Competence bundling – where does it make sense in the digitization of administration?

When it comes to digitizing administration, the bundling of competencies can provide decisive impetus for innovation and optimization. However, it is important not to create isolated structures in the process. The practical and lasting impact on the ground should be considered at the same time.

Short & concise

  • The digitization of administration requires qualified specialists. Competence centers in which they can shape things are attractive to them.
  • Bundling competencies in central teams makes sense when it comes to processes that can be standardized and promotes innovation – but only if accepted by the decentralized structures.
  • Then a sustainable cultural change can develop and structures can be created that form the basis for a permanently functioning digitized administration.

The digitization of administration in Germany, including through the Online Access Act (OZG), is imperative to maintain the functionality of administration. Citizens, organizations and companies expect and need digital applications and processes. Even today, “tipping points” can be identified. One of these is the lack of qualified, digitally minded young people – another is that the availability of practical applications is progressing too slowly.

Demographic change poses enormous challenges for the administration and can only be overcome with a comprehensive transformation. Innovations are needed to make the administration attractive for competent specialists. People who deal with digitization in government agencies like to shape things. But this is difficult in “rigid” organizations and puts them at a considerable competitive disadvantage compared with the private sector when it comes to recruiting skilled workers.

Opportunities through competence bundling

That is why the bundling of competencies – whether in ministries or in the departments of municipalities – offers great opportunities in the digitization of administration:

  • The resulting departments or competence teams make the administration attractive for qualified junior staff.
  • Particularly in IT, this know-how enables innovations and standardizations that drive the digitization of administration – not least through economies of scale.

For the administration, rather unfamiliar free spaces and trial actions are important prerequisites for this. There must be neither a “hothouse” nor a “court jester” effect. The innovations must not exist only in a laboratory environment and their results must be taken seriously.

Therefore, two aspects must be taken into account when bundling competencies:

  • The innovation teams need assertiveness. What is needed is someone at a high level of the hierarchy who commissions these teams or departments, takes up the results of the work positively and helps to enforce them.
  • When developing innovations, think about practical application on a broad scale right from the start. To this end, it is important not only to design and set up projects with a view to their results, but also to use them to test and then stabilize working methods, forms of collaboration and fast decision-making processes (governance). In this way, projects also serve as a blueprint for future collaboration in the administration.

Ideally, this will lead to a culture-forming change in the mindset of the administration. This is because the competence teams naturally need input from the specialist departments. New communication channels and relationships of trust develop as a result. On the one hand, this increases the acceptance of the competence teams in the specialist departments; on the other hand, their needs play a greater role in the development of innovations.

A certain imbalance promotes innovation

There should be a certain disbalance between the centralized competence areas and the descentralized structures of the rest of the administration. The competence teams act as a kind of “stone in the shoe” and, as a source of impetus, drive the development and implementation of standardized solutions and new methods. At the same time, the bundling of know-how allows parallel processes to be eliminated and costs to be reduced. The innovation teams must be very much oriented to the values of the organizations and keep an eye on central criteria: Does the innovation really benefit citizens and the administration, and can it be financed and scaled? Only then will the “stone in the shoe” act as a lasting reminder rather than a nuisance. The disparity between centralized and decentralized structures will not become too great.

The acceptance and broad impact of innovations can be used to determine their success: How many projects have been implemented?  How good is the quality of collaboration during implementation? Crucial – and the most difficult to measure – is the degree of sustainable cultural change brought about by innovations.

Evidence that it makes sense to centralize certain things, shows the OZG program in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern: This centralized program pools all the technical expertise for implementing the OZG in the state and the municipalities, with governance structures to involve all departments and administrative levels. This creates the conditions necessary for the development and long-term operation of a digitized administration.

Further information:

Blog article: IT infrastructure projects in the OZG context