14 Jun 2016Blog

Innovation and cooperation led to the end of the paper era

When the development of Lupapiste’s digital one-stop window started, our goal was to build, in accordance with the objectives of SaDe –  a project aiming to promote e-services and democracy – a high-quality and interoperable public sector service that reinforces cost-effectiveness, brings savings and benefits citizens, businesses, associations as well as municipalities and government officials. 

The digital one-stop service alone did not change the world – sufficiently

Although we were able to meet the objectives, we were left with the feeling that the digitisation of the service and the benefits it enables were left unfinished. This is because the Archiving Act requires authorities to store all permanently storable documents in the manner determined by the National Archives Service of Finland. And that, naturally, translates into a traditional hard-copy archive, unless otherwise determined case-specifically by the National Archives Service.

This requirement affected all of the parties involved in a building permit process at its conclusion. To those applying for a permit and to designers, it was visible in such a way that, following the decision, the final “permit drawings” – i.e. the ground plan, as well as the floor plan, sectional drawings and front elevation drawings – were delivered to the municipality as hard copies. Even this custom contained clear municipality-specific variations, which served to increase the confusion of people with recurring business with different local governments.

From the perspective of authorities, the requirement continued the processing of paper copies. Every decision was subject to the collection of the paper documents and their archiving, as before. In other words, we were in a situation in which old operating methods, and the duties of many officials, continued to be entirely manual despite the services’ digitisation and in which the customer’s digital service experience fell flat in the end by a return to the world of printouts and mailings.

The initial push for the development work originated from the local governments

The active archiving specialists of the local governments piloting our one-step service put their heads together and came up with a plan on a municipality-specific information system environment that met the requirements and in which documents could be received, processed and archived electronically. This diagram, dubbed the nightmare schematic, included information management systems, document management, archiving systems, processing systems, services and, naturally, the necessary integrations between the above, as well as the development work of old systems.

In other words, we were confronted with a massive multiple-supplier project in each municipality to get the entire process “to play ball” and, after that, of course, the maintenance of the entire contraption.

After a moment’s paralysis, we got together with the pilot municipalities to contemplate the plans and alternative solutions. An alternative in which the reception, processing and saving of all documents would be carried out as a cloud service through Lupapiste was suggested. Even though it would require time, money and especially changes to previous modes of thinking, we decided, together with 18 municipalities, to take this big step and embark on the planning and implementation effort together. The 280 building inspection authorities in Finland would be provided with a joint, single model fit for all.

A new routine for building inspection authorities

The development work proper was begun in early winter 2015: Users’ needs were charted in workshops, our ideas and concepts were discussed together with the National Archives Service, Solita’s team came to grips with the SÄHKE2 norm, which determines the requirements for digital archiving in the operations of authorities, and the development work of the new service section was kicked off.

Although we resorted to some fairly technical tricks in relation to the archives’ file conversions, information management and demanding archiving systems and server environments, our aim was to keep the development user-driven. Everything mechanical and repetitive was to be automated and kept in the background from the user’s perspective.

The digital archiving was not to be visible as an increased workload for anyone, and the authority processing an application, much less the applicant using the service, would not be expected to be familiar with the complexities of digital archiving. This goal has been achieved well. The storage and processing data is saved and archived automatically in the background. The organisation’s personnel can be trained in information management in a day’s time, and the digital archiving of authorities is not visible in the customers’ interfaces in any practical way whatsoever.

Digital information management changes the job description of an archivist quite a bit. While archivists no longer have to process piles of paper, they are still responsible for the archiving of projects. Lupapiste displays the projects to be archived neatly in a job queue and provides the archivist with the tools to intervene in the archive management of exceptional projects, whenever necessary. Information searches and customer service also changed radically. Whereas requests for material previously led first to a search for information from the permit systems and, after that, to search operations in the depths of the actual filing rooms, the drawings and other documents can now be found and downloaded simply with the help of keywords or a map –  or be provided to whoever needs the information completely automatically, through the online shop.

Digital archiving and information management are now available to everyone – quickly and easily

The National Archives Service of Finland inspected Lupapiste’s information management and issued its order concerning the storage of permanently storable documents in a solely digital format in shared services on 13 May 2016. Although the order does not single out any one service, any local government can start complying with the order by taking Lupapiste’s information management package into use.

Technically, the implementation does not require a local government to take any action, but agreeing on the new operating model and providing users with the relevant training are, of course, managed by the service provider. In connection with the implementation, the local government in question is provided with and, if necessary, may edit, a ready information management plan that guides the permit processing and archiving procedure.

So, what to do with the current papers that have accumulated in the filing rooms over past decades?

The aforementioned order includes a section that allows for the disposal of the papers, if necessary, provided that the digitisation has been carried out according to the orders given. The digitisation of the paper archives enables fast and accurate searches in the digital services and saves filing space. The entire archive will be inventoried at the same time and, on many occasions, material that has been mixed up over the years is once again returned to full use. In addition to digital information management services, we provide local governments with our partner’s services, which retrieve the contents of a paper archive from the local government and import it to Lupapiste, so as to be available to its users.


Although we were aware of the magnitude and demanding nature of the construction of the information management package in advance, building up a service that met all of the requirements was even more challenging than expected. The originally planned implementation schedule was drawn out by months. The patient pilot municipalities, however, proved understanding throughout the journey, and the National Archives Service confirmed our faith by supporting the principles of our comprehensive solution to the “nightmare schematic” from the very beginning.  In the end, the service was approved without friction, thanks to the open-minded and solution-oriented operations of the National Archives Service’s inspectors.

Rather than stopping here, the service’s development will continue at a pace at least as fast as it has been so far. We have learned that the current digital services live and change continuously, according to their users’ needs. We will also expand our service selection in terms of both digital services and information management.

Ilkka Mattila works as a Development Director at Lupapiste, being in charge of digital services and the creation of future growth. In his spare time, Ilkka can often be found on a jogging track or ski trail, among the spectators of a basketball match or with a brush saw in the forest.