On August 10th IKT-Norge, Visma and Rambøll presented their 10th Annual report called “IT i Praksis”. It’s a survey meant to look at the maturity of practical IT use mainly in the public sector of Norway. It’s a huge report and I won’t cover all the topics here but there were a couple of things that stood out. The survey really boils down to the word digitalization. How can the public sector move faster so their users get the best digital experience possible?
This isn’t just a challenge for the public sector. It’s the same challenges if you are a retailer, a bank or really any other business where you need to connect with users in a digital way. There is one significant difference though, the ability to organize and the funding.
The Norwegian public sector consists of 426 municipalities which in a sense is 426 small to mid-size companies with their own servers, their own systems and their own technical debt. But all of them have the same service level agreement to their users. The lack of standardized systems has over time, as with many other companies in other industries, created a lot of technical debt. Most of us have an old legacy system from the eighties, and most of us have a Microsoft Access database that no one understands anymore, because the person who made it left 10 years ago.
As I said, this happens in all industries and is not only a challenge in the public sector.
But to further add to the challenge, in the public sector it is often a political decision in regards to the amount of money you can spend on IT. And as we all know, it is easy not to spend your limited resources on upgrading an old system that works if you don’t touch it.
The second challenge the public sector is experiencing is that in 2020 there will only be 370 municipals in Norway. That means that many of the municipals are going to be merged together. And when two municipals are merged, what are you going to do with that Access database and that legacy system from the eighties?
The survey talks about organization, leadership and the competence of the leaders, as well as the maturity level in regards to new technologies.
When they presented the report, they said the public sector is like a big tanker at sea. Its moves steadily towards the target, but it doesn’t go very fast, and it’s a huge ship to turn. But in all fairness, it has started its journey and it is going to go faster and faster.
One of the panel debate members was an IT director from one of the municipals in the middle part of Norway. She said their biggest challenges were that there was no standard software to use, and the lack of integration between the software that they do have.
This is our challenge as software vendors to fix, we need to build software that provides complete solutions and not help our customers to create silos.
One other thing in the debate was that one of Norway’s biggest vendors in the public sector said that this will get much better when all the systems run in the cloud. This was one of the stranger things I heard during the presentation. The cloud doesn’t fix integrations? In my experience, it does the opposite. But what is right is that the issue with standards are easier with cloud applications.
So how would the public sector go about making the tanker a bit more streamlined and easier to turn?
Well, first of all, you have to invest money in knowledge. If you want innovation you need innovative people. And you are probably stuck with the people you have, so you must invest in improving their skills. If you don’t, you’ll continue to make systems that looked shiny in the eighties.
For the public sector, you need to work closer together, you will have a lot more leverage if you combine your efforts against the software vendors. They do not want to lose you as customers, never forget that you have more power than they do. And you need to automate and work smarter in areas where that is possible.
You need to draw a data strategy with the intention of making it possible to change your legacy systems one by one. You need a data strategy that doesn’t involve lock-in with one particular vendor.
The importance of a data strategy is hard to emphasize enough. If you don’t have a data strategy you will eventually make silos with data that is hard to reuse.
Many vendors will in their sales presentation oversell the ability to integrate both to and from that system. But it is rarely that easy. And the cloud doesn’t solve any integration challenges.
So again, since I work in a company that probably makes the best self-service data preparation tool on the market, investigate how your data strategy can be implemented with the use of Xpert BI. I promise you that you will get to your goal much faster and with your solution already documented when you are done.
There are of course many challenges that is pointed out in the survey, but this was one of the clearest challenges I could see.
Hope everyone is having a great summer, and I’ll write a new post soon.