On 07.11.22, the panel discussion on the digitalisation of the public sector in Europe, jointly organised by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZAHW) and the University of Potsdam, took place at the Berlin Museum of Natural History. As part of the "Zurich meets Berlin" event, Michael Müller, Member of the Bundestag and Governing Mayor of Berlin from 2014 to 2021, Carmen Walker Späh, Minister for Economic Affairs of the Canton of Zurich, and Roman-Francesco Rogat, Member of the Abgeordnetenhaus, were joined in the discussion by members of the professorial staff of the ZHAW School of Management and Law, the University of Zurich and the University of Potsdam.
But do the primeval dinosaur skeletons in the museum's „Sauriersaal“ stand as a symbol for administrative digitisation in Germany? At first, the venue seemed contrary to the topic of digitisation. However, the participants did not miss the opportunity to draw metaphorical parallels again and again to characterise what Prof. Kuhlmann described as "administrative digitisation that has stopped halfway". Based on two informative keynotes by Prof. Reto Steiner and Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann, a lively discussion developed, moderated by Prof. Isabella Proeller. Harald Gall, Professor of Software Engineering at the University of Zurich, stated that the debate in public is too often driven by generalities. For example, simple chatbots are already included under the generic term of artificial intelligence. In essence, however, it is about the digitalisation of business processes, a concept and approach that has been known since the 1980s.
Michael Müller also addressed the function of promising expectations as a driver of digitalisation. He said it was very important for him to emphasise that in the context of the political discussion on digitalisation, financial savings were not the primary political goal. Of course, all political actors would support the topic in the short term if financial savings were expected. But sustainable improvements require not only time resources and a differentiated strategy, but also a high number of financial investments over years. Otherwise, the resulting drop-off in the event of non-achievement of possible promised savings targets would become a central problem of this important transformation.
The other panellists were also very motivated to push the topic forward in practice and research. However, there are often many considerations that have to be made, which sometimes delay decisions and further developments. Carmen Walker-Späh gave the example of cashless payment in buses via app, which would be very difficult for older people and children. The dualism of digital and analogue still has to be taken into account here. However, the discussion revealed one overarching insight: the digital transformation of the administration is no longer purely a question of technology, but rather one of organisation, culture and, in particular, the involvement of employees and citizens.
As part of the DIGILOG research project funded by the DFG and the SNSF, the researchers involved from the ZHAW, the University of Potsdam and the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration will continue to explore the topic in greater depth over the next three years.