Public Sector Future Podcast: Episode 9 | Lessons from Denmark: Moving Operations to Cloud

Episode 9 guest speaker, Maria Hald

Lessons from Denmark: Moving Operations to Cloud

with Maria Hald

Maria Hald spent 20 years in the Danish public sector before becoming the Public Sector Lead of Microsoft Denmark in 2020. We discuss her role as the Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Finance where she oversaw a shared service center for HR for central government agencies in Denmark.

Episode 9: Lessons from Denmark: Moving Operations to Cloud

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

In this episode we speak with Maria Hald, who spent 20 years in the Danish public sector, about one of her roles as Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Finance. Hald was responsible for running a shared service center for HR for central government agencies in Denmark. She led transformation of this from a traditional way of operating to a cloud-based approach. We explore how she did this, the challenges she faced, and the outcomes of the work.

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Transitioning Danish government operations to the cloud

Maria Hald spent 20 years in the Danish Public Sector before becoming the Public Sector Lead of Microsoft Denmark in 2020.

We discuss her past role as Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Finance where Hald was responsible for running a shared service center for HR for central government agencies in Denmark. She led transformation of this from a traditional way of operating to a cloud-based approach. We explore how she did this, the challenges she faced, and the outcomes of the work.

Background on the Danish government & Ministry of Finance

Hald shared that Demark, a country with a population of 5.8 million people, has a comparatively big public sector with “775,000 employees in public sector in Denmark in total. This means that the public sector is actually almost a third of the total labor market in Denmark,” Hald explained.

“In general, we tend to think of the Ministry of Finance in Denmark as the part of the government that supports the government in pursuing sound economic policies. And at the same time also ensuring innovation and efficiency in the public sector,” Hald said.

It’s an ongoing a prerequisite for the work of the Danish public sector that the resources used for administration and management are minimized.

“All tasks handled in the public sector and all the organizations need to be as efficient as they can be while at the same time facilitating and creating the maximum output of value to the citizens of Denmark,” Hald explained.

Demographic & systemic challenges

“We were looking for initiatives to make sure that we had a more data-driven government in general,” Hald shared.

She continued, “Denmark is built on a substantial welfare state and to understand what that means also, is that one of the largest cost drivers in the public sector in Denmark is the cost of labor.”

“Another thing to factor in is that in Denmark and as I think in many Western countries, we are facing an increasing demographic challenge to our welfare state and to a welfare model. So we have a larger part of the population that are aging and fewer younger people entering the labor market,” Hald continued.

The data on employees within the government, from seniority levels to retirement timing, and payroll systems existed, but it was very fragmented and held differently by different departments. There wasn’t the ability to share, be interoperable, or draw insights from it. And the multiplicity of systems meant that it was difficult to comply with incoming privacy requirements from GDPR regulations coming out of the EU.

Decision to move to public cloud

Having conducted an analysis of needs from the HR community and engaged with the market to understand options Hald and her team concluded that a software as a service solution, based on public cloud would bring most benefits.

In addition to the cost benefits, which Hald estimated as up to 30% cheaper than running the solution on-prem, she was also driven to secure advantages on maintaining feature parity and security updates for the system which could only be gained through the use of a solution on public cloud.

How to deal with opposition towards new solutions

Hald discussed how she overcame general concerns and the challenge of getting different departments onboard with moving their data to the public cloud.

  • Be comfortable speaking about how prerequisites and requirements are met by the new solution.
  • Clearly identify the benefits of the solution.
  • Find allies within the government who are setting direction and can support your project.
  • Acknowledge the root causes of what the opposition is trying to protect and then counter those specific arguments.

How to keep momentum going

Hald was dedicated to the cause and had a supportive team of 150 people, who provided analytical power to support her and the transformation.

“The easy thing would be not to take the fight but born and raised in Ministry of Finance and actually with these very deep rooted values of, let’s fight for bringing efficiency and letting that be the core of how we run business in the Danish public sector,” Hald shared. “I think this is something that really spurred me on also, I knew I was fighting for a just cause.”

“It’s often a trade-off between risk and value, and all I’m fighting for is let’s make that trade off proportionate to the things that we want to protect,” Hald said.

Digital infrastructure helped prepare Denmark for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hald attributes the investments made in the Danish digital infrastructure to helping carry Denmark through the COVID-19 pandemic on a high level without suffering the same blows to their economy or labor market as neighboring countries did.

“We were carrying through quite nicely because we’ve been enabled by these infrastructure investments done over the last 15, 20 years. And I think the political level, are really recognizing that this is a substantial value and that they do want to continue the ambitious strategy for driving digitization and trend digital transformation in Denmark,” Hald shared.

Key components of the successful implementation

  1. Data standardization – “A big part of the implementation process was also talking about standardization,” Hald said.
    • She continued, “we were actually pulling together all the heads of the HR departments across the agencies, across the different ministries and engaging them actively in finding a common level.”
    • They focused on engagement on a user level to stakeholders.
  2. Business value assessment – One of the most valuable pieces of the pre-implementation plan, was a business value assessment for every agency. This proved to be a useful tool in driving the conversations as part of the implementation.
    • This was also brought back up post implementation to remind agencies “what did you set out to gain from this? And now, what is it you need to do to realize this value? And also this system now enables you to drive, for example, a lot of new business intelligence. So how will you put this into use? What is important? So the quick wins,” Hald discussed.

Benefits of the new data driven system

  • Ability to create new business intelligence – Management has a dashboard of the health of their organization on a KPI level, which allows managers to see how their organization looks and also how it is developing over time.
  • Self-service to managers and employees – Previously employees would have to go through a long, manual process to find their information, now they have the option to look up their own data.
  • Transparency and trust – Employees have clarity on the type of information the organization has on them.

Lessons learned

  • Fight for the business value when you are faced with concerns and objections to driving innovation or standardization.
  • Standard solutions running on public cloud will get you farther at for less budget than if you had to build applications from the bottom up.

“They are often less risky than building applications from the bottom up and they are more easy to run afterwards because other people than your specific organization are also using the same application. So you’re going to be a larger population, a whole market often to drive continuous innovation in those solutions and building new functionalities all the time,” Hald explained.

The importance of innovation in systems of record

“It’s all great to talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence, and these are the rock stars, right? The ones that driving crazy innovation, but let’s also recognize the people who work every day with systems of record, because a lot of the groundwork – the data, is created in these systems. And let’s not underestimate the kind of change that a good system of record can really drive in public sector,” Hald said.

Hald puts emphasis on diving into the legacy reduction.

Drawing inspiration from Norway

“Norway has decided to build a national health and analytics platform. The purpose of the platform is to simplify access to health data and also facilitate advanced analytics across different health registries source data, health records, and other sources of health information,” Hald shared a source of inspiration.

“This is something that I would really love for the public sector in Denmark, to look at as a great example of how to drive innovation and at the same time, unlocking a very valuable data resource and namely the health data actually collected,” Hald stated.

To find out more:

Danish Ministry of Finance

Follow Maria Hald on Twitter

Learn more about Denmark’s Agency for Digitization

Learn more about how Microsoft supports digital transformation in Government

About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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