Why there’s no digital transformation without interoperability


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The world has seen a strong push towards digitalising public administration and government. It’s such a central issue that it determines how governments across the globe manage crises. One of the many critical components of public administration’s digital transformation is how public services are made available to citizens and businesses. 

Since the early 2000’s a trend has developed to shift the provision of public sector services from a domain-based, ad-hoc service “delivery” to integrated service delivery, where the user only has to turn to one central point of reference to get done what they want to do. This means government agencies with different responsibilities need to open up their information systems and databases to provide more efficient and streamlined public services and business processes.

Youre the Government CIO: how do you get access to relevant data? 

Imagine you are a Government Chief Information Officer. You’re tasked with modernising agencies’ data inventory and innovating the services your institution provides to citizens. Your current infrastructure is bloated with all sorts of data that you’re not even responsible for managing. At the same time, other government organisations keep the data that you are legally responsible for managing. Where do you start?

First, you need to evaluate if you need to keep all the data yourself, mainly because of risk management. The more data you manage, the more you expose yourself to legal risks as data privacy gains more importance.

Why not just keep the data critical to your operations and get other relevant information directly from other trustworthy and legally entitled sources? This would minimise legal and procedural risks, while the source would be responsible for data quality and integrity.

Interoperability platforms allow integrating countless government information systems

This is where interoperability platforms come into the picture. They are critical building blocks for the digital transformation of public administration around the world. They allow public and private sector entities to control which external parties get access to their databases securely. Specially designed gateways and web services enable managing access to specific data to optimize business processes and services without compromising data quality, integrity, and confidentiality.

The evolution of the Estonian interoperability ecosystem 

Estonia began to explore the potential of interoperability to optimise business processes, services and managing government resources around the turn of the last century. Since then, Estonia’s X-Road has powered the country’s impressive rise to a digital champion.

Back in 2001, Arne Ansper, one of the minds behind the X-Road and currently Member of Supervisory Board and Development Manager at Cybernetica, wrote: “(…) Public administration databases should cease to be isolated and be made accessible not only to the agency it belongs to, but to all authorised persons (regardless of agency) who require the information to help perform their jobs more efficiently, thereby improving the speed, security, and efficiency of public services. The new Internet-based public administration database network is referred to as the e-state.“

The Estonian Government’s State Information Systems Department commissioned Cybernetica as part of a joint project (in partnership with Assert) to develop an interoperability pilot. This was launched in 2001 and would gradually evolve into what we today know as the X-Road. For the following 15 years, Cybernetica took on the leading role in developing the X-Road core from there.

As a proactive step in an ever-changing world with new requirements for data exchange and security, Cybernetica launched the Unified eXchange (Interoperability) Platform (UXP) on the basis of an R&D project in 2015.  That same year Cybernetica also finalised X-Road version 6.0 which was then made public under the open-source MIT license. Since 2018 the development of the X-Road core is administered by the Estonian-Finnish Nordic Institute of Interoperability Solutions (NIIS). While both platforms are very similar in the underlying concepts and continue to run the same protocol, particular technical details and the business around them are different.

The open-source X-Road software can be found on Github and is developed by NIIS and its development partners. In fact, there’s a whole ecosystem of different companies around the X-Road, that have either developed certain functionalities over the years or deployed them locally. NIIS as a non-profit-organisation is focused on bringing Nordic countries together to adopt X-Road for cross-border use like in the Finnish-Estonian case.

Taking interoperability global

Over the years of developing and improving the Estonian interoperability platform, Cybernetica found that most countries around the world are struggling with similar issues as Estonia was in the early 2000s. The success of interoperability platforms, however, relies on much more than just secure technology. Making something stick successfully with so many stakeholders is a complex process, that requires highly skilled partners.

By 2015, relying on years of research and experience, Cybernetica had become a thought leader in the government interoperability space. Governments and organisations were starting to ask for support and maintenance in addition to the technology. Going forward with UXP as a proprietary stack allowed Cybernetica to complement the technology based on clients’ requirements while keeping the key promise of secure data exchange between distributed databases always in mind.

Today, UXP is more than just a secure data exchange platform: there’s a whole ecosystem of additional software components around it, that was developed to improve the technology’s agility and ease of integration. For security reasons, Cybernetica added support for Elliptic Curve cryptography; in Ukraine, UXP supports the local cryptographic standard, and in Benin, the deployment came hand in hand with the creation of a state portal.

Cybernetica combines interoperability platform integration, training, support, maintenance, and modification with expertise in managing the digital transformation of governments. Today, Cybernetica supports governments and enterprises around the world with secure data exchange and interoperability expertise.

✈️  Can’t travel but want to hear the e-Estonia story or implement e-services in your country or company? Take a look at our services and get in touch – we’ve got you covered!

Written by
Tobias J. Koch

Business Analyst, Data Exchange Technologies Department, Cybernetica


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