Digitization in public administration – Does EMBAG also bring progress with regard to the use of digital media? Business Administration (GEVER)?

On March 17, 2023, Parliament approved the somewhat unwieldy-sounding “Federal Act on the Use of Electronic Means for the Performance of Official Duties” (EMBAG) by a large majority in the final vote.

It is hoped that this law will drive awareness of the urgent need to manage the digital transformation at all levels of public administration (federal, cantonal and municipal). The pandemic has ruthlessly shown that Switzerland must quickly overcome the fax era (example FOPH). Meanwhile, the cantons are now happily faxing on, since their participation in EMBAG has been tipped out again.

As experience has shown, however, the hurdles of digitization lie primarily in the organizational problems of implementation. In particular, when it comes to managing cross-authority interfaces without media discontinuity and standardization is needed to achieve corresponding synergies, all parties involved are strongly challenged. Reliably functioning business administration, i.e., information management and record keeping based on uniform standards, are an indispensable prerequisite for eGovernment and digital transformation in administration. This requires the necessary tools, including GEVER systems, which not only have the purpose of storing and managing documents in rigid filing systems, but also to control the relevant business information in workflows as easily as possible during the active phase of the lifecycle. The application users do not particularly care in which predefined structures (file systems, classifications) these are stored. The system should do this automatically in the background. In this sense, traditional records management concepts have had their day because they force users into unnecessary corset-like structures. There are indications of this from the federal administration: the influence of the Federal Archives – which represents a very traditional records management – on the acceptance of classification systems and organizational regulations of the offices obliged to offer is sometimes considered too great; see final report of the evaluation of the Federal Law on Archiving (BGA), p. 57 ff. According to the assessment of krm, however, the bodies obliged to offer have also often failed to build up the necessary competences themselves.

The fact that various GEVER systems are still struggling to gain acceptance is due on the one hand to a lack of mastery and flexibility in dealing with workflows, and on the other hand to a lack of user-friendliness (outdated technologies and user interfaces). However, in favor of records management as a discipline, it must also be noted that there is often a lack of understanding in the functions of the urgency and necessity of processes of preservation; in fact, what will always live on are the unchanging requirements, i.e. the basic principles of legally compliant and proper preservation of business information as evidence throughout the life cycle of records! (cf. Practical Guide to Information Governance, p.110/111 What Remains of Records Management). Multi-layered and complex tasks also require more sophisticated solutions that require a certain amount of training and experience and cannot be mastered intuitively in simple “Google style”. Due in part to misconceptions in this area, public administration and the private sector have gradually eliminated the formerly ubiquitous “registries,” or transformed them into “centers of excellence.” These competence centers are only active in an advisory capacity, often with insufficient resources. While the effective workload – filing, correctly classifying and retrieving (!) the records – has been offloaded to operational units, which are hardly interested in it. A declining level of quality is thus predetermined.

From the point of view of efficient business management, which must be pursued regardless of the quality of suitable solutions, it remains to be noted that most of the provisions in the new EMBAG point in the right direction, but require a great deal of preconditioning and will fail due to organizational hurdles (low change management culture and willingness to innovate on the part of the players, as well as procrastination of outdated structures under the sphere of power and influence of the general secretaries[1]). If one thinks of the difficulties with which the cantons are confronted. GEVER implementation (continued silo thinking and decentralized IT specialist strategies with little coordination and synergies between the departments and offices), interoperability with federal offices is likely to remain a pious hope for a long time (e.g., automated data exchange). As a result, Switzerland will remain in the lower midfield in terms of digitization in an international comparison – far away from the requirements of the Tallinn Declaration. eGovernment of 2017 (digital-by-default, inclusiveness, accessibility), as this is stated as a claim in the message on EMBAG!

J.Hagmann / D. Sievi


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