The pandemic revealed in health authorities what many citizens had to experience for a long time in public administrations: motivated clerks with analog technology and inconsistent media communication.
Now there is the chance for the health authorities to digitally upgrade themselves for the tasks of health protection according to the possibilities of the 21st century.
“We have always done it that way” – a phrase with fatal consequences for authorities. “We have always written with typewriters. We have always filed correspondence and faxing saves us the trip to the post office. ”
Nowadays we experience offices mostly inefficient, technically not in accordance with the current standards and therefore working slowly. The modernization and adaptation of their systems has passed by for too long.
Rigid procedural procedures, extrinsically motivated – because poor perspective – administrative employees and outdated systems plus a lack of IT know-how do not allow authorities to work much differently than in the court chamber of the prince-bishops in the Middle Ages. Only a pandemic and the associated massive flood of work was able to give the authorities a terrifying insight into the current state of their data efficiency and thus draw attention to the urgent need for action.
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But how did this retrograde situation come about, how did municipalities and state authorities work past the age of digitization and are technically inferior to a commercially available smartphone today?
How could health authorities not meet the demands and needs of their citizens for so long?
Is it the sleepy investments in the revision of the systems or the focus on data protection and IT security?
Or can wrong political decisions, which should only serve the re-election of the individual politicians, be held responsible? Did staff councils advocate a misunderstood accessibility and protection for their employees, which even the commonly used operating system such as Windows or software applications such as Excel, Word or Powerpoint prevented?
It is clear that there is a development-hindering, toxic culture towards digital processes in many authorities, although public administrations should be professionals in administrative processes.
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Regardless of the background to the missed modernization, authorities must now offer digitized and updated options that meet the needs of citizens.
This includes the expansion of the offer to include the possibility of digitized appointments, exchange and verification via videophone, internal and external chat functions, the download of automated reporting information and free of digital hurdles as well as communication via standardized media. In addition, authorities should be able to communicate with each other digitally, i.e. there should be no rigid, vertically directed top-down communication, but a matrix connection with dynamic interfaces so that a transparent flow of information is guaranteed.
Health authorities are often at the technical level of the 90s
What is most necessary, however, is the move away from individual software island solutions in order to promote the centralization of applications with modular expansion options. Health authorities often work with specialist applications that correspond to a level of development from the 1990s – this does not only apply to the surfaces. Many specialized processes are characterized by less user-friendly, hidden functionalities, a lack of interface capabilities and hardly any dynamic expansion options. Uniform platforms and uniform interface and database standards (technology) could easily be created:
They enable digital communication on a vertical as well as horizontal level as well as simple data comparison.
The open source project Sormas from the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research offers the ideal platform for this.
A cultural change is required in the authorities
The open source code offers the possibility of faster error identification and modular expandability, with which health authorities could map their specialist procedures on one platform and replace the inflexible applications.
This could possibly be the beginning of a digital upheaval in the health authorities – and it is high time that one took place. A cultural change is required in the authorities – a change from orientation towards the court chamber of the prince-bishops to orientation towards corporate realities, in order to force an agile change from lame bureaucracy to citizen-oriented efficiency.
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But it also requires an internal change in the attitude of the employees in the administration – one from stubborn processing according to scheme F to an individual advisory function for citizens.
A cultural change supported by investments has a direct influence on the employees of the administration: If investments are made in digital technology, user-friendliness and functionality of specialized processes, this is also an investment for the employees of the authorities and an appreciation of those who play such an important role in the have public life in the pandemic.
Germany is currently in eleventh place in the EU’s digitization ranking (DESI). The Online Access Act (OZG) obligates authorities to ensure that all services for citizens must be offered online by 2022. Accordingly, the authorities are facing a Herculean task – time is short. For too long, the institutions have been in a deep slumber, for too long digitalization opportunities have been ignored – investments must now be made, especially in times of pandemics.