Four short articles about e-government in Germany

Four short articles discuss actual developments (and non-developments) in Germany’s E-Government. You can jump to each by clicking the title:

  1. Cost Management by the CIO to enable usage of leading edge technologies in Public Service
  2. Electronic IDs for E-Government in Germany
  3. Are the E-Gov-Laws sufficient for E-Government in Germany?
  4. Three Main Obstacles to E-Government in Germany

Cost Management by the CIO to enable usage of leading edge technologies in Public Service


Today ongoing digitalization brings up a lot of options for the CIO to deliver client devices, network services, server capacity, applications and services in a much smarter way where his client gets more performance from the IT-organisation for less money. This brings the opportunity to check more advanced technologies like augmented reality, chatbots or also blockchains whether and how they are applicable in public service.


With ongoing digitalisation (e.g. E-government, electronic filing, threads to IT-security) in the public service the pressure on the CIO grows. On the one hand his customer wants more performance on the other hand IT must guarantee affordable prices. What are the options?

A view to the cost pool shows areas of possible management starting points

  • Client devices
    Device shipments will decline in the next years but there will be a shift from traditional PC’s to even more mobile devices. Organizational trends that will continue are home office demands in conjunction with BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), more office flexibility, more mobile applications.
    The IT Organization has to provide efficient tools (e.g. VPN or remote administration for updates etc.) and services to make these developments possible with acceptable costs.
    Standardization is essential for cost reduction. The city of Munich took the decision to use Linux at the clients enormous extra costs, because many employees needed additional Windows and MS Office as well as the appropriate support for two product lines. The City of Hamburg on the other hand has a streamlined support for 30,000 clients with only one platform.
  • Networks
    Only in large cities like Berlin or Hamburg public service can own communication networks. In all other parts of the country bandwidth has to be purchased from network service providers. The demand for broadband networks is growing rapidly but delivery on fiber optics in the Gbit/s-range may be behind.
  • Servers
    Very large server farms are becoming more and more normal. Some service providers offer large facilities in the cloud. Data protection needs and security demands can more easily fulfilled. The service providers therefore offer facilities in the concerning countries to be compliant with national regulations. The CIO has here to answer the old question: „Make or buy?“
  • Applications
    For the applications then standardization is also a must. Unfortunately public service entities have to use 100 to 200 different application for different business purposes, but some applications are standardisable like operating systems, office suites and ERP. Convincing users to use standards can sometimes be time consuming but in the end it pays off.
  • Services

Services belong to one of the larger cost blocks in an IT organization. Here we find different options to save money. Examples are:

  • Outsourcing (e.g. First Level User Help Desk) may save money
  • Shared Services Centres can give economics of scale as well as consolidation of data centres into larger entities. The federal government in Germany is just in the process of consolidation there data centres logically (some centres are managed as a logical entity). Dataport has brought several data centres into one new building.
  • Organisation of the IT after a successful model like ITIL can streamline processes whereupon an ITSM-tool can further enhance efficiency.
  • Change in the organisation can be professionalized by introducing a lean project management method like PRINCE2 and/or agile methods where appropriate (e.g. SCRUM for software development). For managing a lot of projects a PMO (project management office) may be helpful to save money by streamlining processes.
  • Purchasing of preconfigured IT devices can be supported by an online catalogue which is connected to the ERP of the IT organisation.


Optimizing costs of conventional IT gives the CIO the freedom to do some proof of concept of applying even more modern technologies like

  • Augmented Reality where artificial intelligence can add new dimensions for geometrical planning (e.g. placing in 3D-models of buildings furniture of an IKEA catalogue)
  • Screenless Communication where citizens contact their administration not by a usual browser in the web but by a chat bot that is triggered by Siri on the the citizens iPhone
  • Blockchains are assumed to be able to support registries of many kinds in the public service.
  • IoT (Internet of Things) will not need a lot of data centre storage but will deliver current data that can help to get the cities smarter by consuming less energy in buildings or better coordinating the traffic of cars as well as the administration of car parking facilities.

So these are ways how digitalization can build a 24/7 public service for a lot of tasks.
Wolfgang Ksoll, July 2017

Electronic IDs for E-Government in Germany


Electronic IDs are a necessary technological precondition for successful E-Government. Without appropriate governance and laws e-government will not occur. Applications for relevant online transactions must be provided for the citizens online as well.


