Finland: A global pioneer and front-runner in digital government

Published on July 22, 2021

Our world today is driven by data, and governments are no exception. The Covid-19 pandemic showed how necessary and crucial digital transformation is and that public agencies need data to deliver services efficiently. Only a robust digital infrastructure can provide the tools governments need to meet their citizen’s demands and support more agile and anticipatory decisions. If I had to pick positive outcomes from this global crisis, then the acceleration of digital transformation would be at the top of my list. We are living in exciting times, where the digital economy promises so much to so many. It enables speeding up the development of innovative responses to local economic and societal challenges.

One of the leading countries in the EU and the world in several digital transformation-related assessments is Finland. Here, the digital transformation of industries and society has become a key priority because it promotes growth, entrepreneurship, welfare, and job creation.

A long history of digital government

Like in many countries, the e-government in Finland is about providing public services to citizens, institutions, and other stakeholders. The pioneering policies are traceable back to the 1970s when ICT was considered an essential part of good governance. However, the golden era was during the ’90s when Finland became one of the world’s leading information technology (IT) countries. At this time, the country was ranked among the first regarding internet connections per capita and for technological innovations development. Numerous government projects and initiatives were implemented, making Finland one of the best international practices and case studies for other nations. 

All former and current Prime Ministers have had digitalisation high on their government programs. One of the key moments was presenting the report’ Productive and innovative Finland — digital agenda for 2011–2020′‘ to the parliament. It defined future objectives for the development of the information society to promote growth and productivity. Some important objectives included:

  • opening up access to public data and its efficient use
  • promoting user-oriented service development
  • securing the position of older people as active citizens, and 
  • promoting sustainable development by adopting new technologies

Despite this progress, the Finnish government remains ambitious

The development of digital tools at different levels has helped Finnish citizens to participate in decision-making through e-voting and participation services. In addition, health care (e-prescription), education, security, land survey activities, and social care have been made more accessible, transparent, efficient, and inclusive to citizens and other stakeholders in Finland. And the Finnish government is constantly looking for ways to offer better services at lower costs.

One of the biggest trends is the move towards predictive services – the idea that government should predict your needs using AI. The idea is simple; just like tech giants, the government should be able to recommend services that its citizens need. “We have a way to go to become human-centric, and we need to go much further,” says Anna-Maija Karjalainen, Director General of Public Sector ICT at the Finnish Ministry of Finance. Named after the northern lights, the AuroraAI program reflects the Finnish government’s desire to be the forerunner in information technology and artificial intelligence. It aims to remove the silos that usually keep services separated to create a seamless system for users, reducing the time spent on bureaucracy. This program will also create more opportunities for cooperation between the public sector, private sector, and other stakeholders.

Finland is the digital leader according to the EU’s DESI index.

All the efforts of the country toward digital transformation of the public sector have not gone unnoticed. Finland is singled out for offering Internet access as a fundamental human right and its high-level use of radiofrequency identification (RFID). It is a digital leader, ranking Number One out of the 28 EU Member States with a score of 72.3 according to the 2020 DESI index (Digital Economy and Society Index). Based on data before the pandemic, this top performance comes from its excellence in digital public services and the integration of digital technologies. Also, an essential factor contributing to its digital success is the active cooperation between the public and private sectors. Moreover, its human capital is one of its most substantial competitive advantages because 76% of the population has basic or above basic digital skills. In comparison, the EU average is 58%, making Finnish citizens one of the most tech-savvy populations in the EU and the world at large. 

According to The Digibarometer 2020, Finland has improved remarkably in the digital capabilities of the public sector even though there are declines in the business sector. This report evaluates how well countries utilise digitalisation, and it ranked Finland second compared to 22 other countries. Furthermore, it has been among the three best countries for several consecutive years and has even held the number one position once in 2016.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022