In the media

Share personal data – even with the private sector


25 April 2019

If public organisations were better at sharing necessary data across public and private sectors, case processing would be more effective.

What is most important when using data in the public sector? First, that it is legal, safe and ethical. Second, that it creates more efficient and more transparent digital solutions to optimise the life of citizens and businesses. Currently, the last part is still missing a bit.

Denmark is well ahead in the digitalisation of the public sector. We offer better and more digital services than many of our European neighbours. In many places, we have found good digital solutions that facilitate businesses and lift the quality and efficiency of the public sector. But we can easily do it even better and gain even greater benefits. The public sector has a huge advantage: it knows everything about us and can translate that knowledge by focusing on sharing.

It's all about being more aware of what we know and how we use that knowledge. Politically, we need to strengthen the frameworks for the authorities to use data more intelligently and openly – even if the privacy debate can pull in the opposite direction.

Too many stumbling blocks

And why is that so important? Let's use the Social Democratic Party's new proposal for a lower retirement age for burnt out people as an example. Should the proposal be adopted, it will require a complex set of rules to be managed and supported by a robust digital solution. We must assume that the authorities need to know when the citizens got their first job and know their history in the labour market. You have to find data from before 1990, which can be used in contemporary digital solutions. Here we have first stumbling block.

We should probably also be able to see if the citizen has been in full employment for 40 years, whether they have a fortune, live alone, want an early retirement, etc. And all that must be picked up from an undergrowth of various registers and IT systems, each with their own data model, data key and distribution solution, which is also located at different ​​state, municipal and regional authorities.

The authorities probably have enough information about the citizens to be able to make objective decisions about their pensions. But the road towards a solution will face challenges, which include data availability, standardisation and usability.

New organisation of data

If we are to find good and efficient methods to manage such proposals, the public sector must continue their work on how to record and store data. At the same time, the municipal, regional and state IT systems must be able to talk together in much more advanced and efficient ways than today.

When we look at the upcoming parliamentary election, it would be obvious to establish a common public registry authority or put together the resource areas in the public sector according to the way the authorities use data.

When data is shared across the public sector – and between the public and private sectors – the quality, transparency and efficiency of the digital solutions are lifted.

The tax administration's control efforts are a good example. There are a lot of checks and samples. It is not necessarily very smart or effective because it’s relatively randomly and, for example, they collect data that may already exist and only then use it to make decisions.

It is far more effective if the check is done in advance and is based on the data already available to the tax authorities and other authorities. It narrows the possibility of cheating, and the effort is done where the purpose is highest.

If, at the same time, various data were made available to the citizens and companies involved, then it would be more transparent – and all research indicates that we cheat less when things are transparent and we trust the authorities' work.

Data – and the sharing of data between authorities – cannot stand alone in the public sector's digital solutions. Case management and decisions still must be handled by professionally trained staff. The point is that the public sector already knows enough about us all, but the will and effort (and the funding) to really use the data is still far away.

This article was first published in Danish Børsen.

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