WHAT              Information exchange between national business registers

WHO                Estonia and Finland

HOW                Connecting the two governmental agencies via X-Road

STATUS            Active (March 2019)

The end of February 2019 brought great news for the enhancement of interoperability across borders. National business registers in Estonia and Finland are starting to exchange data between each other taking advantage of the opportunities given by X-Road, as the gateway to higher information accuracy and efficiency in handling queries.

Both parties involved have officially put their signatures on the agreement. Now, we take you through the main features of the cooperation on this project with Antti Riivari, Director General of the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH), and Ingmar Vali, Head of Court Registration Department at the Estonian Ministry of Justice.

Background and institutional framework

The process that led to the signing of the agreement followed two parallel lines, not always moving towards the same goal at the same speed – there is a political side, and there is a technical side. Contrarily to what we could believe to be the issue in countries with a longer legacyon their shoulders, the technical aspects of the cooperation between the two business registers seemed to be cleared out by the end of 2017 already. However, in order to lay out and understand specifically what kind of data is going to be exchanged, and who has access to that information, there is the need for a specific agreement.

The final document with such information has been officially signed in February 2019, but it falls into place in the general institutional framework on digital cross-border cooperation between Estonia and Finland. Back in 2016, the Estonian and the Finnish Prime Ministers signed the joint declaration establishing the main lines of development to pursue for an international ecosystem in information exchange. Shortly afterwards, it became clear how the countries’ business registers could be among the first departments in the public sector to enjoy the advantages given by the implementation of X-Road.

Two things turned out to be necessary for this cooperation to come to life – refining the nation-wide implementation of X-Road in Finland and the compatibility with the Estonian system, as well as a specific definition of the people and the type of data that were to be involved in the information exchange. Though the cooperation on making the two systems match started right after the needs had been identified, it was only in 2018 that Estonia and Finland initially discussed the institutional draft agreement. Now in its official version, the document gives the green light to a few last operational tests and the practical beginning of the data exchange.

Needs and challenges

Antti Riivari (PRH) says it with a metaphor: “You need the road to drive on, and then you can have very different types of cars going to different places, but first you need the road.” X-Road in Finland was intended to provide a platform for all its departments and databases to communicate and cooperate. Then, after this initial phase, government agencies could actually proceed with more advanced practices of data exchange.

Despite not involving a huge traffic of data and connections (for now), the Estonian and Finnish business registers identified a set of needs related to three main dimensions – quality of the data, efficiency, cost-effectiveness.

The topic of data accuracy is strictly connected to the long-lasting need for more security. “Let’s say that there is a company coming to Estonia to start a sub-unit or a branch here. If the mother company has some problems related to bankruptcy, or court cases, or annual reports, the business register in Estonia needs to know what is going on”, is the fitting example presented by Ingmar Vali (Ministry of Justice). Thus, enhancing the registers’ capability to gather the information they need results in a higher confidence in the data itself and less bureaucracy for both public and private actors, making checks and approvals more precise and quicker.

“But despite the general absence of problematic issues, an obstacle has been represented by fees”, Vali explains. While information can be accessed free of chargein the Estonian case, most business registers from other European countries require payments to access specific data. With the Finnish business register making no exception in this sense, this element accounted for the main talking point in the definition of the cooperation.

The solution

X-Road is now allowing the business register of Estonia and Finland to exchange queries directly, increasing the efficiency of the communications and improving the accuracy of the data. 

The recently signed agreement also generates more advantages for both the agencies and entrepreneurs – in the first place by cutting the costs of submitting requests, and in the second by eliminating the unnecessary paperwork that would have been required in country-to-country transactions. “It’s a need-driven process, we’re making sure that everything works as it should, and then we’ll explore future possibilities step by step. We now want to define and connect the authorities that would be most keen on accessing information on Estonian companies”, Riivari says.

Basic company details aside, the improved quality of the data and information security brings data exchange to the next level. “After reaching the full-scale implementation phase, borders and paper movement will basically stop, which is our goal because it makes everything more efficient and less costly. Imagine if these principles would take over across Europe! Estonia and Finland, in this sense, are doing well in setting an example for this idea”, Vali states.

By having X-Road as a national data exchange layer solution in Finland and Estonia, plugging in units and departments of the public administration to an X-Road trust federation between two countries comes easier. The case of the two business registers is another sign of how technology can favour international cooperation, and make routine work smoother and more efficient for both users and service providers.

Author: Federico Plantera