Semi-Digital Finnish bureaucracy

Ten years ago I had been dreaming of a paperless office for couple of years already.

Today once again I was inspired by the fact that the current state of affairs
is making me postpone things.

Recently, I talked to a young EU specialist
who had been making a stint of 5 years in Belgium. We had really interesting
discussions about the quality of digital processes and what it means to go
to a bureau both in Belgium and in Finland. She said Finland is definitely
much more efficient in these matters; which came as quite a surprise to me
– I have held the opinion for years that we have one of the most inefficient
ways of arranging bureaucratic processes.

What essentially bothers Finnish processes, is the fact that there’s
no central governance of the public sector information technology. At least
what comes to the very architectural choices and the fact that a clear
silo mentality exists in the services – ie. there’s hardly any transactions
between the approximately 200 or so different bureaus.

In fact, it is not just the paperless office that I dream, but the paperless
society and further on especially the paperless personal experience (PPE).
The latest is the ability to experience virtual world all the time – essentially
carrying a mobile integrated device in your body, which would feed data
to your sensory organs. This kind of device is in the development; one of
the most advanced forms that I have observed in the net is the Eyetap
personal imaging laboratory.

The office is of course probably the first priority target, because it manifests
the productivity of the whole nation. We do work at the office, with others.
Every one of us has the personal way of doing cognitive work. Some people like
to have an ultra tidy desktop, with as little stimuli as possible. Others
want to spread around, have a lot of things on the table, including coffee mugs,
etc. So this varies according to the individual.

The amount of paper in a process is approximately linearly ralated to the ineffectiveness
of the processes taking place at the office. To put it in another way:
The more paper, the more cumbersome, slow, and possibly bottleneck-forming the
process is. So paper not only slows down an individual process, but it may
be forming bottlenecks that slow down other parts or other processes.

Inefficiency: the sin of paper

Paper is kind a familiar, but highly inefficient way to carry information. It’s
not the cellulose based fibers that we are interested in! It’s the information
on those fibers that makes a difference, thus the bits in digital parlance.
A group of 8 bits makes a byte; and by combining those bytes in a serial
fashion, you get to form documents, pictures, etc. Everything can be represented
in bytes; at least everything of that which paper is capable of representing.

But the main differences between paper and bits is this:
– bits can be easily copied at huge speeds; up to around 50-100 volumes of Bible per second
– bits can be searched, transported, secured, erased, and so on – at lightning speed
This means that instead of using cellular power (the muscle), or fuels to carry the paper,
electronic signals can carry information around half the world in less than 1/10th of a second
– bits do not become wet, even though a digital device can be hurt by water
– binary information stays as sharp as ever, for the shelf lifetime of the information
(means that it does not get dull, intangible like prints, ink, and other forms
of paper output; but binary data needs to be refreshed and rewritten occasionally)

Bottom line: we could still improve processes

Just a hunch: we could be able to make our work, leisure activities, and so on in much
more efficient and most important, stress-free way. In Belgium, my friend said, you
get a freeday from work just for the sake of going to a bureau, because they know that
it is a slowly painful activity. It doesn’t seem such a bad idea here either, but my
mind is set to battle against this kind of surrender mentality. We can’t make extra
free days just because we haven’t yet tried the ultimate digital solutions.

I’ll be writing more on this subject in this blog. Digitalization and the optimization
of realworld processes is one of my favorites.

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