In this interview, Mr. Kopponen shares his experiences and observations of Finland’s public sector development in recent years. He emphasises that while delivering good government digital services are important, the bigger challenges in digitalisation lie in figuring out operational aspects such as work processes and reducing siloed ways of working.
Could you tell us more about your role as special advisor for Public Sector ICT at the Ministry of Finance (MOF)?
I have a few responsibilities, one of them was the preparation of principles for digitalisation, which began in 2015. We formed 9 principles for digitalisation and now we’re implementing them in the whole of public sector. Another role for me is to enable new ways of working with people from different sectors. Services are organized around people’s life events and companies’ business events. This is something we’re trying to roll out. The third role is to supervise a digitalisation support team for the state called D9. The team supports state organisations to digitalise themselves for the people and companies. These 3 areas are my main roles.
What are some of the strategies in place for Public Sector ICT development in Finland in the next 3-5 years?
Every strategy that is ongoing is based on the government programme which normally changes every 4 years. One of the key objectives is digitalising public services including lots of different activities such as special fund for digitalisation.. Few exeption occurs, for example, a cybersecurity strategy that goes beyond 4-5 years.We have 3 key points in our work. The first point is the citizen-centric way of working, it is a systemic change and that’s a huge transformation in governance. The other point is the free flow of data, we’re dealing with the legislation of data, how we are responsible for our data and how we work it via APIs in order to enable digitalisation of customer-centric processes. Information policy is a very big issue in Finland, that is the second part. The third part is building the platforms that enable information flow from one system to another for the citizens and companies. These 3 parts form the structure for our ongoing work.
Finland and Estonia recently set a joint institute to develop X-road technology in March 2017, which is used to help integrate and deliver digital government services. How is that development going?
The organisation for this institute is about to be built and I believe the organisation will be fully running at the end of this year. The institute is still not built up because forthcoming managing director is about to start leading the organisation.
X-road is only one part of the national architecture for digital services, it isn’t everything. X-road is a standard for exchanging information between systems but we other components and services in the whole architecture, too. This architecture is built with open-source tools. We’re also co-operating with other EU countries to develop a common platform components in the EU, X-road is just one part of that. If this institute holds weight, we could interact deeper with the EU and other countries.
What are some of the challenges in integrating and managing centralised and joint ICT services?
We have a government ICT centre called Valtori, an organisation which was built from different organisations, it’s like we gathered over 1000 people at the same organisation. Of course, someone who is trying to get all 80 units together to become part of Valtori isn’t so easy. It takes a lot of effort to figure out the common ways of working.
Valtori is now heading towards the customer-oriented way of working and that, of course, is a challenge as well because they have lots of services with minimum downtime. The challenge is when you gather people from different organisations to find the common ways of working but we’re improving all the time.
What are some of the biggest changes or transformation you have seen in the public sector of Finland so far in your role as special advisor?
The biggest change is how Finnish politicians lean towards digitalisation nowadays. 3 years ago, politicians did not discuss digitalisation almost at all and nowadays it is a cross-cutting theme which is great. But the biggest challenge we’re trying to figure out – and we have had some breaking points in transforming the whole public sector – is to become citizen-centric, as I mentioned earlier.
That is maybe the biggest issue when it comes to digitalisation, it is figuring out the way of new working habits and processes. Our government is very keen on figuring out these ideas, I believe that’s the biggest breakthrough in Finland. Of course, we have lots of digital services and we’re in the Top 10 of the world in digital services but digitalisation isn’t just digital services.
Some of the biggest challenges to digitalisation are things like mandates and budgets in organisations, and siloed ways of working. Customer-oriented digitalisation goes across sections in different organisations and it doesn’t care whether it is public or private sector. That’s why we need to figure out new ways on how to resolve these cross-sectional projects because we can no longer just put money in different places and hope that they will cooperate. We have tools and plans to make this systemic change for the citizens and the companies.
Opening up data is another challenge – we have opened data for many years but if we don’t take case of developer-friendly APIs, then data doesn’t flow for citizen and businesses. It just doesn’t work if you give data dumps in excel format.