In the Anglo-American world in the 1990’s, E-Government spread very quickly. For example, since 1999 one can order and pay online for driver licence renewal on Texas-Online portal. The services were so successful that cities like Austin, Dallas and Houston offered service on that portal, too.

In Europe the governments made more efforts for online identification of their citizens than in the US to avoid fraud. Germany introduced three methods over the years: qualified signatures with cards and card reader, eIDs on the ID cards for Germans and non-EU-citizens and DE-Mail, a proprietary national „mail“-system (it is not e-mail following the RFC 822 internet standard). Today there are nearly no applications for these strict identification methods, which was admitted by the „Normenkontrollrat“ (German National Regulatory Control Council[1]) therefore e-government is not happening at all. The question is how Germany can at least catch up to the leading edge countries in Europe.


In 1997, Germany passed a signature law and was therefore one of the first movers in this area. Qualified Signatures were produced with a card reader, a card and driver software for Windows. In the years 2001 and 2002, private law and public law were modernized to use these technologies. The main goal was to avoid falsification of documents, and so the standard was the highest possible.
In December 1999 the European Community passed a directive on electronic signatures. The member states could not agree to a single compromise. Different levels of signatures were allowed to be used in different member states:

  • Simple signatures – text or scanned signature (used in Britain)
  • Advanced signatures – produced in software with a software certificate (used in Austria)
  • Qualified signatures – produced with hardware (card, card reader in Germany).

The use of qualified signatures should have been boosted

  • by a signature alliance (Post, Telekom, Banks, other businesses, government),
  • with the „Jobcard“ for every employee (later called project Elena)
  • and the electronic health card.

All the projects failed. Next steps for opening access to the government and proof-of-identity were the eID or De-Mail. But instead of making access easy they are today barriers to e-government.

In 2009 the EU Service Directive demanded in Article 8 that every EU-citizen can easily register their business in every other EU state online from home. Germany demanded a qualified signature for online access which could only be obtained physically in Germany. Many German government entities invested in online access. Due to the legal impossibilities, no foreigner used the service and it was a misinvestment.

To circumvent these obstructions, the EU created a new regulation eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services).  Starting in summer of 2018, all EU countries accept all electronic ID-procedures if they are successful notified by the EU. This makes it difficult for thousands of entities on the local level to keep their applications up to date. They must update their online applications when any new signature scheme is notified to the EU commission from any of the 28 member states.

So in late 2016 the government in Germany decided to build a central portal at the federal level (OZG). Once when a person is identified as a citizen, he shall get access to all other portals at federal, state and local level. But still there is no provision to enable citizens to get relevant services online. The citizens will not be able to request a new ID card online, to register that they have moved to a new address, or to register the birth of a child. Chances for success of a central portal are therefore minimal. Only the infrastructure is getting more and more complicated without useful services for the citizens. Can this be avoided?

In Estonia the former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves started to digitalize the country in the 1990s. With the project X-Road, a backbone-infrastructure was created to connect electronically different areas of society (citizens, business, government). In 2007, a special SIM card for smartphones was introduced with two mobile-ID-PINs: one for identity and one for signature. Everything with the government can be done electronically with two exceptions with two exceptions: marriage and divorce. Even voting in public elections can be done electronically. So the critical success factor was, that every service was brought online („digital first“). Governance and laws are in balance here with technical features. The satisfaction level of the citizens is high because they can do many more things easier and smarter than before.

So the conclusion is that electronic access with strong identification of the citizens has to be accompanied with online self-service applications (getting information as well as creating new ones where appropriate) at the federal, state and local level to bring e-government to success.


If Germany wants to do real E-Government then ID-solutions have to accompanied with self-service applications to enable 24*7 public service with lower costs than today. Examples on all three levels might be:

Level Application
Federal traffic register (Flensburg), criminal records (Bonn)
State trade register
Local commercial register, civil register, register of residents

The model Estonia could be further evaluated.
Wolfgang Ksoll, July 2017

Are the E-Gov-Laws sufficient for E-Government in Germany?


