How Denmark has become a digital frontrunner

The digitization of Denmark is a success story. Not only in Danish history, but internationally with a 2018 and 2020 top spot on UN’s list of most advanced countries when it comes to public sector digitization. Central to the technology development and story is KMD, which through more than 40 years has played a key role in creating and developing the foundation that Denmark’s public sector digitization rests on.

When foreign delegations visit Denmark to learn more about why and how the country has succeeded in digitalizing major parts of the public sector, they often stop by KMD’s headquarters. Through its historic position, KMD has taken part in thinking the very first thoughts and writing the primary lines of code for some of the IT solutions that today connect Denmark in an efficient digital public sector. 

To understand the secret behind the Danish success, the public sector digitization approach can be broken into three key areas: 

  1. Establishing and maintaining the joint public digitization strategy 
  2. The relationship between transparency and trust in the public IT solutions 
  3. Development with the citizen at the centre 

1. The joint public digitization strategy 

Imagine Denmark’s – or any other country’s – public sector drawn on a map with the supporting solutions comprising small islands with no connection between them. Each of the solutions may be extremely well thought out and well-functioning as silo systems. But if no one knows how to make a long-term plan to connect the islands, and nobody knows how to lay down bridges, motorways, tunnels, and other traffic centres, then the realization of benefits for society will fail. 

Fundamental knowledge and know-how to carry out the ambitions have been KMD’s most essential contributions to the digitization of Denmark. On the level of IT infrastructure and architecture, Denmark has succeeded in exchanging the data necessary for transforming manual, arduous and defective work procedures into flexible system integrations that save the citizens, authorities and companies time and raise data quality for everyone.  

KMD has, among other things, contributed to the Danish joint public digitization strategy with the solutions: 

  • (2011): Digital mail for citizens and companies 
  • Datafordeleren (2016): Easy access to public basic data 

2. Transparency and trust is a key pillar 

Danes are world-famous for their high level of trust in each other and the state. But this is not a base value that we will maintain just because we have cultivated it successfully in the past. The trust between citizens and the state needs to be taken care of continually – including when the public sector collects and uses the citizens’ data to improve welfare services. 

Therefore, new technologies and original areas of use for well-known technologies are not just let loose in the Danish society. A public debate on, for instance, the use of biometric authentication in the public space is critical to determine whether fingerprints, iris scan and facial recognition will ever be broadly accepted as technologies to solve vital challenges in society. Just like the accompanying explanation of why an AI solution has reached a certain decision (also known as Explainable AI) is a prerequisite for using that type of solutions in case management of sensitive personal data. A high level of transparency in the reasoning behind using – especially new – technology is the key to keeping public trust and continually getting more value from the public data processing. 

KMD has, among other things, contributed to the joint public digital trust strategy with solutions for: 

  • The conducting of Danish municipal, regional and parliamentary elections 
  • The Danish Tax Authorities for, among other things, preliminary income assessment, tax assessment systems and collection  
  • Complete digital support of public authorities  

3. The citizen at the centre 

UN’s reason for ranking Denmark at the top of the list of countries with the most developed public sector digitization is that digitization in Denmark is not about technology for technology’s sake but rather about helping people and recognizing their needs. In Denmark there is a fundamental understanding that for citizens it does not matter whether they are serviced by the state, region or municipality. They just want high quality when interacting with the public sector, regardless of service sponsor. That is why Denmark is continuing to work on creating even more system integrations across public authorities. Cumbersome technology and the feeling of being a plaything between public institutions help weaken the citizens’ trust in the public sector. Intuitive solutions that create cohesion and give the citizen an overview of his or her own data, issues and progress help strengthen the citizens’ trust in the public sector. 

One of the latest developments within public Danish digitization is a growing utilization of data analysis, AI and machine learning. When professionals are given new intelligent backing tools that can help them make decisions faster, they also get more time to deliver the type of value-creating services that increase their enjoyment of work and create better results. There will always be a need for employees to carry out qualified decisions based on a professional assessment. But the routine-filled workflows must increasingly be handled by bots that never tire, never miscalculate and always have capacity for one more task. 

KMD has, among other things, contributed to the Danish joint public user-oriented digitization strategy with the solutions: 

  • NemKonto (2004): Ensures payments between the public sector and citizens and companies  
  • (2007): Unified digital entrance to the public sector
  • NemRefusion (2010): Reimbursement of sick pay and maternity pay for companies

The joint public digital infrastructure and the high level of trust between citizens, companies and public actors are important steppingstones towards the next generation of citizen-centred IT solutions in Denmark. With the deep insights into the public sector and a view to the rest of the world through the collaboration with NEC, KMD will continue to play a leading part in the public digitization of Denmark over the coming years. For instance, within areas like biometrics and artificial intelligence, where NEC has knowledge and products in the absolute world elite.

Facts about KMD

  • 50 years of experience with digitalization of the Danish society
  • 1,700 private companies and public institutions as customers
  • Approximately 3,000 employees in five countries
  • An amount equivalent to approximately 10 % of Denmark's BNP flow through KMD's systems each year
  • Acquired by the Japanese tech giant NEC in 2019