Highlights of Interview - NIIS - X-Road

Highlights of Interview - NIIS - X-Road

Published on: 10/11/2020


ABR project team handled an interesting discussion with authorities from Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS) based on the questions from the Interview Guide.

We are pleased to share the highlights of it with ABR community in this news article below.

Highlights of interview

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The successful data exchange layer solution project, X-Road®, dates from the 1990s and until now represents a great example of cross-border cooperation that any country, including the EU in whole, can get inspired and learn from. Considering that X-Road is an open-source software and ecosystem solution that provides unified and secure data exchange between organisations, free of charge, any interested country or organisation can implement it, and the following story will give you more reasons why. Many elements and ways of thinking have been continuously considered throughout the European Commission’s Access to Base Registries project.

What is usually underlined as an important aspect of X-Road is its growing ecosystem. Making connections between different data sources is good and, of course, needed. However, what is described as a key matter is enlarging the number of services which can be interconnected. Benefits from the technical perspective are also many – namely, with X-Road, cross-border and national data exchanges are implemented through the same channel. This means that there is no need of adding new integrations when exchanging data with a different partner organisation / country, and this makes X-Road comparatively better than other solutions and could serve as an example for building a European data exchange infrastructure for base registries.

The way X-Road is dealing with data management is another interesting aspect, as it leaves a lot of flexibility to those implementing it. Although the Once-Only (TOOP) principle is a guiding principle, X-Road does not impose it and, moreover, it supports different approaches to data management. To illustrate this example, we can use Estonia and Finland and the way in how master data management of personal data is handled by each of them. Estonia implemented the once only principle, which means that data is fetched directly from the responsible authority. In Finland the situation is different – although it has TOOP implemented when needed – another common approach is to replicate (a relevant subset of) the master data registry in organisations’ database and download updates regularly. However, exchange of data between the two countries is achieved through the master base registries.

When it comes to benefits to users, it is important to make distinction between:

a) Citizens, who are profiting from cheaper and numerous services, and are indirect users of X-Road;

b) Organisations, who are exchanging data and introduce easily new services when connections are already in place thanks to X-Road.

Considering the data quality, there are different approaches among countries and organisations on how questions and challenges related to the topic are handled. X-Road does not enforce any particular approach or solution since it doesn't set any restrictions to data that are transferred. Instead, X-Road enables the transfer of all kind of data regardless of content type and semantics. It means that each country and organisation is free to define their approach on how to manage the data quality. 

Like any other data exchange solution, X-Road also deals with certain challenges, which are common to many similar projects across Europe. The key is to share lessons learned for the future and discuss possible solutions to overcome challenges. What often appear as obstacles are legal and budgetary requirements, which cause delays in projects. From everyday experience, we see that many organisations have the need – and are requested – to exchange data. However, they face the following issues:

a) there are not enough / planned resources for this type of project;

b) even when it is legally allowed or required to exchange data, each organisation / department still has to sign agreements regarding the data exchange.

To overcome these challenges, X-Road comes up with the following approach and suggestions:

a) when it comes to legal requirements – the European Commission could take this opportunity to provide one legal framework and templates to streamline the process in different countries and organisations;

b) to be less aggressive towards budget, X-Road recommends an incremental model – adding new services / elements when they materialise, and replacing obsolete ones rather than replacing / building a whole new infrastructure.

Big changes are not likely to be implemented fast, hence, the solution can lose some of its benefits due to delays. Also, when introducing changes it is good to explore what possibilities are out there – is it really important to change the whole infrastructure or can we achieve the same results with a smaller intervention? X-Road supports a research-focused change management approach. Namely, there are two collaboration projects with the University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology, which are focusing exactly on expansion of X-Road communication capabilities. Currently, X-Road supports synchronous data exchange via request-response message pairs. Based on the feedback received from users, the messaging capabilities should be expanded to cover asynchronous one-to-many messaging. Therefore, one of the ongoing collaboration projects is studying whether Apache Kafka – a well-known open source messaging solution – could be integrated into X-Road – instead of implementing everything from scratch. Future plans include doing more research and publishing the results, so a wider audience can learn from them. 

Use of OSS, transparency and information exchange are the keys for success!