Politicians must get creative, says German e-government expert

There is a need for seamless process in the delivery of e-government services across all levels, but the challenge to this process is bureaucracy, according to Michael Tschichholz in his keynote address yesterday to delegates at the 2007 Lac Carling Congress at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Tschichholz, director of e-government at the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems in Berlin, Germany, stressed the importance for government to identify where the services are required, and then to act accordingly.

“The whole process of service development needs to be redefined and made more efficient,” says Tschichholz. “In our view, not only is the technology important, but so are the strategy and the application principles. Politicians need to be more proactive in running their organizations.

“The challenge is to move from traditional, inefficient processes to those that are seamless and integrated,” says Tschichholz. “Politicians should be more creative decision-makers, instead of bureaucratic.”

He says politicians should take their cue from “Hurricane Hazel” McCallion, the long-serving mayor of Mississauga, Ont. At an earlier presentation, McCallion espoused the need to run a city as an enterprise business. “I think politicians could learn a lot from her,” says Tschichholz.

Tschichholz notes Canada is one of the leading countries in the provision of e-government services to citizens, while Germany is “a little behind.”
Unlike Canada, where most homes now have a computer and Internet access, Germans have yet to embrace the Web as wholeheartedly as their Canadian counterparts.

“While it varies from region to region, the demand from German citizens for online services is not very big,” says Tschichholz. “It’s an advertising and communications problem because not all citizens are being made aware of the e-government services available to them.”

As national ID cards are something that are garnering more interest internationally, Tschichholz also discussed the German national ID card project as outlined in Germany’s eGov 2.0 strategy.

“The idea behind the eGov 2.0 strategy is to set up the required infrastructure necessary to perform electronic business and e-government efficiently,” says Tschichholz. “This will enable citizens to identify themselves via electronic means for both government and business processes.”

There’s currently ongoing talk in Germany regarding the use of electronic signatures to aid in speeding up these processes, adds Tschichholz.
“But we don’t yet have the use of electronic signatures because the infrastructure is expensive and nobody wants to pay for it,” he says. “But when implemented, this idea could be aligned with banking cards, for example.”

The Fraunhofer Institute is the largest research organization in Germany, according to Tschichholz. The centre’s e-government laboratory was initiated in 2004 and has 40 partners from industry and government. Last year alone, Tschichholz and his team conducted over 300 workshops.

Tschichholz also pointed to Germany’s 115 call centre initiative. Similar to North America’s 311, the service aims to provide a multi-channel one-stop government shop backed by a “cooperation contract,” to be signed later this month.

e-Mayor is another international e-government project in the works, which the Institute hopes will connect cities throughout Europe to provide secure municipal administrative services for citizens of the European Union.

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