Martin Jordan moving to DigitalService4Germany is a move that’s good to see. There have been rumblings about this organization for a while now and looking at the links and websites he posts in the article, they have been busy setting something up. For a consumer of German government websites nothing material has changed yet of course and likely will not for a while.

Let’s not get our GDS expectations up in Germany. Many things are similar across high level government but Germany has its own unique cultural ballast and a history of entrenched failure when it comes to anything innovative in this domain.

Staffing

Looking at the roster of the organization of LinkedIn, what’s immediately obvious is that they are a developer-light, design-heavy organization. I don’t feel like that setup will enable the significant (infrastructural) development necessary to overhaul any large scale government web property.

I could be wrong of course, but that’s also exactly what they’re (not) doing. Their signature project seems to be a pension calculator which is very small in both scope and relevance.

The talent wars have intensified immensely so the question is whether hiring a significant roster of developers is a game that can even be won anymore, even with a GmbH that’s been specifically setup to circumvent public service procurement and employment rules. Using such a vehicle and getting the best talent available to work on generous freelance contracts has been proven to work but I’m not sure whether that is an option in Germany politically.

Without a significant development capability of its own and a serious commitment to insourcing, an operation like this won’t be much more than a designerly front and justification for the large scale consulting outfits that have provided software development services to government and will likely continue to do so. If that is the plan, I commend them for the ingenuity. Those consultancies definitely need a new gloss and validation given their track record of consistent failure and grift.

Realism

Anyway, Martin’s commitment to transparency is laudable and I’ll be dipping in and out of his public updates to see what’s happening but my interest in this area has become tempered with realism and much diminished.

My working hypothesis for Germany is that it can’t do digital. That’s sad for somebody living here, but for somebody in my line of work it offers job security decades into the future. Many of the problems that have been solved elsewhere persist here and likely won’t be solved any time soon—if at all.