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The coronavirus pandemic is forcing local government to provide services online according to a study commissioned by digital association Bitkom in partnership with the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. According to the representative survey of more than one thousand people, almost half of all local government offices (47 percent) have introduced new online services since the start of the pandemic.
Of those surveyed, two thirds (66 percent) believe that the Covid-19 crisis has contributed to accelerate digitalization efforts in local government. “During the coronavirus crisis many towns and municipalities have begun setting up online services out of nowhere, have given up requirements for written forms in record time, made it possible to fill in forms online and have ensured people no longer have to appear in person. This has been well received by the general public” said Dr. Bernhard Rohleder, managing director of Bitkom.
More than half of those surveyed for the Bitkom study believe that their own municipality will increase their digital budget for the year, with local authorities investing most in administration, IT infrastructure and data security.
The digital transformation of the public sector in Germany is part of a longstanding and far-reaching reform focused on the digitalization and de-bureaucratization of public services. In January, federal and state governments signed the Online Access Act (OAA) – itself part of the nine-point plan for a digital Germany – to expand online administrative services. The act obliges federal, state and local governments to offer their administrative services digitally by the end of 2022.
The German government is making EUR 3 billion available to accelerate OAA implementation and provide targeted support for the federal states (particularly in cases where the “One for All” common architecture concept is implemented) as part of the Coronavirus stimulus package agreed in June 2020.
Around 50 percent of available stimulus funds will be made available for federal OAA implementation (20 percent set aside for the federal program and 30 percent for digital infrastructure).
Demand for start-up services in the course of public service digitalization is also coming to the fore and being used more according to a study conducted by the Public Governance Institute. Public authorities are becoming bolder and more frequently commissioning start-ups in their digitalization efforts.
One start-up has already been commissioned by a number of northern German states to roll out a secure messaging system – sending out a clear signal that local government is giving more space to innovative ideas. The “Us versus the Virus” (WirVsVirus) Hackathon in March 2020 already provided a foretaste of this development, with over 150 projects making their way into implementation as part of the initiative to develop digital solutions to the many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In November of last year a number of start-ups – including Breeze, the winner of the inaugural “Start-up Games” competition organized by the federal government’s Digital Hub Initiative – demonstrated how their innovations were helping transform the public sector at the “my government” event organized by the Public Governance Institute.
The digital push is helping drive the development and use of data platforms in towns and cities across the country. The data created has wider use beyond dealing with the ongoing pandemic as it can also be used to promote the development of smart city models as well as the use of new urban technologies. This is in turn creating new business opportunities for innovative start-ups and companies active in the smart city sector.