Employees in the Swiss Public Sector open for more digitalisation but…

Employees in the Swiss Public Sector see the greatest obstacles to digitise further administrative services to be the lack of IT, legal framework conditions and internal processes. How can these hurdles be surmounted?

Administrative employees in Switzerland consider internal administrative processes to be progressive. Nevertheless, they rate further digitalisation of internal processes as important, especially in the areas of IT, communication, interaction with citizens and human resources.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic in March, many Swiss doctors reported the number of infected people to the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) – albeit by fax. This example highlights the current state of digitalisation of administrative processes in Switzerland. Filling out an application for child allowances or registering a second home from the comfort of your sofa in the evenings is not yet possible here. Switzerland has some catching up to do. Whilst countries such as Denmark, Estonia and Austria have made great strides in digitising their public authorities, Switzerland has fallen further behind. Why? Is it due to internal resistance within the administrations themselves that developments are not progressing? Is scepticism towards digitalisation greater among Swiss administrative employees than in other countries?

Internal processes rated as “progressive”, but increased digitalisation still desired

The survey results of the “Deloitte Digital Government Survey” show: No, it is not due to internal resistance on the part of administrative employees. There is a willingness to increase digitalisation, but obstacles lie elsewhere. That fact that almost four-fifths of administrative employees consider internal processes to be progressive could mean that the officials concerned feel that there is no need for action. 17% of respondents rate internal processes as “very” and 60% as “somewhat” progressive. Here, the internal processes in the federal administration are perceived as more progressive than those in the cantonal and communes. That said, further digitalisation of internal processes is considered “important” or “very important” by administrative employees. 20% of those surveyed rate digitalisation of internal processes as “very important”, and 50% as “important”. Similarly, 73% of respondents consider it “very important” or “important” that their employer increases the digitalisation of internal processes. The importance of digitising internal processes is greater in federal administrations than in cantons or communes. Priority are given to processes in IT, communication and interaction with citizens, HR, personnel and training.

The greatest hurdles are processes and the legal framework

Processes, legal framework conditions, and (lack of) IT hardware and software are seen as the biggest hurdles to digitalisation. About one-quarter of respondents (26%) consider digitalisation in IT to be “very important”, and a fifth (21%) consider digitalisation of communication channels for interaction with citizens as “very important”. Likewise, 21% rate digitalisation of HR, personnel and training and another 20% rate the digitalisation of communication channels for interaction with the administration as “very important”. Therefore, administrative staff are not in denial. They see obstacles in other places such as in existing or outdated IT hardware, software (30%), unclear or obstructive legal framework conditions (25%), and internal processes (20%).

The figures from the survey show that even if the majority of administrative employees already rate the services and internal processes currently offered as ‘progressive’, they still see room for improvement. Above all, the numbers indicate a great willingness to improve something already deemed as ‘good’. What is good can also be improved - that is what the Swiss administrative employees believe.

Quickly implementable and simple solutions are needed

To expand and accelerate digitalisation in public administration, it will be necessary in the medium term to rid the administrative apparatus of unnecessary regulations, rules, and laws. Due to the complexity of the legal aspects and the slow democratic decision-making processes to change laws, this cannot be achieved overnight. Introducing new laws and eliminating existing ones can take time, even if a good fifth of Swiss administrative employees cite eliminating internal administrative processes as one of the most important obstacles. How this can be done concretely and what tools are available to administrations is covered in the Deloitte blog, the “Future of regulation”.

Without great expense, however, incredible enhancements could be quickly achieved through quick fixes - quickly implementable, inexpensive, and simple changes in internal processes, in equipping IT hardware and software, and in simplifying the legal framework.

As in many other comparable economies, the German administrative authorities have lagged behind other countries digitalisation for years. Spurred on by the special pandemic situation, what was not possible for a long time suddenly became possible a few weeks ago: federal authorities’ employees were equipped with their own computers, laptops, and tablets practically overnight. Almost 41,000 devices worth € 93.5 million were purchased ‘at lightning speed’, primarily for work at home offices.

Successful digitalisation with existing resources

All of this would also be possible in Switzerland. After all, the example of the Office for Economics and Labour (AWA) in the canton of Zurich has shown what is possible. The office digitised the process of registering for short-time work within a few weeks. Here, too, it was not necessary to create completely new IT systems – it was a perfect example of successful digitalisation with using largely existing resources. Renewing and supplementing the technical equipment would already be an important push forward that could accelerate and improve the work for Swiss administrative employees, often with just a few smart, new software tools.

In the latest Deloitte survey, administrative employees indicated that the majority of them are open and ready for this optimisation of digital services. Administrative leaders must seize this momentum and act. Give a start signal, make sufficient resources available, and make quick decisions. Employees would go along with this approach because the majority see the advantages of expanding digital services.

The federal government and the cantons appoint digital administration officers

The fact that Peppino Giaritta has been named as “Commissioner of the Confederation and the Cantons for the Swiss Digital Administration (DVS)” is a hopeful sign. As head of the newly created DVS, Mr. Giaritta is to manage, coordinate, and further develop the digitalisation activities of federal and cantonal authorities. Giarritta will take office on March 1, 2021. From then on, he will be responsible for driving forward the interplay of the digital transformation of the administrations at all three levels of government and harmonising processes.

The journey to digital transformation in the Public Sector

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