[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 17:11 GMT
E-revolution forces Danes online
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Copenhagen

E-invoicing in Denmark pamphlet
The move has saved the public sector millions of euros already
As Mikael Lausgard's small children play on the floor with an assortment of multi-coloured toys, he is free to stare at his laptop.

He can check where they are on the waiting list for kindergarten, or update their health insurance.

Denmark was the first country in the world to make public services available online - and Mikael is a big fan.

"It's definitely made my life easier," he says.

"I've got three big folders full of paperwork for the last five years, but now I have everything online. So I don't have to bring the folders with me if I need to speak to the insurance company, local authorities, or whatever."

Political muscle

But Denmark is now going a step further - forcing its citizens online.

The major concern is for people who don't feel comfortable about it. I think they get largely alienated
Jeppe Stransberg

Since the beginning of February, for instance, companies dealing with state institutions must submit their invoices electronically.

Around 15 million transactions that the state previously handled in paper are now managed electronically - with huge benefits.

"We have made savings in the public sector of around 100m euros (68.5m)," says Claus Juhl, from the government's Digital Task Force.

"That is a big saving in a country of only five million people. There's a lot of talk about gaining efficiency via e-solutions, but we wanted more than talk."

The Danish government insists that private businesses can also benefit.

Benefits

The Co-op supermarket chain is one company that says it has. It has introduced a new swipe card for state employees buying in bulk for schools, hospitals and kindergartens.

Branch manager Karsten Frandsen says this has reduced the costs of an invoice from two euros (1.40) to 1.2 euros (80p).

Electronic payment machine
Cheques and cash payments are being replaced by e-alternatives

"They take their goods and then swipe the card at the cash desk," he says.

"Public servants, people from schools or kindergartens, can't get government credit cards to do this. This registers the goods centrally, and we send out the invoice the next day."

But other companies have complained about being forced to do things electronically. And the changes are now affecting the wider public.

Another recent innovation is that every Danish resident has to nominate a single bank account for all dealings with the state.

This is replacing cheques or cash payments of benefits, pensions, and so on.

Risk of alienation

But Jeppe Stransberg, a critic of what is called "e-government", says making this kind of thing compulsory is not the right way forward.

"The major concern is for people who don't feel comfortable about it. I think they get largely alienated," he says.

Woman looking at a computer screen
There are fears some people may be marginalised by the move
"There is a very big danger that, as the majority of the population gets used to e-government and e-administration, a small minority who don't know how to use it gets completely marginalised."

The government acknowledges the complaints, but insists that compulsion is necessary.

"You have to make it mandatory if you want to secure that not only 5% or 10% are using the new tools, but that you get a real transformation of society," says Claus Juhl.

Despite the opposition, the arguments for forcing people online are gaining ground - and not just in Denmark.

The e-invoicing project was given an award for innovation by the European Union, and many other countries are watching the Danish experience closely.



PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific