Debate: Kronqvist Is Right – Sweden’s Public Sector Is Hopelessly Lagging Behind

It is indeed fascinating that a country as innovative and digital as Sweden has allowed itself to fall behind in terms of digitalization in the public sector. In several international rankings, our European neighbors surpass us. In the latest eGovernment Benchmark evaluation of the provision and delivery of eGovernment services in 35 European countries, Sweden finds itself in a rather unflattering ninth place, trailing behind countries like Spain and Ireland.

In an editorial in Expressen, Patrik Kronqvist hits the nail on the head: we are both the best and the worst in the world when it comes to IT. Swedish public authorities have an outdated attitude towards IT and digitalization.

Consid has been active since the turn of the millennium and is today one of Sweden’s largest suppliers to the public sector. We know what digitalization in the public sector entails, what requirements are imposed, and how high the level of ambition is.

The problem has been the lack of a strong and clear policy for digitalization, despite the presence of digitalization ministers. The current government has not shown a willingness to outshine its predecessors in this matter. Then we have the problem of inertia within the public sector. As Kronqvist writes:

“People are used to old-fashioned industrial logic.” The digitalization of Sweden is currently measured in the same way as an expansion of the railroad network. X kilometers of fiber, Y hundred thousand people gaining access to broadband, and so on. That is not how digitalization works in reality. It is versatile. It shifts in needs, design, goals, capacity, functions depending on the organization, geography, and so on.

Time is an important factor in digitalization. How it is saved, spent, reported, consumed, and devoured. Efficient systems are the solution. When we look at a procurement, we always search for the most efficient solution where the user gets the maximum effect from their tax money. Something that is often missing is a long-term needs analysis and the ability to think agilely. What should the system do in five years, in ten years? How should it be further built, expanded, and managed when requirements change, when the needs become different? How do we scale up? How do we maximize utility?

IT is like everything else: it is more expensive to redo than to do it right from the beginning. Recently, Karlstad Municipality launched 15 new websites, where three out of four objectives were about simplifying communication between the municipality and its citizens. Easier to find where the user needs to go, easier to get answers to questions, easier to get in touch with the municipality, value for taxpayers’ money. With the right focus from the start, the initial investment becomes correct.

As Kronqvist points out, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel because it is already rolling. The expertise to solve Sweden’s poor IT systems already exists within the industry.

We need a stronger digitalization policy, and we must take action now. The public sector needs to think and act flexibly and not be hindered by inertia. Because even though Sweden is the worst in many aspects, we are still a player to be reckoned with – if the change happens now. If we continue on the same track, we risk not only being the worst but non-existent.

Peter Hellgren, CEO of Consid

This is a response to an editorial from Expressen’s editorial team. Read Patrik Kronqvist’s article here.

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