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Interview with Sabine Smentek (State Secretary for Information- and Communication Technology)

Sabine Smentek is responsible for digitalising public authorities. Transparency and security all at the same time and the lack of IT-experts are not the only obstacles she and her team are faced with. However, there is a lot of potential behind the idea of having a smart administration: Increased flexibility, improved cooperation, faster procedures, and a higher level of quality.  

 

  1. It is your responsibility to digitalise public authorities. By 2023 all files must be available electronically. What is going to change for the citizens?   

The administration and its processes will experience essential changes. Using electronic files combined with further digitalisation projects will contribute significantly to the electronically supported work within the administration. For the citizens this means that they will see more flexible, faster and transparent processes. 

  1. What exactly does this mean to the everyday work of administrations and their employees?

Using electronic files will change, simplify and modernise the day-by-day work of the employees. It starts with digitalising incoming mail, continues with digitalising the filing of documents and electronically managing tasks right up to initiating and processing digital processes of those involved. Beyond that, by combining all this with the use of state-of-the-art technology, there is a multitude of further opportunities as, for instance, being able to access information irrespective of where you are.  

In doing this, we have to involve all employees in the changing processes right from the start and to actively let them have part in the manifold preparations. 

  1. What do you think are the largest obstacles to be overcome in digitalising the administrations?

 

Not only administration is looking for IT-experts. Almost every company is desperately looking for employees in this category. Relevant resources are needed to digitalise the multitude of performances, products, processes, and procedures in a complex administration landscape. We are, however, doing very well: We have started. But there is no doubt about the fact that there is a lot of potential still to be made use of. It is therefore utmost important that we continue to network in order to push the digitalisation of administrations forward in cooperation with other federal states. 

But there is another aspect that I need to address: The state of Berlin as public administration must be a pioneer in respect of the important key subjects of security and data protection. There is no area which we can leave out or turn a blind eye to. This is also the reason why one or two processes will take longer as it appears at a first glance.  

 

Who is involved in setting up Berlin’s smart administrations?  Digitalising and modernising administrations are not only core subjects in the Senate Administration of Internal Affairs and Sports. Other sections, too, play an important role: The Senate Administration for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises, or the Senate Chancellery. We work together on a digitalisation strategy for Berlin, where all other departments will be involved in the process of development. 

 

In respect of this subject - what has to be a priority in your opinion? In our work we focus, of course, on administrative tasks for the citizens and the enterprises in our city. It was not without reason that the E-Government-Act Berlin quoted that a user-friendly application for citizens and enterprises must be one of the targets in digitalising Berlin administrations. By following this principle, we place high priority and great value in Berlin on primarily offering such administrative processes digitally that are often requested and are of a great benefit to people in our city.  

Open Data also belongs to the subject of smart administration. What kind of potential do you see here?  Implementing the Open-Data guiding principle is the most important objective of the Berlin E-Government-Act. It is for this reason that we are actively supporting the responsible colleagues at the business administration in their relevant efforts and initiatives. Especially in a start-up metropolis such as Berlin, Open Data is an important subject. Digital business models can link to open data and in this way support innovations and promote business. In addition, open data are also a main aspect on the path to implement the ’Smart City‘ guiding principle,  as ‘smart‘ meaning (partly) automated control circuits, such as handling public tasks, depend on a data exchange with citizens and enterprises. 

 

The end of 2018 experienced a national cyber-attack on politicians coming out of a ‘children’s room‘ of a twenty-year-old. The subject of stealing data is time and again discussed at large enterprises such as Twitter and others and loopholes appear repeatedly where data security is concerned. This still seems to be a big problem. What needs to be done in future to prevent it? No data were stolen from the Berlin state network in the example quoted by you. I find this very important to mention. Our net is subject to very high security standards. Basically, in respect of this subject I look at two aspects: On the one hand: The task of the administration to protect data and how they can guarantee this. And on the other hand: What everybody can do for themselves to protect data from being exposed easily?

ITDZ, our central IT-service provider of the state of Berlin, was certified last summer as the first enterprise in Germany to receive the BSI-certificate in compliance with the new IT-basic protection; a great issue that shows our focus on this subject and how important it is to us. Although even the administration - like everybody else, who uses the internet privately - is not immune to SPAM and phishing attempts. We are sensitising our employees increasingly and demonstrate how to watch out for suspicious mails or malware and how to recognise them such that a danger can be avoided by being aware of this with every click. 

However, everyone in private surroundings must ask the question whether the obtained data is really necessary and whether one knows who is actually receiving it. Clicking on ‘I agree’ or placing a contribution into a social network is done very fast. One should, however, ask oneself what happens to this data and who can make use of these information and how. 

 

What will the Berlin administration look like in ten-years-time? Our objective is summarised concisely and in short: We want to have an administration that is easily accessible and easily understandable and works digitally and at the same time efficiently. Currently we are preparing the path and have already achieved a great deal. The target to be aimed at is that all Berlin citizens can  deal with their concerns directly and without time-consuming searches. And I am also convinced:  The potentials of a digitalisation will go far beyond having processes turned into digital processes. We are experiencing this at the moment in the private business industry, where completely new business models become possible now that were never even thought of ten years ago. Public administration is, however, not looking for new business models. But the possibilities of an increasingly better linked cooperation will help us in future to offer services with an even higher level of quality.  

In your opinion, what will the city of tomorrow look like?  Our city of tomorrow will develop more and more by establishing an interactive exchange with society.  ‘CityLAB‘ as a centre for digitally updating Berlin is a good example. It is here that citizens, initiatives and administration have a place where they can design, test and further develop mutual visions for a digital city of the future. We must accept the fact that much more will be possible than compared to today, in ten or twenty years from now - also in the digital world. As administration, we focus on offers for everyone. It should therefore not happen that those are left behind who still prefer to send a letter y surface mail instead of using e-mail. 
 

And finally: Could you please finish the following sentence: “Berlin is smart, because…“ …digitalisation and modernising the administration are of high priority for us such that we can offer best conditions to all citizens as well as economy and administrations. 

 

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