Moving Towards Cross-Border Process Optimisation

Addressing the federation of Unified eXchange Platform (UXP)/X-Road1 instances is a fascinating exercise, which despite of the technical challenges, bears the promise of integrating business processes across national or federal borders. It’s easy to imagine federally governed states relying on federated UXP and/or X-Road infrastructure and see how this would be the basis for integrating different jurisdictions’ information systems and services for a user-friendly service delivery. This blog series walks you through the main steps to consider when federating UXP/X-Road national data exchange infrastructure.

The first blog addresses why federating is necessary and what are the benefits, the second post addresses the legal and organizational perspectives and the third one takes a closer look at the technical requirements in a federation of UXP and X-Road instances.

Why Does Data Need to Move Across Borders?

Think of two states where State A has established Cybernetica’s UXP for securely exchanging data and providing e-services to citizens, and State B runs X-Road. Now imagine the following scenario.

State A has laid out a plan that intends to attract investments and businesses from abroad, particularly from their neighbouring State B. However, once the businesses start coming, State A realises, that it needs access to authoritative information about the incoming business owners without collecting data that’s already collected in State B’s registers. In order to do so State A investigates the options to get direct access to State B’s databases on a need-to-know basis.

As UXP and X-Road are infinitely scalable per definition, both data exchange layers could theoretically extend across national borders if the two nation-states came to the conclusion that they want to set rules for sharing one UXP/X-Road instance. While we currently see that the European Commission is working on legislation for the so-called Once-Only-Principle and a European Interoperability Framework, we’re still living in the age of nation-states and far away from two or more nation states creating one data exchange infrastructure together. What’s also rather common, are domain-specific vertical data integration tools such as in the European Commission’s Directorate General Taxation and Customs Union, that’s in fact planning four different platforms for managing Tax and Customs data exchange across European borders.

Federating UXP and X-Road Instances

That’s where the federation of UXP/X-Road instances comes into the picture. Federation means making two or more data exchange layers compatible with one another. In fact, the idea of federating UXP/X-Road instances goes back to 2008 when Cybernetica’s Arne Ansper and Jan Willemson co-authored the paper “X-Road – A Complete Solution for Inter-organizational Information Exchange” and addressed the question of how UXP/X-Road allows two or more countries to exchange information without intermediaries:

„In order to allow international information exchange, bilateral agreements are made between the existing [Governing Authorities] and the respective governmental bodies acknowledging legitimacy of the data received from the other infrastructure. Such bilateral agreements can later develop in a natural way into multilateral ones“ (Ansper, Willemson, 2008, p. 11).

During the following years, Cybernetica started to develop the vision of a Secure Distributed Service Bus, renamed to UXP in 2015, with a focus on providing federation as a key feature of the software. In 2014, federating X-Road actually became a reality when the Republics of Estonia and Finland decided that data should move across their national borders from one X-Road instance to another.

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the necessary bilateral agreements between the Governing Authorities and the Service Level Agreements.

Written by Tobias Koch

1 If you’re familiar with Cybernetica’s history, you’re probably aware of UXP being an enhanced proprietary version of the now Estonian-Finnish X-Road. Read a comparison of the two here:

Willemson, J., Ansper, A.: A Secure and Scalable Infrastructure for Inter-Organizational Data Exchange and eGovernment Applications. In: 2008 Third International Conference on Availability, Reliability and Security. pp. 572-577.