E-government laws exist in some of the 16 states in Germany and on the federal level. They provide a set of must-haves to build a good infrastructure for e-government. Self-service applications for the citizens still are missing even 20 years after the introduction of qualified signatures. CIOs have to provide these applications so that citizens and government are enabled to save time and money and to harvest the benefits of digitilization.


In 2013, the federal parliament in Germany introduced an e-government law. Some states followed and passed similar laws. But are these laws sufficient to have an effective and efficient E-Government?


The different laws vary in content from state to state and at the federal level. Aspects of regulation are:

  • A portal is provided to open access to the administration.
  • Tools for identity check are regulated (qualified signatures, eIDs with ID-cards and DE-Mail).
  • Electronic files are defined as a must-have or should-have.
  • Municipalities are covered by the law In some states, in other states not.
  • Some states integrate E-Payment.
  • Some states integrate E-Invoicing
  • Open Data are included in 2 of 17 possible laws.
  • Service accounts are offered by three states where citizens can store their electronic documents for the communication with the government.
  • Encryption is not integrated which would be necessary for privacy reasons.

These items of regulation point in the right direction. They set up a necessary infrastructure. Electronic files will consume a lot of time and money. Former trials were not successful with a standard called DOMEA, which has been abolished in the mean time.

Most citizens are experienced users of successful platform like Amazon and eBay, Google and Facebook. Citizens expect easy to use applications in the public sector, as they are used to from the private sector. But the e-government laws define only the surrounding infrastructure. The self-service applications are not available which would save time and money of the citizens. Applying for an ID-card or filing a removal can’t be done online in Germany. Local and state governments have some 150-200 applications which would have to be enabled for citizen online self-service. Without this bunch of applications increasing efficiency and effectiveness will not happen. A big part of these online processes can be partially or completely automated at the government backend.

For example, the CIO should have a look at Amazon. If a customer is looking for a book, he can get information about the book from different sources, even from reviews of other customers who have read the book. If he decides to buy the book he can pay online and tell Amazon to which address it should be delivered. To speed up the delivery („next day“) prime accounts are possible. Amazon also gives additional advice based on the knowledge of your preferences and those of other customers.

The public service equivalent could be for example: if you have an issue about your social security benefit and you have children then you may possibly need advice on youth welfare services. Or if a citizen has to pay for a parking ticket then the application might see whether the city has other open issues where the government might help or remind this citizen. This is done in London, UK.


So the CIO has not only to look for compliance to existing or upcoming e-government laws but also for applications which use this infrastructure. E-government must be an instrument to increase efficiency of public service and to give the citizen the user experience which he is used to from private sector. A lot of the civil servants will retire in the public service within the next ten years due to demographic developments The young generation will be smaller. Fewer civil servants can be recruited. So information technology is the tool for doing more work with less staff.

The following table shows examples in different areas where such applications for the CIO can be already found. Compliance with e-government laws  is only the first step. Use of this infrastructure with intelligent applications is in the second step the challenge where IT must show its worth.

Level Application
Federal traffic register (Flensburg), criminal records (Bonn)
State trade register
Local commercial register, civil register, register of residents

Wolfgang Ksoll, July 2017

Three Main Obstacles to E-Government in Germany


Pace of development of e-government in Germany is far too slow, as the last 20 years show. Federal government and its lawmakers and CIOs should not only focus on electronic identities as in the past but also on self-service applications for citizens and business. This can be done in a far more agile way than before. The German federal parliament must speed up after the next elections. First signals were given, but more actions must follow as the report here shows. CIOs must bring their knowledge and experience to the improving on e-government. The equivalent to the private sector would be that CIOs must not only in technological categories but also in business categories.

