Podcast 🎧 : What is an e-government without interoperability?

28.04.2021 | Adhele Tuulas


This year’s e-Governance Conference – A Digital Decade in One Year – looks at the implications of the accelerated digital transformation resulting from the pandemic. The programme creates space to explore the new normal in which we find ourselves today, and the next normal that we are entering.

In the build-up to the Conference, our podcasts will introduce some main speakers and topics that will take part in the programme. This episode features our conversation with interoperability expert, Heiko Vainsalu, who will be moderating the session ‘Lessons on How to Make Data Run, Not People’ on 18 May. Together we explored the role of interoperability in developing e-government and what favours the success of such projects.


Defining the function of interoperability

When talking about e-government, interoperability is rarely left out of the conversation. But what does it really mean? Vainsalu defines interoperability as the capability of using someone else’s data and services. “Because one entity is not able to do everything, they have to get the benefits that someone has already provided,” Vainsalu explains. Interoperability, therefore, comes down to questions around efficiency and resources.

But technically, e-governments can also function without interoperability. Vainsalu contends that in addition to the question of resources, the need for interoperability is determined by the kind of problems a government wishes to solve. The development of distributed interoperable systems tends to pose more organisational challenges, as governments need to get all stakeholders to communicate with each other.

Some countries, however, have enough resources to decide that they would rather handle technical issuesas opposed to organisational ones. “You can also create a centralised solution, where you put everybody in the same box, and then you deal with a different set of problems,” Vainsalu highlights the difference between the two approaches. Nonetheless, in both cases the output of delivering digital public services remains the same.


Determinants of successful interoperability

In addition to influencing governmental decision-making between distributed and centralised systems, contextual factors impact how successful such projects may be. According to Vainsalu, some of the most important determinants of success are ICT literacy, spirit of initiative and trust within organisations.

“ICT skill is one of the key things that defines how far technology can go – with higher ICT literacy, it tends to be easier to build distributed systems,” Vainsalu highlights. The other two factors relate to organisations’ hierarchies and how people operate within them. If people have the freedom to experiment, they are more likely to show proactive initiative and come up with innovative approaches.

For this to work, there also needs to be top-down trust within organisations. Vainsalu suggests that when higher management trusts middle management and their experts, bureaucracy tends to be less rigid. With this kind of trust and flexibility in organisational structures, interoperability solutions are more likely to be successfully launched and used.

Besides contextual factors, there are other elements that determine why some interoperability projects succeed and others fall short. Vainsalu hints that the session he will be moderating at the upcoming Conference, provides a great opportunity to delve further into what helps countries become digitally interoperable.


Join us at the e-Governance Conference https://2021.egovconference.ee/ to hear more about what helps countries become digitally interoperable! The session ‘Lessons on How to Make Data Run, Not People’ will feature

Ville Sirviö – Chief Executive Officer, Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions
Riho Kurg – Head of Data Exchange Technologies, Cybernetica
Arvo Ott – Director of e-Governance Technologies and Member of the Management Board, e-Governance Academy

And will be moderated by Heiko Vainsalu.