Sweden is entirely dependent on efficient digital infrastructure. In order to integrate new technology into society quickly and intelligently, the Government should establish a coordination office under the Minister for Digital Development and the new Ministry for Infrastructure. We wrote about this in an op-ed in Dagens Industri (28 January 2019).
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“Sweden is entirely dependent on efficient digital infrastructure, but coordination is lacking. The Government should remedy this by establishing a coordination office under the Minister for Digital Development at the new Ministry for Infrastructure,” writes a representative of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA).
Digitalisation is often described as the fourth industrial revolution. Just as in past sweeping structural transformations, what is needed now is a combination of dynamic a dynamic business sector and industries with sufficient capacity for transition and political initiatives to ensure that Sweden remains competitive in the future. Many countries facing similar challenges to Sweden are making a concerted effort to meet them. Unfortunately, with coordination problems at both the national and municipal levels, Sweden is far from being top of the class. Nor are we successfully utilising the full potential of partnerships between the public and private sectors.
Sweden today is totally dependent on efficient digital infrastructure. Most social services require constant access to the internet, including when an accident happens or someone decides to sabotage the system. Constant access requires an efficient system of fibre and radio – i.e. wireless communication – as well as systems to ensure that information gets communicated.
Today’s digital infrastructure involves a variety of actors at different levels working together. If the way in which Televerket controlled the infrastructure in the past was like a silo, today’s system can be described as a lasagne. The different layers in a lasagne come together to give us the full flavour of the dish. This is similar to how we as users use the complex digital infrastructure in a smart way.
The system requires coordination. But coordination of what? Let’s use the water supply as an illustration. Before the water flows from our tap, various actors and systems have to work together and perform different functions – everything from wastewater treatment at water catchment areas and water quality assurance, to water main oversight. There are clear rules and regulations and a clear division of responsibility. We drink our tap water without hesitation and know we will receive an alert on our phone if something goes wrong.
Our digital infrastructure lacks the same level of coordination and clear division of responsibility. Many agencies have ambitious strategies in their own areas. But coordination is far too dependent on individuals and not enough on well-designed and effective processes.
With the new Government in place we have an excellent opportunity to make a change, and the starting point should be the insight that digitalisation affects all areas in the political sphere. In the former red-green government responsibility for this was largely shared between two ministers, the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation and the Minister for Public Administration. A number of other ministries also had a more visible responsibility. One of these was the Ministry of Defence.
This solution was neither sound nor efficient. We would therefore like to propose a coordination office with both financial resources and a mandate to focus on control and coordination. The office would not take over the work already being done by various agencies and organisations – whether they are the private or public sector. It would instead be tasked with coordinating initiatives and disseminating information about what is already being done to avoid duplication of work and to take advantage of synergies.
One way of quickly establishing a coordination office would be to integrate the Swedish National Digitalisation Council into the Government Offices. The mission should be designed to include all aspects of digitalisation, especially digital infrastructure. The office must be set up and well-staffed so that it can function in the environment of the Government Offices.
The coordination office should have:
- Overall responsibility for ensuring that there are common standards in place and platforms on which to build basic systems, applications and infrastructure. This means planning entirely new systems as well as expanding and reorganising existing ones. The office’s mission would also involve cooperation, advocacy and, if necessary, proposing legislation for municipal and private actors.
- Overall responsibility for cyber security, in other words, involving issues of national security. In order to function efficiently the coordination office must be an integrated part of the Government Offices. We often hear calls for this type of coordination mandate to be part of the Prime Minister’s office, under the Prime Minister. This is, of course, a possible solution, but not always a desirable one due to prevailing traditions and practices. The Ministry of Infrastructure in the Government’s new organisation is a natural place for this office to reside. But ensuring that a coordination office materialises is more important than the issue of where it should be located.
A new Agency for Digital Government has been formed. According to its instructions it’s mission is “to coordinate and support inter-agency digitalisation efforts, be responsible for inter-agency digital infrastructure, assist the Government in developing digitalisation in the public sector and monitor and analyse that development”. With our proposal this agency would be a resource for and would be under the Ministry in which the coordination office is located.
Today the Agency for Digital Government’s remit does not include analysis and cooperation with the private sector. Our proposal is based on the fact that such coordination is badly needed and that it is the Government’s responsibility. One option is to expand the agency’s remit. Another is to create the relevant resources within the coordination office and for this work to be done there.
Sweden has a tradition of successful public-private partnerships. Our strength lies in our capacity to use constructive dialogue to create effective solutions. This capacity is now being tested in a digitalised and globalised world. Digitalisation offers huge opportunities to tackle the great societal challenges. There is no other way to succeed.
Jan Nygren, Chair of IVA’s Digitalisation for Increased Competitiveness project
Karl Bergman, Chair of the project’s Talent work group
Patrik Fältström, Chair of the Digital Infrastructure work group
Cecilia Molinder, former Chair of IVA’s Student Council
Per Hjertén, Project Manager
Pia Sandvik, Chair of the Integrity work group
Tuula Teeri, President of IVA