Finland continually ranks as number one in public sector digitalisation, as indicated by the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). The digital infrastructure, such as commonly shared digital services, broadband coverage and connectivity, has formed the basis for the success in the public sector digitalisation. In the new public sector, and its services strategy, digitalisation is the key enabler for public sector renewal, the way to a people-oriented, proactive society.
Digitalisation is like a long run
Finnish society started to digitalise its services decades ago. Already in the 1980’s, Finland moved to a fully digitalised (no forms) census. The centralised, high-quality population register made this possible. Finnish taxation happens automatically; there is no need to approve the tax declaration if the information is correct, and if not, the data can be corrected remotely. The Finnish passport and id-card can be applied for on the internet; the photo shop sends your photo digitally with your application number, and in a week you get a notice that you can pick up your passport from a kiosk shop. During the whole application process, the citizen does not need to visit the government agency nor police station.
In 2014, Finland built the national service architecture to improve the cost efficiency and connectivity in the whole public sector. The Suomi.fi services (Finland.fi) are a tool box for commonly used digital services, like eID, authorisation services, digital post and one-stop shop for the public sector service catalogue. Digitalisation is seen as a cross cutting theme in the government programmes, also granting development resources to emerging technologies like robotics, block chain and artificial intelligence.
Digitalisation a key success factor in the Covid crisis
The Finnish response to the Covid virus crisis has been largely successful due to the high level of digitalisation. In mid-March, almost all civil servants started teleworking full-time, practically overnight. Of the total Finnish work force, 60% moved to teleworking, this number being highest in the world.
The use of digital public services increased significantly since the outbreak of the epidemic. For example, in April 2020, the number of remote (digital) visits to public health care increased by 40-fold. In education, distance learning was introduced on the national level in the primary and secondary schools as well as in the universities. The number of passed exams in the unis even increased compared to previous years.
One of the most important digital measures to combat the Covid crisis has undoubtedly been the introduction of the contact tracing app Koronavilkku. The app’s user privacy is strongly protected, and downloading and using the tracing app is voluntary. Only a day after the publi-cation of the app in September, already a million downloads were made. By the end of No-vember, the app has been downloaded over 2.5 million times, representing ca. 47% of the Finnish population.
Digital security and social inclusion ensure trust
The Finnish public sector has a high level of citizen trust. Both digital security and social inclusion measures also ensure future trust.
In the Estonian Cyber security index, Finland currently holds the 10th position among 161 countries. For the first time, the Government Resolution covers digital security. The development programme concentrates on the municipalities where the resources and awareness of digital security has been lower than in the government, and minor security issues have happened.
Digital transformation and social inclusion highlight the importance of well-being, empowerment and equality of all, as well as the accessibility and user-friendliness of services. Although the Finnish population has the highest basic digital skills in the EU, as demonstrated by the DESI index, there is a growing need to develop both the citizen and also entrepreneur skills to communicate with the public sector digitally. Digital skills make it possible to reduce face-to-face appointments and phone support, which are much more expensive service methods compared to digital services that are available 24/7 and are location independent.
The future is a people-oriented, proactive society
The Finnish Government launched the Artificial Intelligence Programme in spring 2017. Globally, Finland was one of the fast-movers in identifying what kind of actions the age of AI requires in terms of new practices, investments, competence, ethics and public discussion.
One of the key actions recommended was to build the world’s best public services using AI solutions to enable a human-centric and proactive society – in an ethically sustainable manner.
The AuroraAI is the public sector solution, where the network will help determine which individuals or businesses are in need of a particular service. Both virtual and physical services are organised around people’s real-life events in a timely manner (just-in-time). This will improve the match between users and public services, while tackling inefficiency and resource waste.
Finland is a society strongly based on information and its utilisation. Knowledge-based decision making and openness are the ways in which the public sector operates. AI requires high-quality data in order to support correct decision making in an efficient and ethical manner. In Finland, the basic register and statistic information are of high quality, and they give reliable data on how society and businesses function. Finland will move to the digital age even faster, creating a people- and business-oriented proactive society, where citizens and the private sector continue to trust the public sector.
Anna-Maija Karjalainen is Director General in the Ministry of Finance of Finland. Her responsibility area is the public sector ICT and digitalisation, including digital security. She has previously worked as divisional director in the State Treasury. She has worked over 20 years in the private sector, leading ICT in metal and paper industry companies.