City of Siegburg
Quick payments via QR code
Turns out you were parked a little longer than you’d planned – and come back to see a ticket under your windshield wiper. And now, in addition to being annoyed at your carelessness, you have to deal with a confusing payment process. But if you’re a parking offender in the North Rhine Westphalia city of Siegburg, you’re about to see some relief. As of 2015, you can pay your ticket electronically via PayPal or transfer by scanning the printed QR code – a popular service in the city. With roughly 3,000 payment requests issued each month, the usage rate for the immediate payment option in Siegburg is already around ten percent – and continues to grow.
For Bernd Lehmann, Co-Departmental Head of Citizen Services and Support, the first live test in the district seat of 40,000 inhabitants last year was also a yardstick for deciding whether to make a bigger commitment to offering online payment: “It was clear even then that many citizens are interested in using these payment options in collaboration with the municipal administration. Since an eGovernment law has now been passed in NRW obligating municipal administrations to offer an electronic payment process in the future, we decided to move forward here early on, getting to know the environment and collecting a little experience of our own.” To do so, the project managers identified segments in the large portfolio of municipal administration services that could benefit from online payment – such as dunning procedures.
Siegburg received support from its long-time partner Axians Infoma, whose integrated ePayment module with its own custom ePayment portal it had been testing intensively for almost a year in multiple expanded functions. As the core of the online payment process, the module handles preparation of payment requests and provides these in the Axians Infoma portal ePayKommunal.de.
“We chose Axians Infoma because it was important to us that the solution integrate into financial accounting, and since we didn’t want to deliver data for a variable interface,” Bernd Lehmann explains. “We have been using Infoma newsystem financial accounting since 2008, and are currently working with version 7. Direct Cash department integration not only allows us to reduce follow-up work, but also lowers our administrative costs as well.”
Siegburg started live operations after successfully completing the test phase in July of 2016. Since that time, the city has printed a QR code for direct mobile transfer and a personalized, unique web address (URL) on every payment reminder – no matter whether it’s a notice of default for paying dog taxes, a property tax notice, nursery fees, etc. Citizens can access the page directly on their home PCs via a web browser, or they can use a normal smartphone to read in the QR code printed on the reminder notice, which will open the payment portal in their browser. The user is taken directly from a paper payment request to a personal digital payment request – eliminating all barriers to simple online payment through one of the payment providers offered, either via direct debit or transfer.
Currently, the city is providing two payment options: PayPal and Giropay. Both have been well received, and Paydirekt will also be offered soon. Some initial electronic payments have already been made in the first few months of live operations. One question that came up during test operations proved to be a good way to optimize costs. Although it wasn’t originally included in the Siegburg specification sheet, during the project the city requested to add a “from … to” amount for each payment form, a request Axians Infoma implemented. “This is due to the different fee structures of the individual payment providers,” Bernd Lehmann explains. “We only allow payment for a six figure property tax figure through one of the two providers, for instance, since the fees would otherwise be too high.”
The advantages of the integrated ePayment solution were clear even during pilot operations. However, Bernd Lehmann feels the extensive testing phase was very important to be able to recognize any potential problems early on and react to them. The plan was a success. There haven’t been any problems to solve or user questions to clarify since the solution was launched. “But that doesn’t mean people aren’t using our service,” Lehmann adds. “Instead, it’s an indication that the concept, and how to use it, are self-explanatory.”
The initial assessment of the project is entirely positive. Citizens have a simple, convenient payment method with automatic data collection. Internally, this has simplified work in the bookkeeping department as the online payment methods always use the right account and the right information, allowing everything to be booked automatically. However, the independent confirmation that all processes in the Infoma newsystem solution conform to data privacy and data security requirements contribute to its positive reception. “Of course, the majority of German citizens already use electronic payment processes in some form in their private lives, but they can have a somewhat critical view of the practice in relation to public administration,” Bernd Lehmann admits. “We strongly emphasized the certificate to counteract this impression.”
After introducing reminder notices with QR codes as a first step, his short-term goal is to expand to other areas and use the ePayment module for all assessments and outgoing invoices by the end of the year. However, the plan is to also expand the solution to other administrative processes successively, such as to nursery fees. The city doesn’t yet have a set time frame for this expansion, since other process providers are involved and some interfaces may need to be mapped. The city also plans to expand the portfolio of payment options, in order to include as many aspects of municipal administration as possible.
However, Bernd Lehmann reports that one goal has already been achieved in full: “We wanted to not just talk about concepts and solution options, but to really gain some experience of our own. The next few months will show how we decide to use the experience we’ve gained. But one thing is already clear: We’re the only city in the region offering its citizens such a modern payment service!”