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No digitisation without simpler regulation - and vice versa

28-09-2016 Column

Digitisation of the public sector has come a long way in Denmark. Some would even say that Denmark is the best in the world. Even so, in recent years Denmark has seen several ICT scandals in the public sector, in which systems have not been able to deliver what they were developed for.

Of course, there are many explanations for why individual projects go wrong. Let us take the common debt collection system developed for the Danish Customs and Tax Administration, for example. Part of the reason why the system was unable to deliver, was the complexity of the underlying regulations. ICT systems alone are rarely the answer, and it is equally important to look at the regulations on which the system is based. If these regulations are overly complicated, it will be impossible to develop and administrate an ICT system that can manage them. 

Close coupling between digital solutions and simplification of regulations

Simplifying regulations and reducing bureaucracy is rarely linked directly with digital transformation. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the two agendas are closing in on each other and becoming mutually dependent.

In line with rapid technological development, digital solutions are becoming more widespread in public sector administration. This results in a number of immediate opportunities for more efficiency and accessibility in the public sector. 

Use of digital self-service solutions and more automation of case processing are just two examples of how digitisation can help make things simpler, easier and faster for citizens and businesses in their dealings with the public sector. At the same time, it also simplifies workflows for caseworkers.

However, one factor required to achieve these potential benefits is that digital solutions are established on a solid legislative foundation. This mutual dependency is reflected in the initiatives in the Digital Strategy 2016-2020. For example, digitisation is to contribute to a more cohesive and simple process for citizens or businesses in contact with several authorities across the public sector.

Standing legal committee

A standing committee has been set up with another initiative to contribute to solutions for how cross-sector legislation and digitisation can be better coordinated. This means that the challenges involved in the Public Administration Act and the Processing of Personal Data Act, for example, will be examines more closely in order to find possible technical or judicial solutions.

This brings us to a very interesting debate, as the current laws and regulations have not been intentionally drawn up to make digitisation more difficult. They are an expression of the balance between a large number of considerations and interests, including the pivotal element of safeguarding due process for members of the public. However, it may be relevant to consider whether it is possible to think more about the subsequent administration of the regulations in a digitised world.

At the Agency for Digitisation, our job is to indicate how digital solutions can be exploited to benefit the quality and efficiency of public services. In future, a core element in this work will be to suggest how legislation best can support digital transformation, while still fully respecting due process.

Rikke Hougaard Zeberg
Deputy Director