Interview with Michael Tschichholz, Competence Center for Electronic Government and Applications, Germany

Based in Berlin, Michael Tschichholz is director of Germany’s Competence Center for Electronic Government and Applications . During his visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for the 2007 Lac Carling Congress , he sat down with senior writer Lisa Williams to discuss Germany’s ambitious e-Government 2.0 program and the headway they’re making on their national ID strategy. Tschichholz also believes there’s a lot to be learned, by politicians and citizens alike, from Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion . Excerpts from their conversation follow.

Q. What is Germany’s e-Government 2.0 program all about and how does it relate to the national ID card strategy?

A. The idea behind the e-Gov 2.0 program is to set up the required infrastructure to conduct electronic business and electronic government efficiently. This required first that the citizen be identified by electronic means for government and business processes.

There was long discussion in Germany regarding electronic signatures . But these talks have not yet led to the use of electronic signatures because the infrastructure is expensive and nobody wants to pay for it. Yet, an implementation for this exists, and there’s an idea that this could be aligned with banking cards.

In the context of the e-Gov 2.0 program, they decided to put electronic credentials on the new ID cards , which each German has, in addition to passports.

In Germany, you can use your ID card to cross borders in all of Europe and it contains your home address and your age, name, etc. This card will be replaced by a similar card which has an electronic chip on it that contains your credentials in order to conduct government and business processes. This would be a good basis to establish further electronic processes for businesses and for transactions regarding government.

The next important thing they want to have is an electronic address for citizens, so that documents which are being provided by the government can be delivered to this e-address.

In addition to this electronic address, we’d provide a data safe where you can store documents. Access to these documents could be provided as needed for public servants, or you can set up electronic means for business processes and administration. Provisioning of this infrastructure should be made by private companies that offer mail systems.

After e-Gov 2.0, we have identified a further eight processes which would support businesses as well as these above-mentioned processes, and there will be funding to implement them. For example, ships going into the harbour: processes such as this would be made more efficient for government and customs officials.

Q. Where would the funding come from for these processes?

A. The funding would come from the German national government . In addition to e-Gov 2.0, there is a national program called Deutsch Online (Germany Online), which has been defined at all levels of administration: at the national, state and municipal levels.

Five major projects have been identified. One would be to improve standards, as standards for e-government architecture have been defined, as well as standards of general concepts on how technology should be used for e-government, in addition to the basic standards. There is a set of application-specific standards called the xml standards for public administration , and further defined standards for citizen registration .

For example, this would make it easier for the citizen to change their information when moving from one city to another. When they move to the new city, there’s an electronic process in place to get the data from the old city to the registry of the new city, so the whole process has been simplified. Based on the same principles, standards have been defined for other processes like birth and death registration.

Step by step, major processes will be standardized, and we are currently working on a service map for Germany, where we’ll identify the major processes which need to be standardized, such as moving traditional paper-based processes to re-integrated IT-based processes .

Q. With the introduction of the Germany Online project, how many citizens are accessing services online?

A. The demand from citizens is not big yet; it differs from region to region. If in specific cities there’s a good advertisement for e-government, and there’s a good infrastructure, then citizens accept electronic use of services from the city. This is the case in Hamburg, Berlin, and also in regions that are quite far developed, but this could not be said for Germany in general. Although the services are being provided, often citizens and even businesses are not aware that these services exist.

It’s an advertisement problem, that these target groups don’t know what’s available, but great improvements have been made to communicate these services. Maybe if we get an electronic ID card , this will bring citizens closer to electronic services because they will have something in their hand which gives them the opportunity to access specific services.

Based in Berlin, Michael Tschichholz is director of Germany’s Competence Center for Electronic Government and Applications. During his visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for the 2007 Lac Carling Congress, he sat down with senior writer Lisa Williams to discuss Germany’s ambitious e-Government 2.0 program and the headway they’re making on their national ID strategy. Tschichholz also believes there’s a lot to be learned, by politicians and citizens alike, from Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. Excerpts from their conversation follow.

Q. Can you elaborate on your 115 initiative (it’s similar to 311 in Canada)?

A. There was a meeting at the national level where industry, science and government were invited to a meeting in the U.S. at the Ministry of Interior. We examined several themes, including e-government and e-health. In the context of this meeting, the idea (115) was taken to the political level.

It would be useful if the idea of 311 from New York and other cities in America would be adapted in Germany. At these meetings, it was decided that such a project could be the beginning to provide such a number on a national level. But it’s not yet clear how to implement this.

In the context of the Germany Online program, where five cross-projects have been identified, there are two new projects that will start this year. One is the 115 project, and the other is related to the open service directive, which requires setting up companies within five working days.

There are a lot of implications with infrastructure, directory systems and services, and it also requires systems to become more interoperable. That’s a big step to be implemented.

Q. In 2001, over 400 services were online in Germany. What kinds of processes were involved to make that happen?

A. The idea in 2000 was from then Prime Minister [Gerhard] Schroeder as part of an initiative that government services should become available on the Internet, and the definition of e-government in the context of this program was providing services via the Internet.

The first year of the plan involved identification of processes. Standardization activities had been started, and in the first year I think 330 services were identified to be taken into account. The final year involved transaction-oriented processes that are much more complex. After the program was finished in 2005, 414 services had been established.

Q. You also have an e-government i2010 action plan…

A. That’s an action plan from the 2010 Commission, which defined an information society. It’s a very general plan to use technology for the benefit of European citizens and European businesses.

There had been a plan called e-2005, and now it’s called i2010, which has been improved. One of the major objectives of this plan is to set up infrastructure for the e-government processes all around Europe that could be handled not only within one country but across boundaries.

The whole service directive is one step, one concrete directive, in testing the implications of the e-government infrastructure in the country. This would be available via one-stop shopping: one unique entity where you can go if someone wants to start a business or service within the country or other European countries. This would reduce the barriers between countries for firms conducting business throughout Europe.

Q. You’ve touched on the need for seamless processes in e-government: is that the objective with each of these initiatives?

A. Yes, but regarding the 2005 program, they did not have such a broad view initially. They had only the view to bring e-government to the Internet, and what the implications were. This was not to implement IT systems based on old services, but to consider which services were really required. The reduction of bureaucracy is one aspect of this, and the whole process needs to be redefined and made more efficient.

Our view involves not only the technology aspect. You need to have a strategy. And at the political level, politicians should be proactive in handling the re-organization of the business. The Mayor of Mississauga (Hazel McCallion) had the right idea when she said, “I run the city as a business.” You can learn a lot from that. In some cities in Germany, they did also try to approach it more from a business perspective. But that’s a big change.

Lisa Williams is a senior writer with She can be reached at [email protected]

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