The Finnish government confirmed at the recent European State Portals Seminar in Tallinn that they have plans to implement a data exchange layer of e-services that is akin to the Estonian X-Road. In the process, they will co-operate with Estonia as much as possible. For those of you that do not know, X-Road is a data exchange layer in Estonia that allows institutions and people to securely exchange and access public data.
In its simplest form, it makes the whole country connected and anyone, whether it is a public organization or a private one can securely use the data. For instance insurance companies can easily forward information to the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. Population register, tax and customs office, social insurance board, vehicle register and others are all connected to the X-Road. Another example is that this is one of the reasons why in Estonia you can create a company online in around 15 minutes and submit annual reports online using an accounting system that is smarter than some custom built accounting software solutions.
In the announcement, Riku Jylhänkangas, Director of Strategic Governance of the Finnish Public Sector ICT said "We will immediately and cost-effectively create a national data exchange layer of electronic services and an electronic identification system, implementing cooperation opportunities with Estonia insofar as possible. We are planning to thoroughly study the Estonian X-Road. This is not just about the source code but also understanding the organisation and agreements that create the frameworks for this technology. We are also hoping to test cross-border services. In the future, a solution similar to the X-Road will benefit Finnish citizens and enterprises as it definitely allows offering public services faster and at less cost."
This is not just about implementing X-Road in Finland but also about co-operation between the two countries. For instance, in the original story, it was mentioned that the Estonian Tax and Customers Board is working together with the Finnish Tax Administration on cross-border data exchange and have already completed the first phase of testing.
The example from Estonia shows that not only is this a valid solution but that it is easily adopted by organizations. In 2003, there were only around 0.6 million requests through X-Road, today this number has reached over 287,2 million. It is a real step towards becoming a true information society and allows e-services to be used by citizens, civil servants and entrepreneurs. Moreover, this co-operation will serve as example to the rest of Europe and we might eventually reach a point with an X-Road for the the whole of Europe.
As Jaan Piirsalu, Director General of the Estonian Information System's Authority commented: “We are very glad to share our experience with the Finns. We are hoping to reach the milestone of the first functioning cross-border e-services that would serve as an example for the whole of Europe. For example digital signatures or electronic tax operations that are valid in a cross-border framework would save a lot of time and money for everyone.”