During the Digitisation Conference 2016 held on June 9 and 10 in Oslo, Norway’s Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) presented its annual assessment of the progress of digitisation in Norway. The overall conclusion is that public institutions are not meeting citizens’ increased expectations and do not adequately exploit the opportunities digitisation provides. They do perform well when it comes to sharing solutions, and it is here the most important lessons can be learned.
Since it was founded in 2008, the mission of the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) has been to develop and renew the public sector. Difi strives to contribute to efficient, trustworthy and open government, and an ICT policy to promote wealth creation and participation for everyone in Norway. Indeed, the use of public online services has increased by 235 percent from 2010 to 2015.
However, in 2016 state and municipal enterprises are unable to meet citizens’ increased expectations. Users are largely ready to adopt digital public services, but they are less satisfied with the services provided. In fact, their support for these services is declining – not necessarily because the services are inferior, but certainly because citizens now expect more. Municipal web services, especially, have developed in the wrong direction. On average they achieve 53 percent of the maximum score, compared with 58 percent two years ago. Central government services, however, show an increase in their score from 66 to 69 percent.
Difi has carried out surveys of the status of the digitisation of services provided by the state. Last year, the government launched “digital first”: the idea that dialogue with citizens should be primarily electronic, rather than by paper mail. The main impression from the surveys, however, is that many government agencies have not digitised all their services. Only 27 percent of the services that citizens can apply for were available on-line.
Municipalities too are at a low level of maturity in terms of digitisation. Again, only 27 percent of the services that citizens can apply for were available on-line. It is particularly in the area of health and welfare that municipalities lacked digital services. Also, there is considerable variation in the extent and quality of digital services in the public sector.
The government has set aside money for small and medium-sized projects through the so-called co-financing scheme. Difi finds that the scheme is primarily used to upgrade or replace existing systems instead of doing things in new ways. An average service achieved 60 percent of the maximum score. Compared with 2014, this gives a picture of relative standstill. In 2014 the average service received 61 percent.
Public institutions do perform well when it comes to sharing solutions. IDP, Altinn, and a secure digital mailbox service are highlighted below as examples. A new national common solution for e-signing of documents, which was launched this spring, also seems promising.
Description of target users and groups
Difi’s primary target group is central government. The municipal sector is also a user when it comes to management development, innovation, procurement and ICT. Difi also works with industry, NGOs and citizens.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
A few examples of the successful solutions developed in Norway are the government services portal IDP, the Altinn communications service, a secure digital mailbox for citizens, and a new national common solution for e-signing of documents.
As of May 2016 over 930 government services were accessible via the IDP login portal (http://eid.difi.no/en/id-porten), divided into 527 businesses. In 2010 IDP handled 20 million logins to public services, and by 2015 the number had grown to just over 67 million.
Altinn (www.altinn.no/no) is a web portal for digital dialogue between businesses, individuals and government agencies. When electronic tax returns were announced on Altinn, just over 2 million unique users logged in via IDP on the first day. The total number of logins that day was 32 percent higher than the previous record. In 2015 Altinn delivered more than 28 million messages to nearly 3.5 million users.
As of 1 June 2016, just under 950,000 inhabitants of Norway had created a secure digital mailbox. 196 businesses used this solution as well. Difi has set a goal of 1.6 million inhabitants and 200 enterprises by the end of 2016. The digital mailbox allows citizens and companies to exchange encrypted mail with public-sector organisations. All state administrative agencies should have adopted the digital mailbox by 1 April, 2016. If enterprises use Altinn messaging to contact citizens, they too need to have the secure solution in operation by October 1, 2016.
In spring 2016, a new standardised national solution for e-signing of documents was introduced. This service ensures safe and efficient handling of documents that require citizens’ signatures. By May 2016 more than 300 documents had already been signed electronically.
Main results, benefits and impacts
See above for the results of the successful standardised solutions IDP, Altinn, the digital mailbox for citizens and the new solution for e-signing of documents.
Track record of sharing
Sharing common solutions has a high priority. The government’s Digital Agenda for Norway recognises common solutions as an important efficiency measure in meeting similar needs across the public sector. Skate, the agency responsible for managing and coordinating e-government services, has established an overall strategy and action plan for the development of common solutions in the public sector. Difi has started mapping state digitisation initiatives affecting the municipal sector. A good overview of ongoing and planned ICT projects, and a framework for prioritising activities, are important in enhancing cooperation between municipal and central government.
1. The most important lesson when it comes to meeting users’ expectations:
To realise the gains associated with digitisation, many barriers need to be overcome, and in particular these four:
navigation (almost one in three services is lacking in terms of both internal navigation and internal search),
language (municipal services especially use complicated language),
mobile customisation (only 11 of the 63 services tested receive a full score in terms of their suitability for mobile devices), and
submission and receipt (nearly 40 percent of the services tested have a submission button that does not give a clear signal that a task has been completed).
2. The most important lesson when it comes to implementing more and better digital services:
It is necessary to increase competence in, and awareness of, digitisation at both employee and management level. Fewer than half (48 percent) of government employees believe in the leveraging potential of digital solutions. Only 25 percent of leaders regard digitisation as a particularly important management challenge ahead. The government’s ambition is that users should experience public services as continuous and comprehensive, regardless of which government department they are dealing with. The administration should also reuse information, instead of asking users to re-submit details they have already disclosed. Should the public sector achieve this, enterprises need to start exploiting the opportunities that the automatic collection of existing data provides. Here too, mobile customisation is important: the main trend is that sites work fine on large screens, but performing tasks on mobile devices is often difficult.
3. The most important lesson when it comes to common solutions is that management and coordination of services in e-government is an important success factor. See above: Norway gives a good example of how to excel in this area.