, and infrastructure as an enabler
  • the whole area around data and services based on it.

Towards transformation, the following fields of action must be kept on the radar:

  • We need to invest in digital competences and skills and empower leadership in digital transformation
  • It is about thinking about how we can advance “good data governance” in the federal system and according to which principles we want to exchange data and reuse it within the authorities
  • And: We need experimental spaces – besides the daily business – where we can get out of our comfort zone and experiment with new things.

In this issue, you can read how the federal administration’s new human resources strategy focuses on the challenges of digital transformation, how innovation in the public sector can be driven forward from the perspective of the private sector, or how governance is playing an increasingly important role from a political perspective. I wish you an exciting read.

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April issue: e-government does its homework

E-Government has set out to catch up on its homework. In this issue, you will learn, among other things, how chatbots can also be used in the administration in the future, how the tourism industry is being made fit for higher web semantics and how educational identity is being introduced in schools. It should also be mentioned that Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer’s initiative is bearing fruit and the eGovernment Roundtable is not only establishing itself in the federal administration, but is also opening up to the cantons. It’s good to see that things are moving forward. I’m happy to provide a few more suggestions that have been successfully implemented abroad for a long time. But I am pleased that something is happening. That after talking comes doing. And that there is a real exchange about doing! What is sad, of course, is that the every-man-for-himself project attitude is still omnipresent. “We solved the problem a long time ago” – is the popular response, for example to educational identity. Or worse: “Facebook and Google have been doing that for a long time. They can do it much better than the administration!” Not to mention the demands to use services that were designed with bureaucracy in mind from the start. Motto: “The will counts, not the quality I have taken myself by the nose and changed sides in the discussion about the eID. Even if the bill currently before parliament is only the second best, it is much better than waiting another three years. I therefore fully support it. It is urgent that it is passed and that the private sector then offers the appropriate solutions as soon as possible! New problems are being added to this old attitude that has not yet been overcome: or – depending on one’s point of view – are joining them. Ready-built solutions including support for the first year of use cannot even be given away. Example: IDV (Identity Network Switzerland). And fully functioning systems have to be replaced by new systems, which inevitably have lower maturity and less functionality. Example: GEVER in those federal offices that have digital document management under control. At some point, the new e-government strategy will explain to us how all this will move us forward. We’re waiting for it, but you can’t say we’re excited. What is important at the moment is that the homework that has accumulated is actually done. Perhaps Swiss e-government will make it into the “Gymi”. At least with a little coaching. But that still has time! For now, work has to be done. So that the next major national project has a suitable foundation – and not, as in the case of the educational identity, fundamental work that has to be done under great time pressure. The motto of the digital present is “preparation instead of planning! This also applies to the administration. I wish you interesting insights while reading the April issue of Societybyte. Yours sincerely, Reinhard Riedl

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