Four things to consider before building a new IT system

by Helen Kokk, Nortal's UX and Service Design Lead

Although the digitalization of paperwork in recent decades has been relentless, the hope that it will boost productivity and make document management cheaper has not always been realized. Is there a universal list of things to consider before building a new digital registry?

When you think about the different forms people have to fill out, moving them from paper to digital has not saved as much time or resources as expected. In many cases, it still takes roughly the same amount of time to fill out the forms online as it did on paper. It still takes roughly the same amount of people to get the work done. And on top of that, document management has in many cases actually become more expensive, as building IT systems is not cheap.

Still, there is no way back. It’s fair to say governments need to continue the work of digitalization as their clients, the people, expect to live in a seamless digital society. They expect communications with the state to take place to a large extent online, processes to be quick and filling out forms or applications to be over in minutes. 

I’ve listed four things to consider before starting the endeavor of building a brand new information system.

Does it have to be unique?

When building a new system, say for document management, I can understand why people would want to create something unique and unprecedented. But is that really necessary? Think of your users — what kinds of IT systems do they use and why; what kind of experience do you want to offer them. I’m guessing it makes more sense for people to use systems that have a familiar look and feel. I’m not saying they have to be identical, but using a similar logic for where buttons are located, for example, could make workflow so much easier and faster for everybody.

What happens after it goes live?

A common mistake when building an IT system is to think that building the system ends when it goes live. This approach couldn’t be further from reality. An IT system is like a plant — you cannot expect it to flourish if you just water it every day for two weeks and then forget about it for the rest of the year. 

Systems need constant maintenance and care. It is paramount to have a product owner and team to make sure things run smoothly, and who are constantly thinking about how to develop the system further so it won’t become outdated.

Do you really have to build everything yourself?

A successful IT system does not stand proudly on its own –– it communicates with other systems. This means there is probably no point building everything you need from scratch. If you need your system to accept payments, you probably won’t build a bank; you’ll find a way to integrate the bank’s system with yours. This applies to many other aspects of IT systems. 

Analyze what kind of experience you want to offer your users and find ways to realize that by integrating with other systems.

How can you create more value with data?

Digitalized document registries, databases and information registries can offer us so much more than the purpose they were built for. The Economist recently declared data the most valuable resource in the world; data is the new oil. This means that creating a new IT framework gives us new opportunities to offer novel services and create new business models.

And you may not even need to build a whole new system to take full advantage of the data collected. Many organizations today don’t really know what kinds of data they collect, where they store it and how they use this data to create new services. The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation forces all organizations to get a full understanding of the data they collect and store in their information systems, so if you play your cards wisely, you may end up finding new business models.