Sustainably embedding digital transformation in our structures
‘Digital change is bringing sweeping change at an economic, political and societal level throughout the globe. Nothing is impervious to digital change – it even affects the field of international cooperation. The digital evolution continuously changes the way we work, offering new opportunities and business potential, yet posing considerable challenges too.’ This is the opening to the foreword to the Guiding Framework for Digital Change at GIZ, published in 2015.
Now, six years on, a digital readiness assessment and benchmarking by external experts paint a positive picture of how GIZ has responded to these challenges. The digital readiness assessment provided a critical outside perspective on the steps we have taken towards digitalisation within GIZ and gauged where we stand compared with other public-sector institutions. The overall results are positive. GIZ performs better in the benchmarking study than a comparison group in the public sector. The external consultancy firm recommended devoting greater attention to supporting the transformation across the entire company. GIZ’s management has taken this advice to heart and devised a range of measures.
Looking at the past six years, we can see that structures and responsibilities have continued to develop within the organisation. The Digital Transformation and IT Solutions (DIGITS) Department was set up in 2018 to drive this topic forward. DIGITS has an implementing and a coordinating role. At the same time, all departments and corporate units also have responsibility for this issue. The Sectoral Department (FMB), the Client Liaison and Business Development Department (AGE) and the Sector and Global Programmes Department (GloBe) are particularly involved in developing innovative services. The Digital Board, which was set up in 2019, deals with the strategic aspects of GIZ’s digital transformation and manages the entire portfolio of digitalisation projects. It comprises eight departmental directors general and corporate unit directors and the managing director responsible for digitalisation. In addition, digitalisation clusters were formed to provide technical management for a large number of projects in this area. These clusters are geared to GIZ’s main business processes. Digitalisation has been systematically mainstreamed within the company.
Digitalisation is integrated into the Corporate Strategy
This mainstreaming was already reflected in the Corporate Strategy for 2017–2019, which specifically addressed key digital issues. The current Corporate Strategy for 2020–2022 continues on the same note, with a focus on digitalised end-to-end business processes and data-driven and technology-based services. This means that two of the Corporate Strategy’s four focus projects explicitly involve digitalisation and are organised in conjunction with company-wide change projects from the digitalisation portfolio. The Digital Literacy Action Plan is also part of the strategy, as a separate annual objective.
Digital working during the coronavirus pandemic
The way we work within GIZ is also changing. Virtual collaboration and communication tools, information security, digital literacy, digital optimisation of business processes, and modern arrangements regarding place of work and working hours have helped to ensure that GIZ is well equipped for mobile working during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the first lockdown started in March 2020, we were able to switch very quickly to largely digital operations. It was possible for almost all staff members to change to mobile working. Internal processes and workflows were retained, and even project appraisals in partner countries were migrated to a digital environment. The digital transformation has helped GIZ to continue its business operations in spite of the restrictions.
The GIZ Employer/Staff Council Agreement on Flexibilisation of Working Hours and Locations entered into force back in 2019. All staff covered by the agreement are permitted to work on a mobile basis for two days per week provided that this does not have an adverse impact on the performance of the organisational unit concerned. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this arrangement was provisionally extended to five days per week.
This Agreement also spurred on the company-wide roll-out of Microsoft Office 365 applications in 2019. Staff now primarily use Microsoft Teams as a collaboration and communication tool and also to organise virtual meetings. The company has also invested heavily in information security. As work becomes more digital, data security becomes more important. All staff have to complete a self-learning module on information security and data protection. Multi-factor authentication has been introduced to protect GIZ’s IT systems. When the pandemic began, we also set up a crisis team to address needs at short notice and deal with specific questions on IT tools and software.
Even before the crisis, a platform had been created to digitalise the procedure for awarding contracts as well. This guaranteed a highly efficient way of working despite the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was crucial because we needed to maintain our ability to deliver services to promote sustainable development. A business policy task force was set up to quickly launch effective programmes in our partner countries in response to the changing priorities of commissioning parties and new situations brought about by the pandemic.
