Imagine a virtual eGovernment in which the citizens no longer have to visit bureaucrats in their offices. Imagine a future in which citizens have all available information about their pensions, student loans, medical history, taxes and children’s schools accessible from their own living rooms. Furthermore, businesses will no longer have to submit paperwork to the government – everything will be sent in electronically.
Due to Norway’s advanced broadband infrastructure, this is more than pure fantasy. Today, 95 percent of Norway’s population has the possibility of broadband access, and, by the end of 2007, the government is aiming to give the entire population such access.
The idea of eNorway was born in 2000, and in June 2005, Modernization Minister Morten Andreas Meyer presented concrete plans for eNorway 2009. While the government changed after the elections in the fall of 2005, there is no political disagreement about the importance of this reform, and current Minister of Government Administration and Reform Heidi Grande Røys continues to push eNorway 2009 with full force.
“We support the principles of the plan, and we will actively follow up the realization of the goals in eNorway 2009,” Grande Røys says.
Norwegians have an edge compared to other countries because of their high participation in the Internet age, and Grande Røys wants to take advantage of this. “We are a leader internationally when it comes to Internet access, online public services, the spread of mobile technology, the use of ICT in businesses and industry, good public registers and effective payment solutions,” says the minister.
Relacom is the largest company in Norway for the expansion of broadband to the country’s rural districts. Such work is important for the Norwegian government in its vision to create the world’s best broadband infrastructure through the eNorway 2009 platform.
Because of their ability to utilize technology, Grande Røys is confident that Norwegians are ready to take the digital leap into the future of eNorway 2009. In these plans, all Norwegian citizens will have access to all basic services through the “My Page” project at the Norway.no web portal. Already today, over half of the Norwegian population submits its tax returns electronically, and Norwegian citizens are able to change their primary physician with a few clicks online. “Norwegians have a desire to use electronic services, and this makes the conditions for My Page very favourable,” she says.
Grande Røys also emphasizes that security is a vital concern. My Page was originally planned to be launched in 2005, but a new version will be in place by the end of 2006. “To be able to access information from many websites, we need to have a good security system to ensure that the privacy of the users is respected. This work has taken longer than expected, but we will have a solution with PIN codes,” the minister says.
The Individual in “Digital Norway”
The government is also acutely aware that not everyone is able to utilize the new technology, and therefore its main area of focus is adapting the systems for the individual in “Digital Norway”.
Public services will be available through several platforms and channels in addition to the personal computer, such as mobile phones and digital TV. In order to encourage increased use of digital services, citizens may be given extended deadlines and promised faster processing time when submitting their material electronically.
“The government wants everyone to have the opportunity of participating in the information society,” Grande Røys says.
Innovation & Growth for Industry & Business
The second focus area for the government includes innovation and growth in Norwegian business and industry. Before, companies have had to relate to a number of government institutions, but thanks to the portal Altinn.no, they now have simplified form access, submission and reuse, as well as easier access to business system data and easier completion of forms. The same user interface is used for all forms, with common fields filled in automatically.
It was Accenture Norway, the Norwegian division of the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, which designed and implemented Altinn, together with Microsoft. Roy Grønli, who heads up Accenture’s business activities involving the public sector in the Nordic countries, has seen a huge success since the startup in 2004. Today 460,000 corporate tax reports are submitted through Altinn, and the vast majority of Norwegian companies report what they can electronically to the government.
“The companies using Altinn have been very satisfied, and eight of 10 leaders tell us that they are saving time. Now we have come so far that 23 government agencies are included in Altinn,” Grønli says, explaining that it has been vital to get the key government agencies on board. “The Norwegian Tax Directorate and the Brønnøysund Register Centre have been important locomotives in developing the technical solutions on Altinn.”
For Accenture and the Norwegian government it is essential that Altinn is user-friendly and adapted to the needs of the companies reporting through it. Furthermore, it has been a key requirement that Altinn is scaled for extreme loads during peak periods. So far, the solution has proved to be stable and has worked well in such situations.
“If the businesses submit one piece of information, it will be distributed to maybe five or six government agencies, and this requires very good coordination. We have proven that this could be done,” says Grønli.
And Altinn has been noted outside Norway’s borders. “I don’t know of any other country where there is cooperation with so many government agencies as we have in the Altinn network. There has been enormous interest for our solution internationally, with many countries wishing to use our solution, but with their own twist,” says Grønli.
Even with Altinn’s great success, there is still room for improvement. The government institutions fund their sections of Altinn from their own budgets. Today the Brønnøysund Register Centre, a government body under the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry, oversees Altinn.
“We believe the Norwegian government should consider financing larger parts of Altinn through Brønnøysund. Thus, we would be even more able to design services adapted for the individual institutions,” says Grønli.
Three municipalities in Numedal in southeast Norway have created a joint Internet portal that provides 24-hour-a-day access to public services. The “eService Marketplace” takes individual needs as a starting point, independent of how public services are organized.
Coordinated & User-Adapted Public Sector
For the government to be able to serve its citizens in the best possible way, the public’s interaction with the government must be user-friendly. If this is effective, resources could then be freed to strengthen social services. In the government’s efforts to reach the goals of a coordinated and user-adapted public sector, the Høykom (roughly translated in English to “fast communication”) programme plays an important role. The programme supports public-sector organizations that wish to utilize broadband-intensive eGovernment services through helping to facilitate an advanced national broadband network.
The manager of Høykom, Vemund Riiser, feels privileged as, in spite of its difficult geography, Norway is one of the world’s leading nations when it comes to broadband infrastructure. There are still challenges, however, due to the country’s scattered population and small communities. “Small municipalities do not have the capacity to have a complete eGovernment infrastructure on their own, and therefore they need to cooperate,” he says.
Riiser also thinks Norway’s broadband infrastructure and the competence to build support policies for such networks could be exported to other countries. “I have a Bulgarian wife, and this has helped me obtain some knowledge about the state of play in some countries in Eastern Europe. In these countries they need a modern broadband infrastructure and some public instruments to boost broadband rollout,” he says.
Norway is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and even if Norway is not a part of the EU, Norway takes an active part in financing the development of the EU’s new members and eastern neighbours through EFTA financial instruments.
“A market-driven approach would be the most efficient tool to ensure that broadband services and content benefit the public, and then the public would actually request connection,” Riiser says. “We are supporting the public sector to request broadband services for governments, locally and centrally, and thereby jumpstart the market. If there is a demand for a public broadband infrastructure, the private players will follow.”
In many countries there might be a problem with one state monopolist controlling the phone lines limiting the number of DSL connections. In Norway, the biggest telecommunications company Telenor – the former state monopolist – is obligated by law to supply telephone connections to citizens. These “copper wires” can be used to implement xDSL technology and thereby provide broadband access. In addition, the wires can then be used by other xDSL providers in competition with Telenor.
“If you are in a small village, any company might build an xDSL broadband access network and order a connection from Telenor. I think many countries in Eastern Europe could benefit if we exported the Høykom program approach to provide both services to boost demand and direct support of infrastructure in rural areas,” says Riiser, adding that a well-tailored regulatory regime has to be a part of such approach.
Three municipalities in the Lillehammer region – Øyer, Gausdal and Lillehammer – cooperate on professional solutions and ICT management via broadband. The municipalities save money, the residents receive better services and the employees have a larger professional community to interact with.