Low supply of digital services an obstacle to Germany’s digitalisation

"Especially in the health sector and in public administration, digital services can offer great benefits. The potential of the services is great and can be utilised relatively easily," Rehse emphasised. [everything possible/Shutterstock]

The use of digital services in Germany is mainly hampered by low supply and limited practicability, a representative study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found. EURACTIV Germany reports.

According to the study, which looks into the barriers to digitalisation in the use of digital applications in education, work, healthcare, and public administration, the lack of practicability of digital services is one of the main hurdles for successful digitalisation.

This contradicts the current debate in the country, which typically cites broadband networks’ sluggish expansion and data protection concerns as the biggest obstacles.

“Germany has not yet reached its goal in terms of infrastructure expansion, but our study shows that there is a lot of leverage in the provision of digital services and their actual use by the population,” BCG senior partner and co-author of the study, Olaf Rehse, has said.

While the expansion of fibre optics is progressing slowly and is currently at around 15%, 89% of households now have internet access of at least 100Mbit/s – which is 5% more than in the same period last year, the study states.

According to the report, the benefits of digital services in terms of time and money have not yet been recognised by a large part of the population, which is why communication and the expansion of digital services should be given greater attention.

Data protection concerns, which are often described as one of the biggest obstacles to digitalisation, were given a subordinate role by respondents. While 30% of respondents said that too little attention is paid to data protection, especially in the health and education sectors, two-thirds of the population use services that require them to share their data.

In addition, expanding data protection was only named by respondents as the seventh most important measure for increasing the usability of digital services – while faster processing times and increased clarity are seen as the most pressing measures.

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Offering more digital services

The study’s findings also mirror the experience of other countries.

Estonia, one of the frontrunners in digitalisation, was especially keen to design its digital services as user friendly as possible, which made it easier for people to pick them up and see the added benefits.

In Germany, while the number of users of digital services in public administration and the health sector increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers have remained low overall. This can be explained by the fact that there are hardly any more digital offerings available than there were in 2019.

“Especially in the health sector and in public administration, digital services can offer great benefits. The potential of the services is great and can be utilised relatively easily,” Rehse emphasised.

The study also cites major shortcomings in education because, although the availability of digital applications in the education sector has improved significantly, there is a need to catch up when it comes to digital infrastructure.

For example, only 37% of schools in Germany have sufficient internet access. Although this figure has improved by almost 10 percentage points since 2019, there is still room for improvement, according to the study.

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Digital Divide

While digitalisation continued to intensify during the pandemic, it is primarily low-income earners and the elderly who have become increasingly disconnected.

Overall, the share of users soared from 26% to 64% during the pandemic but one-third of the population continues to rely exclusively on analogue devices. The elderly and low-income earners are also the groups with the most reservations about digitalisation.

Among those surveyed above 60, for example, 50% do not use digital services, compared to 46% for low-income earners with a net income below €1,500.

“The different needs in the population require target group-specific measures. It is important, for example, to bring seemingly marginalised groups more strongly on board,” Rehse added.

Low-income population groups are also generally more apprehensive about digitalisation. For example, 37% of low-income earners said they were anxious about using digital services.

Digitalisation’s advantages must thus be communicated more strongly, according to Rehse. This would allay the concerns the population has about digitalisation and also emphasise its added value, he added.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Luca Bertuzzi]

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