A Centre for Digital Sovereignty

German government executes OSS-based vision of digital sovereignty

Published on: 07/07/2021

The German government is taking the next steps to fulfil its commitment of increasing the level of digital sovereignty of its public sector. In a recent decision, the Conference of the IT Coordinators of the Ministries approved the “Strategy for Strengthening Digital Sovereignty for Public Administration IT”, with a view of creating a Centre for Digital Sovereignty, built on open source.

With the publication of a study in 2019, the German federal government already showed an increased awareness of strategic dependencies on a low number of IT suppliers. The study identified  the increased cost, lock-in and reduction in autonomy as negative consequences of these dependencies. This push was furthered by a joint paper of the federal CIO, the IT-Planning Council and the IT-Council outlining the goals and areas of action in order to improve the level of digital sovereignty.

Now, after first identifying challenges and goals, the German federal CIO put forward a organisational concept for a Centre for Digital Sovereignty (ZenDis, working title) in April to the Conference of the IT Coordinators of the Ministries and the IT-Council for approval, which outlines a concrete action to achieve this. The bodies endorsed the project and said the centre is “to become a central coordinating body for the promotion of Open Source Software (OSS) in the public administration. For the future, the field of activity of the ZenDiS (working title) is to be expanded in later stages in order to address further building blocks of digital sovereignty”. The German government is building an Open Source Programme Office (OSPO).

The concept outlines the issues currently observed, how open source contributes to addressing these issues and which challenges need to be addressed to achieve a successful implementation. Following this, the vision and mission are outlined and the concrete tasks of the centre are outlined. According to the document, the ZenDiS aims to achieve five main goals:

  1. Initiation of projects for the cooperative (further)-development and provision of demand-oriented OSS solutions for the public administration (and downstream for business and civil society),
  2. Compilation of solution and service concepts for the cooperative provision of OSS based on operational and legal requirements of public administrations,
  3. Improving the framework conditions for OSS within public administrations for the deployment of OSS solutions in public administrations,
  4. Raising awareness of the value of OSS in public administrations (as well as civil society),
  5. Promoting an efficient German and European open source ecosystem.

Thus, the centre is an ambitious concept to strategically make us of open source software for the German public administration. By using the coordination infrastructure of the IT-Planning Council between the federal level and the regional level the actions are being aligned and synchronised between the vertical government levels.

The Centre for Digital Sovereignty concept

The paper also clarified the concrete tasks and outputs of the centre within the government strategy:

  1. A roadmap of prioritised developments and introduction of OSS alternative solutions in public administrations,
  2. Guidelines on development, adoption and procurement of open source,
  3. Consultation of public administration on development, adoption and procurement of open source,
  4. Co-development with regard to scouting existing solutions, contributing the development and ensuring their long-term viability,
  5. Community engagement,
  6. Communication and awareness raising on needs of the public administration,
  7. Forging national and international cooperation with the aim of creating open source standard solutions,
  8. Open source marketplace to share scalable solutions for the public administration including a:
    1. Information platform
    2. Open source “app” store
    3. Discussion forum
    4. Code repository

With the approval, the IT-Planning Council tasked the working group “Cloud Computing and Digital Sovereignty” to coordinate the implementation of the decision, develop guidance documents and keep the Council informed about developments.

With regard to the code repository, the Markus Richter, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, for Building and Home Affairs and federal CIO, announced in May that the development of the platform had begun in collaboration with the competent ministries in North-Rhine Westphalia and Baden-Würtemberg and Komm.ONE, the public IT service provider of Baden-Würtemberg. Richter said: “Open source is an important building block for strengthening digital sovereignty. We want to create a place where federal, state and local governments can easily and securely co-design, share and reuse open source public administration software.”

Open source also plays a major role in the third German national action plan (2021-2023) as part of the Open Government Partnership. The plan outlines open government milestones, many open source related, such as Corona-Warn-App and which actions will be taken to further the goals of the cross-government initiative, among them the Centre for Digital Sovereignty.