The city of Hamburg, Germany, a Microsoft CityNext showcase city, is fundamentally transforming the way the city delivers services and interacts with its citizens. Jörn Riedel, CIO of Hamburg, recently shared insights and best practices that contribute to Hamburg’s success. His remarks shed light on the need for pervasive transformation, not just in processes, budgets, and technologies but also in the mindset of employees and city leaders. Success requires buy-in at all levels.
Q: What were the top two or three drivers behind starting your city’s e-transformation?
JR: As always, one important driver is money. We have to cut down the cost of public administration as a whole. Without IT projects there is no way to achieve this goal. On the other hand, citizens and the business sector expect e-services from the city. Both drivers lead us in the same direction: Trying to use every opportunity to digitize all governance processes.
Q: What problems were you trying to solve for your citizens?
JR: In a traditional paper-based workflow the citizen is often forced to go to several offices to solve one problem. We tried to avoid this as much as possible. Rather than requiring the citizen to move from place to place, we move the data instead.
Q: What advice can you share with other city leaders who are trying to get similar projects off the ground?
JR: When changing the organization, have a healthy mixture of both pressure and calm. Pressure is required for an institution to change, so you have to have a clear mandate for changing. On the other hand, you need employees to make any transformation a success. You have to engage them and this takes time.
Q: Did you engage citizens or local businesses in the process? How did you keep them apprised of your progress?
JR: To engage 1.8 million citizens is not possible. Therefore, in the field of public services, we are working on a trial-and-error basis. We measure as much as possible whether our services are used and well received. In addition, we conduct surveys to determine the wishes and requirements of our citizens.
The interaction with the business sector works in a different way. We look for services where we can develop an end-to-end online process. After we have identified a process, we look for power-users and try to engage them. When the process is also beneficial for the business, a win-win situation is created. On some projects we have also integrated business representatives in our internal steering groups.
Q: What’s next for your city?
JR: In October 2014, a new Transparency Law will go into effect in Hamburg. Under the Freedom of Information Act, citizens can obtain government records by requesting it and paying a fee. The new Transparency Law requires the authorities to allocate all information on an information register and offer free and anonymous access. Only private data and data protected by other laws is excluded. Open Data now becomes the default. The major portion of the project is focused not on IT but on Change Management. Government agencies must change how administration works to both save and provide recorded data.
Q: What have you seen other cities do that you find inspiring or motivational?
JR: I’m impressed by integrated solutions that take into account all of the important aspects of a citizen’s life. Good examples are Scandinavian countries that offer extensive online services. For example parents can take care of all administrative procedures online, from choosing a child’s first nursery to selecting a secondary school. All communication with healthcare and educational institutions can be done through electronic channels. While the children age, their electronic data is automatically transferred between institutions. It’s not necessary to repeatedly re-record the same information.
These solutions shift the focus from the public administration to the “customer.” For the citizen, all the different institutions now operate as one entity, regardless of legal form or whether they are financed by the state or municipality.
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