What this post is about
- Since the pandemic, digitization in the public sector is more urgent than ever before
- For it to work, legal and technical oundations must be created
- The right tools make innovation a breeze: how a ticketing system helps
- The prerequisite for success is an open approach
- Success stories show that it works!
In the public sector, everything moves in slow motion, or so many people believe. Ask around and you will hear statements like "authorities are hopelessly chaotic", "they are drowning in paperwork" and "one hand doesn't know what the other is doing". Months of waiting for deadlines and feedback, folders upon folders of files and forms, not to mention the overheating printers and overhead projectors ... surely this shouldn't be the standard in the 21st century?
Being a German company, here at Zammad we've taken a look at our own public sector, in an attempt to derive trends from it. Considering our image in the world - the advanced, always punctual, very target-driven nation - we should find nothing but innovative and highly efficient digital solutions for everyday bureaucracy problems. Shouldn't we? Well ...
"Everything to do with regards to digitization we have always tackled one legislative period too late," said Dorothee Bär, Minister of State for Digitization, back in 2018. Unfortunately, this rings all too true, because when it comes to digital administrative services, Germany is far below the European average - in 19th place. Ouch!
So what has happened so far? In 2013, the E-Government Act was passed, followed by the Online Access Act in 2017. The intention is to achieve the declared goal of processing all administrative services via a uniform platform by 2022. Nevertheless, little has happened since then, although the Corona pandemic provides more than enough reasons: overcrowded hospitals, overburdened health offices, schools struggling with the sudden online classes, and counties and municipalities having to implement ever-changing requirements.
However, in order to advance digitization and offer relief for employees and citizens alike, the appropriate legal and technical foundations must first be created. Switching to (more) digital systems is thus definitely one answer. With more clarity, helpful features, and time-saving automation, a lot can be achieved here.
According to a study by the Stifterverband (a joint initiative of companies and foundations that provides holistic advice, networking, and support in the areas of education, science, and innovation) and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, there is currently a shortage of around 1.1 million employees with digital skills and around 290,000 employees with technological skills. A high level of user-friendliness is therefore essential for a smooth transition to digital systems. Citizens and employees must be involved in the process from the outset to ensure that the new applications are readily adopted. They should feel supported and relieved but never replaced or obsolete. Helpdesk software and ticketing systems have proven their worth in this regard because of their user-friendly interfaces.
Systems such as Zammad can be used intuitively and require no training or familiarization. The low effort is matched by a high potential since numerous features support the employees in their daily work.
Working in the public sector requires a particularly large amount of prior knowledge. Employees need to remember numerous regulations, specifications, and exceptions. With a helpdesk system, however, this is easier than ever: the knowledge base (including helpful FAQs) provides all the important information and makes both everyday life and onboarding easier.
One thing is always in short supply in the public sector: time. Helpdesk tools have numerous time-saving features that eliminate manual clicks and actions. These include text modules and ticket templates, as well as triggers and macros that start predefined action chains.
With the right ticketing system, nothing gets lost anymore: all channels (such as phone, email, chat, and social media) are connected in one place. Tags and categorizations not only help with classification but also with assigning each task and ticket to the corresponding team. This makes processing even faster - and waiting time as well as backlog are shortened.
These are just a few of the many features that make helpdesk systems the perfect solution. But what needs to happen for digitization to work?
In many cases, a change of mindset is necessary. If you ask the corresponding authorities about digitization in the public sector, you'll hear the same things again and again:
- Citizens like analog processes
Maybe in the past, but times are changing. In the meantime, the acceptance for digital solutions is steadily increasing, which is also shown by the growing adoption of Corona-related apps or the procedure for the digital tax return in Germany ("ELSTER"). Citizens want simple and unbureaucratic solutions - and uncomplicated communication. Things get difficult when the digital approaches are so complex that even tech-savvy citizens get stuck. So, as already mentioned, user-friendly solutions are the first step.
- It won't pay off
Even with open-source software that is hosted on-premise, there is a certain cost involved - after all, servers and administration have to be guaranteed. Moreover, many municipalities are left almost entirely on their own when it comes to financing new systems. Still, this should not deter them, because the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in the long term. According to sample calculations by the National Standards Control Council from 2015, the potential savings with appropriate optimization on the user side are up to 58 percent, and on the administration side even up to 76 percent - which should be reason enough!
