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Lessons from Digitisation of the Public Sector

Last week I was a participant at Dagens Samhälles event called Digitalisation of the public sector. It was an interesting event with many good questions. These were discussed by leading figures from different parts of the country and with different roles in and around the digitalisation of the Swedish public sector.

These are five things that I took away from the discussions and that I thought I would share with you in the next few newsletters. The five things are:

  1. Data should flow freely within Europe’s public organisations by 2030.
  2. Closed systems go out of business.
  3. Cloud computing is the way business systems will be delivered in the future.
  4. Those activities that do not go digital will become irrelevant.
  5. Digitisation equals business development.

1. Free flow of data

You’ve probably heard me talk about it before; that we need to have a free flow between different business systems within a business, and also between different businesses. A natural law that affects all activities is that you cannot work faster than the information flows within the process you are in.

Therefore, when we constantly need to manually transfer information from one place to another, the process flows come to a halt. In addition, there is a cost of quality degradation when, due to human error, the information is slightly distorted at each stage of transmission.

Errors that then need to be corrected and may also have had a negative impact on the business.

  • Decisions are made on the wrong basis.
  • Invoices are sent incorrectly or contain incorrect charges.
  • Pateineter gets the wrong treatment or medication.
  • Maintenance is done in the wrong place and/or at the wrong time.

EU strategy

The report on an EU strategy for data (2020/2217(INI)) states that “Stresses the need to establish common European data areas in order to ensure the free flow of non-personal data across borders and between sectors, thereby increasing data flows between businesses, academia, stakeholders and the public sector. In this context, calls on Member States to fully comply with Regulation (EU) 2018/1807 in order to allow data to be stored and processed across the EU without unjustified barriers and restrictions.”

It goes on to say that it wants to “promote existing standards to overcome technical challenges, lock-in effects and unnecessary transaction costs, while enabling users to freely choose their local cloud services and effortlessly migrate their data to other service providers via standardised interfaces”.

The target date for this free flow of information is 2030. It may sound far away, but that time will pass quickly. What is clear is that if suppliers do not want to open up and are not forced to do so, then it will not happen.

eServices Norrbotten led the way

I myself was involved in the eServices Norrbotten project in 2004-2006, in which both the EU and the then SKL participated. There we proved the need to make data flow freely within processes and between different organisations’ business systems.

We also proved what a huge benefit it is for businesses to be able to dramatically improve their operations and value to their customers, whatever you call them.

For example, the Municipality of Boden reduced the need for manual handling of exemption cases by 90%. This while reducing the time to service the property owner from an average of 35 days to two seconds in the fully automated flows.

If we hadn’t managed to make the flow of information automatic between the different systems, it would never have been possible.

The reluctance of suppliers

However, we encountered providers of various business systems who were completely uncomprehending of the need to let someone else in to access “their” information. We wanted to be able to create information into their system or read information from their system.

It was not easy. Not because it is technically difficult but because there was, and is, a reluctance. The data is created, according to them, through manual input into an interface that they have in their system. Not automatically from somewhere else where the information already exists.

When I’m out in the field today, more than 15 years later, I meet these suppliers and many are unfortunately still as reluctant today as they were then to integrate and open up.

Many have not taken a single step in that direction. They are terrified of losing control of “their” data and not being able to make money from locking you in as a customer. Certainly they think it’s good to have, for example, a mobile app that can capture information out in the field and into their business systems.

But only as long as they built it themselves and sold it to you. Not when someone else takes the initiative. Because it threatens their oligo-/monopoly.

You must make demands

The only way to get past this is to tighten up your procurement requirements.

You need to own your information and you need to require open interfaces into the systems, called APIs (Application Program Interfaces).

If you make this a mandatory requirement in your procurement, suppliers will be forced to change.

I’ll stop there for now and come back next week to tell you about initiatives to deal with these unwilling oligopoly or monopoly suppliers. There are municipalities that are leading this work.

To these I wish you a good week.