Sweden's unemployment funds turn to BPM to keep pace with legislation

Sweden is developing technology that will allow people to apply for unemployment benefits using their mobile phone

People in Sweden who lose their jobs will be able to apply for unemployment benefits using their mobile phone and tablets, under a £2m project.

The move is part of a major programme by the country’s 28 unemployment insurance funds to replace their outdated IT systems with up-to-date technology that will make it easier to keep pace with changing benefits legislation.

Unlike the UK, which relies on the government to pay unemployment benefits, workers in Sweden pay contributions into professional insurance funds that provide benefits if they lose their jobs.

The funds, which grew out of Sweden’s trade union movement, operate independently but collaborate to develop and share their IT infrastructure.

Changing rules

When the Swedish government introduced a rapid series of changes to pension regulations some years ago, it became clear that the funds’ IT systems lacked the flexibility to respond, said Thomas Eriksson (pictured), chief legal officer of the unemployment fund for graduates, in an interview with Computer Weekly.

“The rules changed very quickly and dramatically for us, and we realised the systems we had then, and still have, were not designed for the quick changes the government wanted us to make,” he said.

The funds, represented by the Swedish Federation of Unemployment Insurance Funds (SO), looked at various software technologies before signing a deal with business process management specialist Pegasystems in 2012.

Mobile portals

Under the project, the funds will replace their existing web portals – developed in-house – with a mobile phone-compatible 'e-service' built on Pega’s business process management software.  

The system will allow people to upload details of any job interviews and any courses they have attended while they are seeking work.

The portals, which have been rolled out to about half the funds so far, incorporate software that is widely used by Sweden’s banks to verify the identity of policyholders.

“It is going to be much more efficient for us when we collect information from our clients,” said Eriksson. “And with our mobile interface and electronic ID, we can save time for them to start using the e-service.”

Multi-channel technology

The funds plan to develop more services between now and 2016, including a project to roll out Pega’s business process management software to call centres and high-street offices, creating a 'single view' of each customer’s data.

Some of the funds are planning to replace their legacy computer systems entirely, while others intend to add the Pega software as an extra layer.

“If we wanted to continue with the traditional systems we have, that would cost us a huge amount of money and we would still not have the functionality we need,” said Eriksson.

The portals will use Pega’s rules engine software to enable the funds to update their business rules quickly, in response to changes in regulation or legislation.

Lessons learned

Initially, the funds relied on consultants from Pegasystems to drive the project, but it later became clear that the project would be more effective if it was driven by the funds themselves.

“We changed the project model, but we kept some of the consultants from Pega,” said Joakim Kruse, head of IT at SO, the umbrella body for the 28 funds.

The need to move from traditional “waterfall”-style project development to agile sprints was a major challenge, he added. “It was a big step for leadership as well.”

Changing rules

Eriksson said the work should significantly reduce the cost of keeping the funds' IT systems up to date with changes in government pension regulations.

Upgrades that followed rule changes in 2007 cost more than £6m and required some tricky modifications to the funds’ in-house software, written in the C++ and C# programming languages, said Eriksson.

“The systems were not designed for this at all,” he added. “They were designed for static legislation and maybe small changes to the amount of money you pay out.”

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