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The State of eGovernment in Germany (hamann.se)
91 points by endymi0n on Sept 1, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Losing my karma: This article is (partly) BS. I have just tried the steps in the page, and it worked like a breeze.

2013-05-26, 23:10 CET: The link is not hidden, it is clearly visible and with correct description. Currently this works also on a sunday.

2013-05-27, 19:30 CET: Login / registration works on Chrome / OS X .No forced logout.

2013-05-28: link activation worked fine without problem

and so on. I don't want to say that the OP is wrong, it might be the OP has experienced exactly what he has. But generalizing this is total bs. I have done many bureaucratic steps here in Germany and most of them were really fine (submitting tax forms, applying for tax ID, business registration (Gewerbeanmeldung, Handelsregister), banking account, healthcare insurance, ...).

There are many different places where to submit forms, but usually the local trade organizations (Handelskammern) help you by organizing / bundling things together. Been there, done that.

Dealing with the official bureaucracy in germany is in general quite cumbersome. The IT solutions provided by the government mostly reimplement the offline processes in the online world. I fully agree that this seems ridiculously complex and time-consuming compared to the sleak UX we're accustomed to on the net.

However due to the federal structure of germany your experience can vary wildly depending on in which state and city you live. I live in Munich and was recently pleasantly surprised how easy it was to request my postal voting documents for the upcoming elections. Took me only 30 seconds or so :)

I think the city council of munich does quite a good job at innovating their IT infrastructure. Most notably the limux project [1] but in other areas like open data and open government as well [2]. Though there is of course still a lot of space for further improvements.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiMux

[2] http://www.it-muenchen-blog.de (german)

Some things seem to work better now, I freely admit I've had less trouble when reuploading for the second time today. Still, the majority of no-go's like not being able to read PDFs generated on OSX, workflows that as a best case scenario take more time and effort than with paper or not being able to receive mails signed with an official German electronic ID fully remain.

Yup, it's a quite emotional rant based on some experiences that were unique to my timing and circumstances and yes, from the non-government big insurances and banks you are mentioning, I've already seen much better.

Maybe I should not have been generalizing here, but regularly using and accessing services as the european Tax ID verification or the ECB exchange rate APIs, I could find many many more horrifying examples of user and developer experience and honestly I haven't seen a good counterexample that would give me hope.

To this date, usability and convenience in Government are a one-way street: As a business owner, I'm forced to file my taxes electronically, however electronic bank statements and bills in electronic document formats are still not regularly accepted by the tax authorities...

Oh man, I know that. I have to put up with German bureaucracy regularly.

Compared to my experiences with running a company in the UK it's almost like the Germans don't want you to run a company at all.

Actually it's a filter, keeping those away from doing business who aren't able to handle little annoyances. I often hear people complain about (German) bureaucrazy and funding difficulties and they say "I just want to do X". But the bitter truth is: If one isn't able to overcome those barriers, they'll probably won't handle their business at all if they can't manage the many little annoyances that don't have to do with X but will occur while doing business.

At first my answer was meant to be a joke, but the longer I think about it... :)

The good news are: Since you seem to be able to manage those barriers, you're fine and can care about doing X.

The market should decide if the person can or can not handle his business, not some artificial barriers. What do they achieve exactly? This filtering is pointless and prove nothing. It's like giving a crossword when hiring a factory worker - if you are unable to solve the crossword, you might be unable to handle minor annoyances in the factory.

C'mon, I somehow have to put a higher meaning into those barriers. I've to rationalize the pain, it's a coping mechanism. :)

It's because the UK is Entrepreneurial. No body bats an eyelid if a 16 year old starts a company in the UK. It's normal.

In Germany, your meant to have the correct education, certificates, and experience before your own company. There's tons of red tape.

Agree with UK. It's generally a good idea to start a limited company for even minor ventures as it insulates you from any direct liability from fuckups and legal problems.

I've had 4 limited companies over the years.

Huh? What stops anybody from registering a company at the Handelsregister and start working? Who needs a certificate and a proof of experience?

