Is open data the next step in digitization?

Sharing public data to benefit society

Norwegian Tax Director Hans Christian Holte has seen how the state benefits from offering data to private players. We recently discussed open data and digitization with Holte, who worked previously with the state’s handling of the Y2K problem, and was also Department Head at the Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs and Deputy Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Education and Research. During the last five years before his appointment as Tax Director, he headed Difi – Norway’s Agency for Public Management and eGovernment. 

Which experiences at Difi were the most positive?

Hans Christian Holte: Difi was a pioneering enterprise – and it was a really positive experience to be able to shape things and set the course. Difi works with large, important areas: digitization, public procurement, development of government administration and organization.

There is a gap between what the average manager in state administration
believes has been achieved within digitization, and the actual reality. I think there is a lot more left to be done than these managers believe.

What is Difi’s remit in terms of digitization?

Holte: It manages the overall digitization program for the government. Difi is in the driver’s seat when it comes to digitization.

This must have been a big responsibility, with a lot of pressure on you?

Holte: Yes, especially because there is a lot of impatience when it comes to digitization processes. But I spent quite a few years in that sector and I know that you need to be patient and stubborn when you work in government administration. I also think that we have managed to come far in our digitization efforts.

What have you achieved?

Holte: Opinions probably vary on how far we have gotten, generally speaking. But I would claim that a lot of progress has been made during the last two to three years, compared to around 10 years ago. Now, there is more speed, greater awareness and stronger leadership. 

Is there also less resistance?

Holte: You could say so. Show me a head of a state enterprise who claims that digitization is not relevant. You would find it very hard to find anyone with this view today.

How would you describe the digital status of the state?

Holte: Some enterprises, such as NAV (the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration), have rolled out major digitization processes. But a lot remains to be done. There is a gap between what the average manager in state administration believes has been achieved within digitization, and the actual reality. I think there is a lot more left to be done than these managers believe.

What do you mean?

Holte: A lot of digitization work is straightforward – such as creating an online form. But it is a major step to progress from this type of digitization to proper utilization of an enterprise’s digital opportunities.

People’s expectations of the state’s digital resources must also be on the increase?

Holte: Our population is not a homogeneous group. Some of them are probably not very interested in the latest digitization advances. Yet the general public overall expects good digital services from public authorities. The reason is, naturally, that there are good digital services available in so many other areas.

[Holte believes that digital development should not be led by the state sector. He does not want the public sector to drive testing and bug fixing in the IT area, since this should be left to others.]

But why can’t the state create more new, service-friendly apps, for example?

Holte: We actually do this to a certain degree. An example is the Out of Hours app that you can use to find the nearest out of hours surgery, based on open, available data. In cooperation with IKT Norge, we held a competition called Apps for Norway. We were trying to accomplish two things at once: We wanted to push public sector enterprises to publish open data – and stimulate good use of this data.

You do not feel that you own the data you hold?

Holte: The idea of retaining this data seems to be disappearing. I believe that we can get more out of our public enterprises – and get further – by offering data and allowing other players to have access. Positive collaboration arises between the public sector and the private players who can see new opportunities. Everyone benefits from this, including the state. The end result is what counts: providing users with good services. 

In the summer of 2013 you left the position as head of Difi to start in your new job as Tax Director. What do you expect to achieve?

Holte: I want us to continue to develop good digital solutions and to become even better on the service side. I also think it will be important to look at international conditions in the taxation area: how economies are developing; how international companies operate; and the problems related to tax havens, for example. Here, we must play an active role.

Are you looking forward to finding tax evaders?

Holte: I think this is a worthwhile job, at any rate. There is a lot of support for the Tax Administration’s important responsibility to ensure the equal treatment of private citizens, as well as a level playing field for business and industry.

Niklas Huss photo

Before coming to SAS, Niklas Huss was the main architect for the business and information architecture at the Swedish Tax Agency, which involved developing long-term strategies and plans for efficiently meeting business requirements and the needs of citizens. Previously, Huss held the position as Head of Section at the same agency and was responsible streamlining operations in the Stockholm region. Huss studied business law at the University of Luleå and management at the University of East Anglia in England.


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