Key Findings

  • For more than twenty years the federal government has focussed their e-government activities on electronic IDs but not for applications
  • There has been too less European integration and too much national proprietary ways for e-government
  • There exist far too less self-service applications for citizens and businesses which could bring the benefits of e-government


  • The now planned central portal (500 Million Euros) should not only be used for centralized Identity check but also for self-service applications to increase efficiency and effectiveness and embrace new technologies like IoT, Cloud-computing, Chat-bots, AI and machine learning where appropriate.
    CIOs from state and local should join the activity to experiment in an agile way on different topics in different teams for single applications (registries, advice and applications for the citizens).
  • Before doing any new development benchmarks in other countries should be made for best practices in e-government like Estonia, UK and/or US. The user experience of Amazon, Ebay, Facebook or Google should always inspire.
  • To bring more self-service applications online, agile methods should be incorporated as well in software development as well as in organizational change. Most applications can be agile developed in smaller teams. Some will need a central evaluation as for example block chains in registries


In the last 20 years the German federal government invested a lot to make Germany fit for e-government (e.g. 1999 45 Mio Euros in the project “MEDIA@komm” to integrate qualified signatures into the electronic communication between citizens and government). In 1997 a signature law was passed with qualified signatures. The EU made a signature directive in 1999, but besides the German qualified signatures two less complicated forms of signature were allowed in the member states which were not compatible. In 2001 and 2002 changes were made too public law and private law to allow legal communication electronically. But they were compatible to other European countries. In 2009 the European Service Directive could not be executed online in Germany to special national law.

The qualified signature was no success. Besides a card the citizen need an expansive card reader which does not pay off with too less applications. The Government tried to introduce eIDs in ID-cards and DE-Mail, which is a German proprietary systems to exchange documents with legal relevance. But they found no acceptance from the citizen.

In 2018 the EU forced all member states to accept every notified ID-procedure with eIDAS directive. Germany reacted with building a central federal portal where citizens get access to applications federal state and local level, once they have identified once with qualified signatures, eID from ID-card, De-Mail or any other EU-notified procedure.

Last week the government announced that it will invest five hundred million Euros to this portal. The law therefore was passed in late 2016. But it is not clear to which self-service applications it will enable the citizens. Today the German citizen cannot put it movement to another location into the citizens register, they cannot apply for a new ID-cad online, cannot register the birth of a child online as it for example possible for years in Estonia.

So the federal government must change their viewpoint from an access-infrastructure only to embracing self-service applications also. There are lists of some hundreds application for citizens and business available which can be used for real e-government.

The “Normenkontrollrat” said last month that nearly no registries are only for self-service. Not only for requesting but also for entries into the registry. There is space that CIOs from the local, state and federal level can support federal law making process by experimenting in small agile teams for new kind of application with either strong identification but also with high efficiency and effectiveness. These teams can also experiment with apps on dedicated APIs to enlarge the benefit for the citizens and decline the overall effort for the government. IoT applications for parking lots can decline the number of parking tickets. IoT from the public transport like Transport.API can help to decrease traffic problems. The federal owned Deutsche Bahn (Railways) could be in the driver seat and help all other transport service provider to get online like the British ones. IoT prices are decreasing rapidly. A fine dust measurement station can be built for only 40 Euros. This opens the window of opportunity to increase environmental surveying by the government. With much more speed government can react to ecological pollution (e.g. with reducing Diesel-car traffic in high polluted zones nearly in real time by the government).

The consolidation of the data centers in 2016 on federal level was a good starting point to free resources for change.

The German federal government must get much more open to developments in other countries in Europe and Overseas. They will need advice from outside. But on a sociologist point of view (e.g. system theory of Niklas Luhmann) organizations must decide by their own the change (this may be different in a command-and-control landscape which was suggested to overcome by Tom Peters in the 1970s). Therefore it is necessary not only to distribute knowledge from outside to inside, but also to establish organizational frameworks (agile, teamwork, flattening hierarchies, empower employees, etc.) which enable the organization to do so. To do this successful it is in Germany an essential to know the German traditions in organizing government on the different levels and even the different ways on the same level.

The German elections in September 2017 address in the campaign some of the e-government-problems. But they need the help of the CIOs who overview the daily business and can help to create a vision which can be brought to reality within months rather than in years.


In the last twenty years lawyers were in charge of making e-government happening in Germany. This lead to a suboptimal focus on continuing older experiences from paper to electronic measures. To make the pace of e-government development much faster, CIOs must bring in their knowledge into the process. This may be by experimenting with new technological options to build more self-service applications for more efficiency or by consulting the law makers. Germany needs a dramatic increase of efficiency, because very much civil servants will retire in the next ten years and due to demographic developments the younger generation will be much smaller than the retiring one.
Wolfgang Ksoll, July 2017


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