Or do you mean society enforces it?

> Huh? What stops anybody from registering a company at the Handelsregister and start working?

Maybe not really applicable for us tech nerds but the "Meisterzwang" is a real obstacle for many people. But aside from that arcane institution there's not really anything forbidding you to start a company.

The problem I have with Germany is the time and bureaucratic burden it takes to get a Gmbh up and running. You're looking at a procedure that takes multiple months and visits at a notary office for the paperwork.

Compare that to the UK where all you have to do is log into a website and fill out a form to have your Ltd up and running.

Meisterzwang is pure quality assurance. And if you think how well known Germany is for quality products it makes total sense. And I would argue if there was a Meisterzwang for people concerned with egovernment we wouldn't have this discussion. Besides the Meisterzwang was abolished for many professions in 2004. See Wikipedia.

Both. In certain trades, you can only start on your own if you get to a to certain level of certification.

But in most trades you can just start.

Depends on what kind of company GmbH costs about 25,000 EUR to setup. You don't get that money back.

1) You can run UG which starts at 1 EUR (+ 100-200 Euro for bureaucracy).

2) It is your money to spend. You never give it to anybody else. So "you don't get that money back" is completely incorrect.

The UG is a step in the right direction. Though they half assed it a little. You get a gmbh-lite but have to put up with the full administrative burden.

That and the name suffix: "<my company> UG (haftunsgbeschraenkt)". Internationally no one knows what a UG is. Doesn't really matter for a local bakery but if you're running an international software business it becomes at least a little important.

> 2) It is your money to spend.

Actually it's your company's money to spend. So "you don't get it back" is partially correct ;)

Why not start the company in the UK and just run it from Germany? It's all in the EU, right?

I'm fairly sure that under German rules such a company (single director, Germany based) would be treated as German. Thus all taxes would need to be paid in Germany. You'd have double accounting, and have to file (manually) null accounts in the UK to satisfy Companies House, and file actual accounts in Germany. Royal pain in the ass.

Well, when I'm living in Germany I still have to register the branch of the Ltd here. And I still have to register with the Handelsregister, put up with the IHK and the stupendous tax system.

A Ltd. doesn't really have any advantage in that scenario besides fast incorporation times.

It's quite funny because the German steryotype in UK is of effeciency and things working. Just shows how steryotypes can be wrong/

This is similar enough to experiences I had in Italy. I would have expected Germany to be more advanced in this.

I've also been thinking many times how cool it would be if somebody started creating an open source framework for EU e-government, considering that many problems are common to all governments.

"how cool it would be if somebody started creating an open source framework for EU e-government"

I agree this would be brilliant. I know in the UK the gov.uk site is all open source: https://github.com/alphagov

They recently published a blog post about how the New Zealand Government Online team used some of the gov.uk code.


I'd love to see a pan-European initiative to pool resources and knowledge.

What the UK is doing is commendable - unfortunately, they're also the most unlikely to work at a EU level.

What I was thinking about was more of a grass-roots thing, started by hackers who want the e-government to come to the 21st century. Who knows, if my current startup turns out well and I'll have time to think about something different, I could work on that :)

Grassroots sounds nice, but the hard work isn't writing the code - it's convincing those within government that user-centered services and open source are the way to go. I believe that this can only be achieved given a strong mandate, from within government itself.

Based on my experience in Italy - with my former employer we did some work with public administrations - my idea would be to start with cash-strapped local administrations and the most forward-looking of their suppliers.

These administrations basically have all the same needs, but many of them are served by small suppliers that always have to reinvent the wheel with some half-cooked proprietary solution.

If there was a well-designed, free open source GPL solution that already coverered 80% of the requirements, that could give a competitive advantage to those who based their offer on that solution. They would then compete only on service and customization.

As I see it, the problem would be mostly to kickstart the development of that GPL platform - no for-profit company could do that, it would be against their interest. But if a big and committed enough community started it, then it could create a positive feedback loop that could be very difficult to stop. IMHO this could be a field where the GPL could give its best (I'm not pasdaran of the GPL, and released my own little open source contributions as MIT).