- We don't have the expertise to do this
As already described, this is indeed often a problem. But as the number of young employees in the relevant positions increases, the technical knowledge they bring with them also changes. In addition, most helpdesk systems can be operated intuitively and without prior knowledge.
- This is not GDPR-compliant
A major challenge with digitization in the public sector often lies in the high data protection requirements. Fortunately, there are many helpful and performant ticket systems that are both GDPR-compliant and ISO-certified. Zammad, for example, runs exclusively on secure data centers in Germany. And if you host it on your own server, you are completely in control.
- This does not correspond to our use case
Sometimes, this is certainly the case. However, especially when it comes to helpdesk systems, the opposite is true, because they fit every company and every institution. Flexible packages are based on the number of employees and the desired range of functions. This way, you can tailor the system exactly to your needs. Open-source systems even allow you to make your own adjustments, which makes them a popular choice:
"Custom software is much preferred these days because it solves specific issues related to the company and eliminates any other additional features that may confuse the workers," confirms Srbuhi Avetisyan, Business Development Specialist at CodeRiders (a software development company). "In the meantime, it's of course more secure regarding data protection. Our experience shows that software solutions are becoming priorities in public institutions, as they shorten the time spent on manual work which is extremely important these days."
- We've always done it this way.
Oh boy. We won't even go there ...
Despite all these critical statements, it should be mentioned that there are of course already numerous success stories. One of them is the Office for Fire Protection, Rescue Service, and Disaster Control in Erfurt (Thuringia, Germany). They introduced Zammad as their ticketing system back in 2017. The benefits that spurred on the decision four years ago are still the main reasons why the team enjoys working with the software: "It has a modern design and is not overloaded. It's also (super) intuitive to use and can be configured very easily. We also appreciate the fast support and good information in the Github repository," explains Marco Eckardt, IT System Administrator.
The Vocational School in Lörrach (in Germany's Southern region of Baden-Wuerttemberg) has also not regretted switching to a helpdesk so far. We asked Johannes Schlosser, a vocational school teacher for Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, what his impression is:
"We are a trade school with about 1500 students and 100 teachers. IT administration is handled by a team of teachers from the school as well as external IT service providers. We have to manage well over 500 stationary and mobile terminals, 100 Wi-Fi access points, and around 150 software bundles for the various departments. In addition, there is multimedia equipment such as video projectors and document cameras, as well as school administration programs and various learning platforms. This results in a large number of support and maintenance tasks that have to be distributed among the teaching staff and external IT service providers. Due to the large number of tasks and people involved, we quickly realized that without a ticket system it would be difficult to keep track of everything, so we started looking for a suitable solution. First and foremost, it was important for us that the functionality could be learned very quickly and that it was intuitive to use. Less important for us were all the detailed accounting functions and extensive scheduling and resource planning, which often make commercially available ticket systems very demanding to learn and operate. With Zammad, we have found an extremely efficient solution for us, which has already more than paid off. The knowledge base is also used actively by everyone involved."
The Corona lockdown has further impacted the work: "The current school closures have significantly increased the need for support, as we receive support requests from students as well as teachers regarding the learning platforms and borrowed end devices. With a central helpdesk email address, which automatically opens a ticket, all requests can be transferred to the IT administration, the teachers are relieved of technical issues and can fully concentrate on teaching. With the integrated LDAP interface, we've connected Zammad to our user directory, which simplifies administration even more."
Meanwhile, Schlosser is thinking even further ahead and recognizes new possibilities that could also provide impulses for other institutions: "We see further potential for systems like Zammad in the school environment: For example, necessary building management activities could also be integrated. Imagine if a broken light or window opening mechanism could be reported as a ticket ... Prioritization can be done together with the school management or the school board and these tasks can be processed in a structured manner."
Perhaps it's time more public offices joined them on the road towards a more digital future?
The examples mentioned above prove that digitization in the public sector is definitely feasible! The prerequisite is an open approach and the courage to be inspired by new possibilities. If this is given, it quickly becomes clear that smart tools such as helpdesk systems are a great solution thanks to their time-saving and organizationally helpful features. Let's hope that the Corona pandemic will sufficiently underscore the urgency of the issue, and finally bring about noticeable progress when it comes to digitization in the public sector. Until then, we'll just continue to file away folder after folder of official correspondence.