OFA: the Road to OZG Success

The Online Access Act [Onlinezugangsgesetz; OZG], which obligates the federal, state, and local governments to offer their administrative services online, has been in effect since 2017. It is widely known that the digitalization of public administration in Germany is progressing more slowly than hoped. A so-called “OZG booster” adopted by the IT Planning Council in May 2022 was intended to remedy the situation and to ensure the full-area availability of at least 35 high-priority administrative services by the end of last year — a target that was missed.

Examples from practical operations, however, show that despite all the obstacles there are solutions for accelerating the rollout of OZG services to the municipalities. The so-called one-for-all principle (OFA) is of key importance here — if it is implemented correctly.

The OFA principle

The German government has introduced the OFA principle (“One For All/Many”) with the aim of attaining the ambitious goals of the OZG implementation. The fundamental idea behind OFA is for states and municipalities to coordinate and share the work of developing each digital administrative service rather than for each authority to work independently. Specifically, this means that a state or an alliance of several states develops and operates a service centrally — and then makes it available to other states or their municipalities for co-use of the service. The objective is to reduce costs, organizational effort, duplicate structures, and redundant work and to set standards and counter any further fraying of the federal IT landscape.

Recommendations for action from operational practice: How OFA can become more successful

If OZG implementation is ultimately to be accelerated with the aid of OFA and turned into a success in the middle term, a carefully planned approach is advisable. Our recommendations for action:

1. Be involved: If you have decided to connect to an OFA solution, do not hesitate to become involved.

The Subsequent Use Management Committee and the workshops for the determination of requirements are the bodies where each participating state can significantly influence the target solution and adapt it to meet the specific needs of the state. Issues concern both the implementation of technical requirements and the design of a financial cost allocation key.

2. Technical openness: Rely on standards.

Even if this gives rise to new challenges in the short term, it makes sense to embrace standards. Instead of carrying out costly in-house developments whose time horizon sometimes extends only to the next interface or version adaptation, the focus should be on the use and further development of standards. Ultimately, those software products and interfaces that are used by the majority of states and municipalities will prevail in the long run and represent a good investment.

3. Act with foresight: Eliminate obstacles.

If it has not already been done, barriers to OZG implementation and the OFA rollout should be identified and addressed as soon as possible. This includes, for example, the creation of organizational and legal structures for an OFA rollout that extends to the municipalities. Project organizations should be structured to avoid the formation of knowledge silos so that other projects and in particular the public administration as the client can benefit long-term from the acquired knowledge. This should be explicitly considered during project planning and taken into account during budget planning.

4. Financial vision: Consider the future more than the past.

From a business and financial perspective, long-term costs and potential savings should be weighted more heavily than one-time adjustment costs as the former will account for the majority of expenses in the long run. Moreover, during the preparation of economic comparisons and the weighing of the alternatives of adapting or expanding a current solution or switching to a shared OFA solution, there should be a far-sighted assessment of whether a connection to the OFA service will not ultimately be necessary in the long term. In such a case, any investments in the present solution would make little strategic sense.

Finally, it is recommended that the specialists or the responsible parties in the states and municipalities not wait for the OFA principle to present them with a simple and ready-made solution for the digitalization of their OZG services that they can then roll out quickly. Such a solution will most likely not be available without their cooperation, or a fast rollout to the users will not be possible due to significant obstacles in their own organizational structure. Instead, the involved authorities should promptly address the comprehensive planning of their OZG services and the OFA services being implemented and incorporate their own requirements into the process. The states interested in subsequent use should closely monitor the projects in the lead state as this allows the interests of each state to be taken into account as best possible and the OZG to be successful in the end thanks to the OFA principle.

A more detailed version of this article has been published under the title Kann EfA wirklich das OZG „boostern“? in the WEKA-Praxisleitfaden Verwaltungsmanagement & Kommunalpolitik - Zukunft erfolgreich gestalten (German only)