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Different perspectives on familiar problems

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By Martin Ferguson, Socitm Director of Policy & Research

As Brexit debate intensifies towards the 23 June referendum, I thought I’d look to Europe, and our Swedish partner association KommITS. It recently held its 20th anniversary conference and I was delighted to join it, discovering different perspectives on familiar problems.

Taking place in the resurgent city of Malmö, Sweden, the conference saw more than 300 KommITS members, some 30 vendor partners, and an international delegation from Sweden, USA, Canada, UK, Holland and Belgium meet to gain new knowledge, discuss collaborative opportunities, forge relationships, and reflect on policy and practice back in our respective home countries.

‘Privacy and piracy’ kicked of the conference with a candid review of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation to be applied from May 2018. Issues raised by the speaker included:

  • the shift from an organisational to an individual focus
  • the difficulty of implementing data provisions that are likely be open to legal challenge
  • the need for relevant knowledge and skills to implement the regulations successfully.

I reflected that this would make a meaningful subject for a future Socitm Insight topical briefing for our subscriber members. In the meantime, a useful guide by Bird & Bird can be found here.

The data and information theme continued with a session on ‘information safety’, reviewing the results of testing a self-assessment tool across 15 pilot municipalities in Sweden. The tool is based on a model with three components – availability, confidentiality and access – and covers administrative (organisational) and technical areas. All of the pilots were assessed as having room for improvement, including 13 with ‘significant’ room for improvement. Challenges identified included:

  • information governance policy
  • organisational information safety
  • competence and roles
  • rules for encryption
  • incident management
  • continuity management
  • safety processes
  • current system controls
  • gap between IT and business operations.

Next up was Lomma Kommun’s presentation that exposed the need to take digital transformation beyond simple ‘type 1’ transactions to address ‘type 2’ integrated processes, a theme that is reflected back home as we turn the spotlight onto ‘relational services’ – see Nesta’s recent Connected Councils report – which will be addressed in our forthcoming Socitm Annual Conference. This has relevance to the future direction of Socitm’s Better Connected service, featuring in the recent Better Connected Live event.

Malmö was the context for a presentation on the shift in focus from the ‘Internet of Things’ to the ‘Internet of Everything’. The ‘Digital Malmö’ programme started with 15 workshops covering different sectors represented in the socio-economic make-up of this former shipbuilding and fishing port city. The city now prides itself on being a premier European Green Digital City.

Mats Brandt Tieto’s VP Public Sector, Sweden gave an overview of Stockholm’s ambition to be the leading smart city in the world. Unlike many provider-led, smart city initiatives elsewhere, Stockholm’s smart city programme starts with the value that can be extracted by users. His key point was that suppliers must work with users to extract that value, rather than focusing on their technologies and treating users as an afterthought. He gave the example of pathology – revolutionising a cancer patient’s journey – already reduced from 28 days to five; how could we reduce this down to minutes?

Kristin Heinonen gave an enthralling presentation on ‘The Digital Revolution’. A digital strategist and trend analyst for the latest digital developments in the Nordic Region, she is the curator for the internationally-acclaimed The Conference. She set out a vision where rapid technological developments empower increasingly smart and sophisticated users of digital services from both private companies and public bodies. She asked, how do you react as public bodies and how do you know you are investing in the right technology? She demonstrated how quickly we harness new technology and the challenges and opportunities this entails. Can we imagine a world where children aged less than five today will not need a driving licence?

Whilst new disruptive, digital organisations emerge, she asked, what about our existing public services organisations: what could digital do to our services that will make our users’ experience better? She gave the example of an app for Swedish children’s social care payments: within weeks of launch, it achieved 1.2m downloads and took care of 50 per cent of payments. If drones can be programmed to report on football matches, then what scope exists in public services for using drones to help manage events and incidents? Artificial intelligence will unlock self-learning customer service for specialised services via call centres and email. Chat bots will succeed apps (e.g. SAS changing a flight). All this will change the way people interact with organisations.

In short, she set out a future in which technology will be integrated into everything! Whilst this carries the often-heard prospect of making life easier, this will only happen if we communicate with and engage users in design and application.

Per Mosseby, Digitaliseringschef and Åsa Zetterberg, Sektionschef Center för e-Samhället from Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting (SKL – equivalent of the LGA/COSLA) gave a lively double-act presentation on their work implementing the Swedish eSamhället (eServices) strategy. Sweden has been falling behind on international benchmarks for digital government. Nevertheless, its track record of new digital innovations continues, including virtual visits to the doctor, ‘flipping the classroom’ – using digital to personalise maths learning pass rates from 58 to 93 per cent – and introducing a national digital test for use in schools. SKL is prioritising ‘Digital First’, seeking to simplify and standardise services across municipalities and to create a ‘marketplace for digital solutions’, including:

  • smart welfare
  • restaurant licensing
  • cultural services
  • booking system – this one being crowdfunded.

Given the Local Digital Roadmaps being developed in England, I was intrigued to hear about Sweden’s ‘Vision for e-Health 2015’. This vision is being implemented through regionally-consolidated plans that cover all 290 Swedish municipalities with integrated multi-agency social services.

And, how about this for a way of presenting the results of local authority digital maturity assessments?


Graphic courtesy of eBlomlådan; translation by Google Translate

eBlomlådan is a tool for self-assessment of service and business transformation with the support of IT, which can be used by Swedish municipalities. It is structured by three levels, linked to the SLK Association’s strategy for eSamhället (eServices), and measures how the municipality is performing with regard to:

  • digital welfare services
  • business transformation
  • IT as enabler.

Opening up public data sets continues to be a challenge, while one of the big frustrations is that many services continue to be “way too slow”. Comparisons were made with the implementation of Digital Post in Denmark – mandated for communications with government and generating high satisfaction ratings. The persistence of insecure fax in many service areas was noted. All this pointed to the need for a secure digital channel for messaging. Interestingly, in view of our own challenges in the UK in finding a solution to citizen identity/authentication, the business model for Swedish e-ID via banks is to be reviewed; self-evidently, it only works for people with bank accounts. By way of contrast, Eddy Van der Stock from V-ict-or explained that, in Belgium, they have had universal eID in place for the last 12 years. This acts as the foundation for authenticated citizen access to joined-up public services through their CSAM (Customer Secure Access Management system) which personalises what each citizen is authorised to access. Harry Turnbull from MISA-Ontario outlined the role of the Canadian Digital ID and Authentication Council (DIAC). Whilst their federated model is similar in concept to Verify – the difference is that local government is represented on the DIAC and is engaged in building the business model for rollout to municipalities. However, as in the UK, the issue of “who pays?” remains unresolved.

Finally, an interesting fact to emerge from pre-conference excursion: Did you know that the father of modern science is one Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)?


Graphic courtesy of The Galileo Project

He was convinced that the improvement of astronomy hinged on accurate observations. On the island of Hven near Copenhagen, he secured an offer from King Frederick II of Denmark to build an observatory from which he was able to build an impressive bank of data. In his day he struggled to convince vested interests to accept evidence-based interpretation of the solar system and its place in the universe. I reflected that even today, data science and analytics continues to be starved of resources, despite growing evidence of its perspicacity in identifying trends and patterns relevant to future innovation in public services.

Overall, it was a fascinating conference and an opportunity to learn more about what we have in common and where we differ in public services re-design and digital transformation. Later this year, we will welcome representatives from each of our partner international associations (Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States) to our Socitm Annual Conference, the designated LOLA (Linked Organisation of Local Authority ICT Societies) international conference for 2016. If the conference follows the pattern of our spring event, it will be one of the best Socitm conferences ever!

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