Well, the GOV.UK code (https://www.github.com/alphagov) is your 80% (or more likely higher) solution. It's based around many micro-services that integrate over HTTP, so it's extremely extensible.

However, even with the software being perfect, you still have very high barriers of entry to overcome: 1) the local authority is likely to be locked into a 5- or 10-year contract with its current supplier 2) the choice of supplier is rarely (if ever) based on technical excellence/licensing strategy. Usually the people commissioning the IT don't tend to have a very deep understanding of technology, licensing, etc

If the gov.uk code covers a lot of the requirements for local administrations in continental EU, that's terrific. Honestly, for now I'm just thinking about this idea, but I don't have the time to study it.

As for the contracts, at least in Italy I've never seen one longer than 3 years, and practically by law the deciding factor is, most of the time, price (which is a big problem on its own).

Well ok, the GOV.UK is the 80+% solution for publishing; transactions is another matter, although hopefully when the Digital by Default Service Standard starts kicking in (specifically the open source provision: https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/digital-by-default#criteri...) then a lot of code around transactions should start appearing.

That's interesting, I'll look into it if I'll ever have the time ;)

Even their electronic tax declaration system (which you're required to use as a company in Germany) isn't working properly at times. You should think that - of all things - they should at least get that one right.

Germany government IT basically is a joke. Just Google for 'toll collect' for additional hilarity.

Heh, our only Windows PC in the office is used just for this. We're otherwise a Mac/Linux shop and the last time I tried filling my (personal) taxes with the Mac it failed horribly. At that time their Java applet wouldn't work with every browser and with the most recent JVM on OS X. So I had to switch through browsers, Google around and downgrade my Java VM.

After some tinkering (a lost Saturday) it finally worked but I don't want something like that in my business. That's why we have one PC here :)

Why not run your Windows in a VM and get rid of the PC?

Toll collect is actually working just fine. The original rollout was just a disaster because of a politically driven unrealistic deadline. And that never happens in nongovernment projects, yeah, right...

Yep, sounds like an accurate description. Or at least, it wouldn't surprise me at all to have such an experience. But then again, I think I'd never be so foolish and even _try_ to do something like that online: Germany is easily 10 years behind countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc. If there's a possibility to snail mail something, I'd choose that any time. Or show up in person at the office in question.

Not that the latter would be an experience any more pleasant...

You should have embedded the scan as an Image into a Word 97 compatible .doc file :)

E-government has at least two big problems, and the author faced both of those.

First, the users need to be authenticated, as in you are the person you claim to be authenticated. Almost no other web service actually needs to know that. Banks are an other exception and for example here in Finland they provide authentication for other private and government web services. Finland also has those secure chip ID cards the author briefly mentioned. The problem with those is that, at least here in Finland, nobody has them. And most of those who have one, don't own a reader needed to use the chip.

The second problem is about logging and archiving. Governments are subject to very strict laws and regulations about how certain cases need to be handled. The are processes to follow. Who did which step when has to be recorded. When the case is finally closed, every piece of paper about the case needs to be archived. Was something denied because a letter from the applicant did not have the necessary information? That letter needs to be archived. All this is manageable when the case is handled in paper.

If the case is handled using a web service, things get more complicated. The system has to log all actions done in the case. It has to archive documents in proper ways. That's not impossible. But it is harder than stamping and signing papers for those whose jobs have been about stamping and signing papers for years. It's also harder for those implementing the web service, as most of the strict regulations don't apply in other projects. All this means that big money needs to used for creating something that adds complexity and is not strictly necessary, and oh boy the government likes to skimp on those kind of projects.

I'm a little surprised you don't mention Finland's rather effective solution: banks act as an authentication service, so you can log into to your bank to prove who you are, and the bank then redirects you to the original website. As Finland has only half a dozen or so consumer banks, and virtually everybody had an account with one or more, this works quite nicely.

