Helsinki, 10 June, 2003 — Finland is recognized as one of the world’s most competitive economies and most technologically developed welfare and information societies. It is also a country currently specialized in the development and production of ICT products and services.
Finland is recognized as one of the world’s most competitive economies and most technologically developed welfare and information societies. It is also a country currently specialized in the development and production of ICT products and services.
Despite the globally experienced bankruptcies of dotcoms and collapsed stockmarket values of ICT companies, so far Finland has held her position in international comparison. This situation has been achieved in a relatively short time as, during the 1990s Finland went from being one of the least ICT-specialized industrialized nations to become the most specialized one.
Public and Private Sectors in Cooperation
There are plenty of reasons behind Finland's high ranking in information society development. Open and numerous Public-Private-Partnerships, characteristic for Finland, enable the common use of limited resources and the formation of joint ventures. Other reasons are open telecommunications competition and the high quality educational system. It pays to remember also the Finns' basic nature with inborn interest in technology throughout history.
The well-being of all citizens is valued high in Finland. This characteristic reaches also to ICT field and the use of its applications. Thus, in our information society regional and socio-economic differences are quite small.
In the Finnish model for information society, the role of the government has been given considerable emphasis to guarantee the development of favorable atmosphere through infrastructure, legislation, and accessibility for all.
Interoperability - intense and broad interorganizational co-operation both within the industry as well as with other industries and the research sector - and neutral forums for promoting information society development have been key factors in Finland. These Public-Private-Partnership promotions have deepened the development enabling the work to be carried out on every societal level: individuals, localities, cities, nations, Europe, and globally.
Competitive information society needs a full range of services directed to both citizens as well as to companies. In this, the development of public sector services is an important element. A well organized information society supports general wellbeing by taking full advantage of what information technology can offer. A big challenge for Finland is to learn to apply information technology in the service sector in areas like retailing and health care. This is especially important in public services due to the increasing pressure for cost-efficiency to lessen the tax burden.
Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT has created a roadmap on information and communications technologies that covers the period of the next ten years. The most important communications technology areas for Finland are seen to be smart human environments, interoperability, and mobility in future networks, micromechanical radio frequency systems, and service architectures.
Online Government Advances
Information and telecommunications technologies continue to offer remarkable opportunities for public administration renewal. Finland, like other industrialized nations, is faced with a change in society’s age structure that will shift demand for public services toward labour-intensive services while, at the same time, public services will undergo a changeover of its own personnel as a result of retirement.
Electronic government, and the application of IT in general, opens up opportunities for more effective procedures, structural reform, higher administrative productivity, and for improving the quality of service. Procedures can be lightened and resources, thus, freed reallocated to traditional-type personal services required by seniors.
The Programme of Action to Promote Online Government, published in December 2001, has accelerated progress towards electronic government throughout the public administration. This action programme for the years 2002–2003 was formulated by a task group established by the Information Society Advisory Board and chaired by the MP and the former Minister of the Environment, Mr Jouni Backman. The programme was accepted by the Ministerial Committee for Administration.
Merely automating an existing service does not suffice. Service processes have to be re-evaluated. The central proposal of the action Programme is that each agency should formulate an electronic services (ES) strategy that is integrated with its overall functional and service strategy. Strategy training to support agencies in this work was begun in September 2002.
ES strategies will become part of the government budget process by including them in the activities and financial planning cycle of each administrative branch. Municipalities need ES strategies as well.
One of the main recommendations of the Action Programme concerns top management training to enable it to take advantage of ICT. The provision of online services implies the adoption of new activity and service paradigms. This presents a tough challenge, in particular to management.
The secure identification of clients of online services is a topic for continuing debate. Electronic authentication based on the Public Key Infrastructure has not caught on as rapidly as expected, although the Finnish Population Register Centre has been providing digital certificates since 1999. New approaches will be available soon as the electronic ID card will be modified to contain health insurance information, thus making the card more widely useful. Work is under way to allow for the attached processor card (SIM card) of a mobile phone to be used for authentication. However, it will take time before PKI-based authentication is in wide use.
The Action Programme suggests that the use of banks’ authentication systems for online banking should be permitted for using public services. These systems are usually not based on digital certificates but on more “light-weight“ methods such as a set of one-time passwords. Over half of adult Finns do online banking and are, thus, familiar with these authentication procedures.
In August 2002, the Ministry of Finance followed up on this suggestion with a recommendation that central government online services may offer online banking authentication in addition to or instead of PKI-based authentication. Several public online services has already been opened.
Future Paths and Challenges
ICT infrastructure in Finland is one of the world’s best. Challenge now is to rise the level of ICT use and the benefits to be derived from it. The most digital fields in Finland are the financial sector, transport, and communications. Services, on the other hand, trail behind. In the near future information and communications technologies will become a more concrete part of every day life.
This very fact was re-enforced again after the recent parliamentary elections as, on Sunday April 13, 2003, the parties involved in the Government formation talks reached an agreement on the new Government Programme, which emphasizes the need to strengthen Finland's position as one of the world's leading information societies. The new Government pledges to actively pursue the development of the information society with the aim to improve productivity and competitiveness as well as to promote social and regional equality through effective utilization of information and communications technologies in all sections of the society.
Participation in European research projects is important. The designs of future ambient systems – IT systems intimately integrated with everyday environments and supporting people in their activities – are likely to be quite different from those of current computer systems. From the point of view of the Finnish ICT cluster one key question is, how will the wireless culture and new third-generation technology at large evolve.
Businesses will benefit from closer networking and through better awareness of co-operational methods and partnerships in digital processes.
Dr. Aatto J. Repo
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre
TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre serves as the promoter of Finnish well-being in information society development. TIEKE creates networks among businesses and the public administration which, in turn, serve in the over-all information society development.