Sustainable digital transformation takes time
A lot has happened over the past six years and new digital topics are emerging all the time. As a result of the pandemic, new tools and cooperation formats have been established within the space of just one year and have now become standard. This is evident across the entire company. And GIZ’s digital transformation is still progressing. We are focusing on the following big five digitalisation topics at GIZ:
- GIZ worldwide: Over 70 digitalisation partners around the world are helping to ensure that digitalisation projects, digital learning, and the change in culture they entail are sustainably mainstreamed within the company. They advise the country offices and projects, build communities and provide a bridge to Head Office. The central question is what role each individual plays in the digital change process. Teams around the world are defining their work and the values associated with it, adopting new attitudes and working together across hierarchies and national borders.
- Digital literacy: Digital skills are another key area in digital transformation. Members of staff have a right to set aside time to learn and gain practical experience, feel confident about using new tools and acquire the skills necessary to work digitally and use relevant applications. GIZ offers appropriate opportunities to learn about the effective application of digital tools in projects, virtual teamwork, and digital leadership. Staff can also access one-to-one coaching. New formats for skills development have become shorter and more succinct – not least because of the COVID-19 pandemic – and they are now being offered more regularly.
- Digitalised end-to-end business processes: Digital optimisation plays a key role in GIZ’s digital transformation. Optimising, standardising and digitalising business processes around the world is crucial to our delivery capability. Changing our core technology plays a major part in this. This is about far more than simply switching to an up-to-date software solution; it is a company-wide change project that further enhances GIZ’s ability to work effectively.
- Information security: In an increasingly interconnected world, it is imperative that comprehensive security mechanisms are established throughout GIZ and that all staff without exception follow the company’s security guidelines. Numerous measures have been put in place to identify and avert online threats and protect GIZ’s data systems from unauthorised access.
- Digital technologies and solutions: Digital is the new standard in GIZ’s services: our approach is therefore digital by default. This requires staff to determine during the appraisal of any new or follow-on projects whether digital solutions can be used. The idea is to fully harness the potential of digitalisation and address the challenges. To achieve this, we need to systematically collect data in order to be able to respond to the potential of new technology. We are already using technological and methodological innovations, establishing new partnerships, making greater use of international networks and expanding our advisory capacity in the field of digital business and politics. GIZ’s digital flagship projects demonstrate the contribution new technologies and methods make to achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
GIZ Innovation Fund
The GIZ Innovation Fund is an in-house ideas competition that was launched in 2017. It seeks to attract innovative approaches that could increase the impact of our projects. Around 100 suggestions were submitted to the ideas competition in 2020. Six selected teams started an accelerator programme in 2018 – the first of its kind to be entirely virtual in format – which saw them begin to take their ideas to the next level as minimum viable products (MVPs). Two winning teams are receiving further support with implementation.
- shERPa is modular software that draws on open-source solutions to manage processes. It helps micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to digitalise their business processes. The particular feature of the software solution is that its support services are provided by local IT firms.
- PartiCipate is a digital portfolio that offers local governments and civil society actors free digital advice on good participation formats.
Digital change in projects
Digital transformation is also changing GIZ’s work in its projects. This is reflected in an increased number of projects embracing digital solutions. In 493 ongoing projects (as at 15 February 2021), GIZ is:
- deploying digital technologies at project level;
- fostering digital innovation in the partner system;
- using optimised data and information systems to improve political decision-making capacity;
- promoting digital and innovation ecosystems in the partner countries; or
- increasing political participation.
The digital-by-default approach played a significant role in this high number of projects with digital elements. The aim is to harness the potential of digitalisation to promote sustainable development and achieve the SDGs.
Project work itself is also becoming increasingly digital in nature. The range of possible uses of digital applications is wide, and there are considerable efficiency gains to be made from quicker and more streamlined procedures. We are improving project management, cooperation between project partners and evaluation with the help of digital tools and platforms. Staff use an internal platform – GIZ.digital Gateway – for networking and discussing digital issues. Guidelines on data protection, toolkits for implementing IT solutions and e-learning, and digital principles give clear guidance for projects and project planning. A help desk advises on data protection issues of importance in our partner countries.