I actually did mention that. :)

I think the system is pretty good. The only problem it has, that I know of, is the price. The user of the service has to pay for every single authentication. Couple of years ago the price was 14 cents per authentication. That was enough for a one government project to second guess their choice of authentication.

It is to be expected, after all, the internet is a new thing for all of us according to our chancellor.

I think it's not entirely valid to generalize from one example to the "State of eGovernment in Germany".

Don't get me wrong, it's not in a good state. But also not always as horrifying as this example. (And it's much better here in the Netherlands.)

(And it's much better here in the Netherlands.)

Having recently moved from NL -> DE, I can't agree more. Dutch citizens have one account (DigID) that can be used with nearly all government services. Moving within the Netherlands, reporting taxes, etc. is a breeze. There is even a portal where you get an overview of nearly everything (pension status, study loan, etc.).

Here every thing is paper and you have to sign and complete dozens of forms, many partly overlapping. That said, they were all processed quickly and well, and my employer was very helpful in getting everything sorted out.

Of course, one upside of the German system is that it gives (the impression of) more privacy :).

Not to complain about Germany in general, it's a wonderful country.

There have been initiatives to unify the different government services under one account in Germany, however, whenever someone proposes to aggregate all citizen data in one database, a huge outcry ensues. The basic reason is really that no government entity should know too much about a citizen, so that 39-45 will not that easily be repeated. Sort of security by obfuscation.

It is in a way similar to the current google story, google trying to unify all its offerings in one account, thereby making the experience much smoother and helpful, and people refusing this because they don't want google to know that much about them.

This closely resembles my experience getting my business established with Québec. Eventually I sent an email to the helpdesk complaining about all of the issues and in return they sent me an address to an office downtown. That office is the helpdesk and processing center.

Since then I go to the office every time, chat with the people, ask questions, fill out my forms, and they process it immediately.

It took over one year to finally gain access to all the components of the online system. I still can't read their PDFs because they require an Adobe plugin for PDF "security".

At any rate, see if you have the ability to go in person. Helps with the language barrier and probably more effective.

Finnish State Railways (www.vr.fi), a monopoly that operates all the trains in Finland, closes their webshop from 1.30am to 4am every night. During the close time you cannot buy train tickets.

Used to (I don't know if it still is, I switched banks) be similar for Sparkasse online banking. The website closed some time in the evening and reopened at 6am.

Heh, when I was living in Poland for some years the biggest internet bank closed their online banking over the weekend.

Well, they didn't close it. They just didn't take orders for wire transfers. Not reading the message that popped up - I assumed it's something along the line of "your order will be filled on monday" - made me miss my first rent payment :3

No idea why they couldn't just queue orders over the weekend.

That said: I've seen a lot of IT shit all over the world. No country is immune to stupid people sitting at the steering wheel of IT departments.

At least you could access your account, Sparkasse didn't even allow me to log in -.-

Nothing new here. In NY state you have to send in your Article of Organization to the NYS Division of Corps. You then receive a confirmation mailing which you have to turn around and send in to the NYS Dept. of Taxation, so they, you know, know you exist to tax. Durr! The state already knows it exists, it just registered it, why am I playing mailboy and shuffling mail between two departments which are probably within walking distance of each other!

And to top that, German government probably paid millions for anyone who created the system, and since the system crashes so much they now need to pay all the time to keep it running. In my country such projects appear when there is massive corruption at that field.

Well, at least you have something in Germany. In Bulgaria after 15 years and over half a billion euros spent(and we are talking about one of Europe's poorest countries here) there is almost nothing practically usable done.

This sort of stuff is why I still do my 1040 by hand on paper and mail it in. It's just easier.

I thought that many German municipalities were switching to Linux based systems?

Is it not succeeding, or are there other issues?

(I don't get out much anymore. I live on a rock in the middle of the Earth's largest ocean, on one of the most isolated land masses on Earth.)

Postage is 58 cents. Not the smallest error in the article.

Wow. Sounds like Hotel California...

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