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Podcast: Shared platform gives Norway municipalities efficient access to public data

Containers and microservices are helping local governments in Norway shift their focus away from maintenance toward innovative data sharing applications. Here's how the country's FINT Project created a common API-driven platform to enable safe, efficient access to public health and other sensitive information.

[Editor's note: This podcast was recorded on April 30, 2018.]

Local governments in Norway are now reaping the benefits of a shared pool of public health and other sensitive information. Using containers, microservices, and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), the country's FINT Project created an API-driven platform that enables not only safe, efficient access to public data across municipalities, but also the agility needed to support continuous updates and the launch of new public-sector applications.

"We needed to build the infrastructure that supports automatic solutions for citizens. That’s the main driver," says Frode Sjovatsen, head of development for the FINT Project.

In this HPE Voice of the Customer podcast hosted by Dana Gardner of BriefingsDirect, find out how HCI and an API-based approach for distributing public data is shifting the emphasis from maintenance to innovation. 

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on digital transformation success stories. Stay with us now to learn how agile businesses are fending off disruption—in favor of innovation.

Our next public-sector digital transformation success story examines how local governments in Norway benefit from a common platform approach for safe and efficient public data distribution. We’ll now learn how Norway’s 18 counties are gaining a common shared pool for data on young people’s health and other sensitive information thanks to streamlined benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), containers, and microservices.

Here to help us discover the benefits of a modern platform for smarter government data sharing is Frode Sjovatsen, head of development for FINT Project in Norway. Welcome, Frode.

Frode Sjovatsen: Thank you.

Frode Sjovatsen, FINT Project

Gardner: What is driving interest in having a common platform for public information in your country?

Sjovatsen: We need interactions between the government and the community to be more efficient. So we needed to build the infrastructure that supports automatic solutions for citizens. That’s the main driver.

Gardner: What problems do you need to overcome in order to create a more common approach?

Common API at the core

Sjovatsen: One of the biggest issues is [our users] buy business applications such as human resources for school administrators to use and everyone is happy. They have a nice user interface on the data. But when we need to use that data across all the other processes, that’s where the problem is. And that’s what the FINT project is all about

[Due to apps heterogeneity] we then need to have developers create application programming interfaces (APIs), and it costs a lot of money, and it is of variable quality. What we’re doing now is creating a common API that’s horizontal—for all of those business applications. It gives us the ability to use our data much more efficiently.

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Gardner: Please describe for us what the FINT project is and why this is so important for public health.

Sjovatsen: It’s all about taking the power back, regarding the information we’ve handed the vendors. There is an initiative in Norway where the government talks about getting control of all the information. And the thought behind the FINT project is that we need to get ahold of all the information, describe it, define it, and then make it available via APIs—both for public use and also for internal use.

Gardner: What sort of information are we dealing with here? Why is it important for the general public health?

Sjovatsen: It’s all kinds of information. For example, it’s school information, such as about how the everyday processes run, the schedules, the grades, and so on. All of that data is necessary to create good services, for the teachers and students. We also want to make that data available so that we can build new innovations from businesses that want to create new and better solutions for us.

Agility, scalability, and speed

Gardner: When you were tasked with creating this platform, why did you seek an API-driven, microservices-based architecture? What did you look for to maintain simplicity and cost efficiency in the underlying architecture and systems? 

Sjovatsen: We needed something that was agile so that we can roll out updates continuously. We also needed a way to roll back quickly if something fails.

The reason we are running this on one of the county council’s data centers is we wanted to separate it from their other production environments. We need to be able to scale these services quickly. When we talked to Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the solution they suggested was using HCI.

Gardner:  Where are you in the deployment, and what have been some of the benefits of such a hyperconverged approach?

Sjovatsen: We are in the late stage of testing, and we’re going into production in early 2018. At the moment, we’re looking into using HPE SimpliVity.

Container comfort

Gardner: Containers are an important part of moving toward automation and simplicity for many people these days. Is that another technology that you are comfortable with and, if so, why?

Sjovatsen: Yes, definitely. We are very comfortable with that. The biggest reason is that when we use containers, we isolate the application; the whole container is the application, and we are able to test the code before it goes into production. That’s one of the main drivers.

The second reason is that it’s easy to roll out and it’s easy to roll back. We also have developers in and out of the project, and containers make it easy for them to quickly get into the environment they are working on. It’s not that much work if they need to install on another computer to get a working environment running.

Gardner: A lot of IT organizations are trying to reduce the amount of money and time they spend on maintaining existing applications so they can put more emphasis into creating new applications. How do containers, microservices, and API-driven services help you flip from an emphasis on maintenance to an emphasis on innovation?

Sjovatsen: The container approach is very close to the DevOps environment, so the time from code to production is very small compared to what we did before, when we had some operations guys installing the stuff on servers. Now, we have a very rapid way to go from code to production. 

Unlocking the potential

Gardner: With the success of the FINT Project, would you consider extending this to other types of data and applications in other public-sector activities or processes? If your success here continues, is this a model that you think has extensibility into other public-sector applications?

Sjovatsen: Yes, definitely. At the moment, there are 18 county councils in this project. We are just beginning to introduce this to all of the 400 municipalities [in Norway]. So that’s the next step. Those are the same datasets that we want to share or extend. But there are also initiatives with central registers in Norway, and we will add value to those using our approach in the next year or so.

Gardner: That could have some very beneficial impacts, very good payoffs.

Sjovatsen: Yes, it could. There are other uses. For example, in Oslo, we have made an API extend over the locks on many doors. So, we can now have one API to open multiple locking systems. So that’s another way to use this approach. 

Gardner: It shows the wide applicability of this. Any advice, Frode, for other organizations that are examining more of a container, DevOps, and API-driven architecture approach? What might you tell them as they consider taking this journey? 

Sjovatsen: I definitely recommend it—it’s simple and agile. The main thing with containers is to separate the storage from the applications. That’s probably what we worked on the most to make it scalable. We wrote the application so it’s scalable, and we separated the data from the presentation layer.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. We’ve been exploring how local governments in Norway are benefiting from a common platform approach to public data distribution. And we have learned about the benefits of using containers to create and integrate more applications in a cost-effective manner.

So please join me in thanking our guest, Frode Sjovatsen, head of development for the FINT Project in Norway. 

Sjovatsen: Thank you for having me.

Gardner: And a big thank you to our audience as well for joining us for this BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer digital transformation success story. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored interviews.

Thanks again for listening. Please pass this content along to your IT community, and do come back next time.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.