Torbjørn Moen spends more of his time on national shared components and solutions, such as Norway’s National Registry, the legal entities register, the ID portal and the contact and reservation register, than the average Norwegian citizen. He has been central to several major digitalisation projects, including for the City of Oslo and the city tax office in Oslo. He has been involved in everything from old-fashioned waterfall projects to agile product development projects in autonomous teams. In addition, Moen is a writer and has published 17 books for young people.
One of the things that has received the most justified praise in the public sector’s new digitalisation strategy is the desire to create coherent services with the user as the focus. To make it easier for citizens and businesses to deal with an increasingly complex public sector, the idea is to create services across silos and management levels, based on key events in a citizen’s life. What a great idea!
An important prerequisite for achieving this, of course, is that the public authorities use common services and share data among themselves. And so to make that easier the most important of our common data sources – the very backbone of ‘public Norway’, in fact — the National Registry will be available in a new, more modern version. And we’re not talking about a few superficial updates here. The Norwegian Tax Administration has built a brand new National Registry from scratch involving new and modern architecture and future-oriented technology, both to meet the functional requirements of the future and to keep pace with current technological developments.
Takes account of new social patterns
The old population registry was developed in a different time and was based on a slightly more archaic perception of what constitutes a family than is the general perception in 2019. Among other things, the father was the head of the family, and if the parents separated, only one parent had parental responsibility and naturally the children could only live in one place. This has now been changed. You can now register that you and your ex have shared parental responsibility, and that your children have shared residence. This may not sound that important, but it will make life much easier for schools and kindergartens across Norway, and in many cases the municipalities will no longer need to maintain their own local ‘parent registers’.
Enhanced ID checks
The new National Registry also has new functionality that enhances identity checks and reduces the risk of stolen identities being used. For example, the new data elements to be made available include information about whether an identity has been checked or not. A number of new digital services are also being created for use with the National Registry, such as applying for a certificate of no impediment prior to marriage, new address notification, name choices for newborn children and death notices. And residents of Norway will be able to access their own data management solution, with the ability to correct their own data in accordance with the citizen’s GDPR rights.
Significant focus on automation and streamlining
However, it is also important to be able to improve the quality of the data in the National Registry. Reducing the amount of time between something happening in the real world and the registry being updated and ‘public Norway’ realising that something has happened will improve all of the public services based on data from the National Registry and make them more relevant. It also means that you can safely build new, innovative and more relevant services based on changes to the data in the National Registry. For that reason there has been significant focus on automating and streamlining all the case management processes involved in running the actual Registry, with an attempt to ensure that the data is registered as close to the source as possible.
From 80 days to 80 milliseconds
One example: According to Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, it could previously take up to 80 days from someone dying until the National Registry was updated accordingly. As a result, as many as 35,000 dead patients were called for health examinations every year, with – of course – none of them showing up. It is easy to understand how sending out 35,000 unnecessary letters and making unnecessary appointments represented a significant cost to society. In addition, it is an additional burden for the relatives who are constantly receiving letters and reminders from the public sector. Many have their hands full dealing with loss and grief without also having to deal with a large number of government agencies who believe that the person they lost is still alive and so continue to nag them. And many government agencies are quite persistent once they make their mind up about something. Just ask anyone who hasn’t paid their taxes on time.
But this has now been taken care of. With the new National Registry the doctor who issues the death certificate also logs into the Registry to enter the information. Turning 80 days into 80 milliseconds! The problem is solved.
Or at least in theory
Because of course it’s not all plain sailing, and as usual it largely comes down to money.
In order to be able to exploit the full potential of the National Registry, it needs to be used, and for that simple, cheap access is the key. And truth be told, the Norwegian Tax Administration has done its bit in connection with the new Public Registry. They have created a handful of easy-to-understand rights packages that provide access to different parts of the registry, and they have said that the information will be provided free of charge through a range of standardised services: incident list, lookup and extraction. So then all that’s needed is for the rest of the public sector to actually make use of the options available.
We all remember how it was before when most public bodies had local copies of the National Registry that for financial reasons they only updated once a year. The result was a deluge of misdirected letters to people who had moved and a large number of local ‘contact details registers’ embedded in various case systems nationally and at municipalities. And although APIs for the National Registry have been available for many years, and it no longer costs a fortune to obtain information, there are still many government agencies with their own contact details registers in which they enter contact information, address information and other data that is already in the National Registry. It’s really a little bit silly. Well, actually, it’s very silly.
New backbone, but still not there yet
With the new National Registry, it should be even easier and cheaper to obtain such information, so in principle it should be possible to get rid of all the local contact details registers found at public offices. But it is far from clear that this will happen overnight by itself. So maybe ‘public Norway’ needs a little nudge. Because maybe the next time you fill in a form for a government office – whether it’s on paper or online – and you’ve already provided your ID number, you should write ‘find it yourself’ in the fields for name and address. Maybe that would create a little people power.
Well enough of that. We’re getting a great new backbone in the public sector, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re getting the coherent public services that are often spoken about as part of the digitalisation strategy. Because although the National Registry project is digitising the work involved in applying for and registering a marriage, for instance, nothing is being done about the adjacent services in the municipalities. If you want a civil wedding, you will still need to print out the licence you received digitally and take it to the town hall. And at the municipality, all the subsequent processes are paper-based until the marriage needs to be registered in the National Registry. In other words, to say that the marriage process has been digitised is, therefore, not quite the full story.
Of course, you can’t blame the Norwegian Tax Administration for focusing on its own processes and service production, but this is one of the biggest challenges in realising the digitalisation strategy. When it comes to sharing data and coherent services, it is very often the case that the investment is made in one place while the benefits are seen elsewhere. And traditional management mechanisms and budget processes in the public sector are not ideal for dealing with such issues. And if you can’t solve that, it will not be possible to create coherent services with the user as the focus. Because as Heidi Austlid, CEO of IKT-Norge says to Computerworld: “Common goals are all well and good, but investment is also required. That’s something that the strategy says little about.”
And that’s the key. The new National Registry will be a fantastic starting point for creating innovation and good digital public services with the user as the focus. But for it to be a success, far more incentives are required.