Illuminating a Blind Spot in Digitalization – Software Development in Sweden’s Private and Public Sector

In 2017 we did a census of software development at Swedish government agencies, and by coincidence, Swedsoft together with Statistics Sweden conducted a survey of software development in the Swedish private sector at the same time. Since combining these two studies would show a full picture of software both in the private and public sectors, we decided to pool all data and compare our findings. The authors from the private sector study (Joakim and Martin) were happy to join as co-authors – adding the important business perspective!

Private and public sector side-by-side

A high-level comparison of the two surveys shows that the private and public sectors are similar. The figure below shows the data from the bird’s eye view. On top, we see that 35% of the companies develop software compared to 39% of the government agencies. Splitting the results based on small/medium/large company/agency illustrates that size is a contrasting factor in the public sector. Small government agencies don’t develop software (they are not like startups!) but most large agencies have ongoing in-house development.

Finally, the figure splits the sectors into business domains and agency departments, respectively. It becomes evident that digitalization does not move forward one sector at a time. Digitalization is better described in terms of early adopters within sectors and departments than by leading and lagging sectors or leading private firms and lagging public agencies.

Comparing the prevalence of in-house software development in the private and public sectors.

Questions for future evidence-based policy-making

We conclude the paper by proposing five lines of further research that should encourage and motivate policymakers and national statistics agencies to collect data on the utilization of new technologies in the near future.

  1. Identifying within-sector actor characteristics that drive early or late adoption of software development and application of specific technologies. Will all organizations eventually engage in software development?
  2. The dynamical change in software development across and within sectors over time. What characterizes sectors that adapt to utilizing new technologies faster?
  3. What is the rate of change or turnover in specific (technical) skill demand? Is there a distinction between slow- and fast-changing skill demand with respect to utilizing new technologies?
  4. How is work being reorganized with the utilization of, and adaptation to, new technologies?
  5. What is the relation between digital maturity in public agencies and the corresponding private sector industries they monitor and work with? How has this relationship changed over time?

Answer these questions will provide a solid ground for future policies. This is important – and actually the reason why this work was published at a workshop on governance in software engineering. It is not only about regulating software engineering practice – it is also about software engineering practice influencing the policy-makers and regulators how the software industry should be regulated and stimulated!

Empirical evidence of software development as input to national policy-making.


Markus Borg, Joakim Wernberg, Thomas Olsson, Ulrik Franke, and Marting Andersson. Illuminating a Blind Spot in Digitalization – Software Development in Sweden’s Private and Public Sector, In Proc. of the 1st International Workshop on Governance in Software Engineering, 2020. (preprint)
As Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen famously remarked in2011, software is eating the world – becoming a pervasive invisible critical infrastructure. Data on the distribution of software use and development in society is scarce, but we compile results from two novel surveys to provide a fuller picture of the role software plays in the public and private sectors in Sweden, respectively. Three out of ten Swedish firms, across industry sectors, develop software in-house. The corresponding figure for Sweden's government agenciesis four out of ten, i.e., the public sector should not be underestimated. The digitalization of society will continue, thus the demand for software developers will further increase. Many private firms report that the limited supply of software developers in Sweden isdirectly affecting their expansion plans. Based on our findings, we outline directions that need additional research to allow evidence-informed policy-making. We argue that such work should ideally be conducted by academic researchers and national statistics agencies in collaboration.