WHAT              Interoperability in water services and waste management information systems

WHO                HSY - Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority

HOW                Joining Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer

STATUS             Set-up phase


With the purpose of increasing its capabilities in data exchange and access to key information, the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) is currently working on joining Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer, the Finnish X-Road environment, to foster the provision of water services and waste management in the Greater Helsinki area.

The project is currently undergoing the set-up phase, testing connections between information systems of relevant public authorities. Timo Vakkilainen, Project and Development Manager of Digital Services at HSY, describes how connecting information systems to the data exchange layer will impact the quality of performance for service users and the environment.

Background and institutional framework

In Finland, the open source data exchange layer solution X-Road ensures confidentiality, integrity and interoperability between information systems. The development of Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer, the national X-Road environment, took place under the three-year long National Service Architecture Programme (KaPa). Throughout the past two years, the Suomi.fi Web Service portal has been established as the single gateway to e-services for citizens and companies, shifting administrative tasks and practices to the digital environment.

As it often happens in e-governance, legislative changes proved to be necessary to enable the transition. The Act on Common Administrative E-Service Support Services (2016) required public authorities to join the Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer, and HSY makes no exception. The environmental agency was looking into connecting with other public authorities such as the Population Register Center, the Patent and Registration Office, the National Land Survey of Finland. Now, by joining the Finnish X-Road environment, together with the use of Suomi.fi e-Authorizations and e-Identification services, HSY is aiming to collect information necessary to its activities in more efficient and accurate ways.

Needs and challenges

The accuracy of information is indeed one of the main concerns for HSY. In order to effectively provide services on water and waste management to the population of the Greater Helsinki area, counting over one million inhabitants, data on consumption and collected waste amounts and costs must be as up-to-date as possible. 

Though we may not be talking about real-time information, surely owners’ addresses for billing and other types of communications have to be spot on. At the same time, the financial situation of companies becoming customers of the HSY, or currently being listed as such, is also relevant. Such type of information can be gathered either from other public registers or through self-service reporting. Interoperability between public authorities can enhance necessary data exchange, and digital authentication tools enable users to submit reports themselves. 

However, before getting to fully roll out an efficient digital ecosystem, public entities sometimes have to go through a series of obstacles pertaining technical know-how and legislative frameworks. Though joining the Finnish X-Road was meant to be as easy as possible for any organization, “we realized from the beginning that we just did not have the resources to implement and maintain the servers needed to connect to Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer,” Vakkilainen explains. “Luckily we managed to initially buy the Security Servers ‘as a service’ from a partner company and we implemented them in their cloud,” Vakkilainen says.

At the same time, the once-only principle had not yet been achieved as common practice in the Finnish data exchange environment. “Some legal obstacles did not make consuming services via Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer work as seamlessly for everyone as it was supposed to. We would still need to send official requests for personal data to different actors” Vakkilainen warns, making the case for technical and legislative developments to progress as parallel lines towards the creation of a truly efficient digital ecosystem.

The solution

By joining the national Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer, HSY will be able to request up-to-date information from other relevant public registers and increase the effectiveness of its operations. “I think we saw the advantages quite well from the beginning, without any push or pull from other actors. Suomi.fi Data Exchange Layer offers a great platform for data exchange and makes it easier to build new digitized services based on interoperability between national registers, for both citizens and companies,” Vakkilainen highlights.

To take advantage of the possibilities offered by different Suomi.fi services, provided by the Population Register Centre as the responsible authority, HSY is pairing efficient data exchange with e-Identification and e-Authorizations as well – the latter of which has been shortlisted for the Sharing & Reuse Awards 2019 of the European Commission platform Joinup. “HSY works to significantly increase the efficiency of its services for private users, companies, and institutions in Greater Helsinki. With servers relying now on HSY’s Azure Cloud and currently being tested, rolling out the first services will take place already in the next few months,” Vakkilainen announces.

From self-service reporting through secure identification to gathering accurate information about users and consumption. Interoperability can boost the effectiveness of environmental services provided for over one million citizens in Finland. As a municipal body and an institution, HSY saw digital development as an opportunity to be closer to people and enterprises in caring for the quality of the lived environment.

Author: Federico Plantera