Working group for a digital leap forward: Benefits from a digital economy at all levels of society

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Publication date 1.10.2020 11.10
Press release
Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka (Kuva: LVM, VNK/Laura Kotilanen)
Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka (Kuva: LVM, VNK/Laura Kotilanen)

In its final report, the working group for a digital leap forward proposes that Finland's digitalisation development should focus more on the structures and services of digital society that intersect society at large and accelerate the use of data. The working group handed its report to Timo Harakka, Minister of Transport and Communications, on 1 October 2020.

On 4 May 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications established a working group for digital measures in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, which broadly investigated the digitalisation rate in Finnish society and the measures that further strengthen our digital expertise and activities.

In its intermediary report, the working group stated that the state of communications networks and the availability of communications services in Finland are at a high level and form a well-functioning basis for digitalisation. Furthermore, Finnish people have relatively good basic digital skills, and we use electronic communications devices and digital services in our working life, studies and daily activities.

In its final report, the working group sees that Finnish laws offer, already in their present form, opportunities for digitalisation in society, while these opportunities should be made concrete and harnessed as a driver of growth and competitiveness.

"The coronavirus crisis showed that Finnish people have the will, readiness and skills to use digital services every day. Everyday digitalisation is this spring's hot topic. The working group's activities showed that societal structures are not yet ready. There is still more work to be done", says Timo Harakka, Minister of Transport and Communications.

"We need to ensure the progress of ongoing digitalisation projects because the coronavirus crisis only highlighted their necessity. However, we can achieve so much more through the working group's proposals - new growth and productivity", Harakka says.

To set up these measures, we need the input of both the private and public sectors, as well as broad cooperation and coordination between different organisations.

Six prioritised proposals for measures

The working group proposes six primary measures to stabilise the digital leap and further accelerate the digitalisation development. All of these measures are combined by the need to produce, use and share digital data more effectively.

This view is also supported by the EU data market study, which estimates growth achieved by the data economy to be quicker than average economic growth, provided that the situation develops positively considering digitalisation.

In addition to the prioritised measures, the working group has compiled an extensive list of other key actions. These actions are available in an attachment to the final report.

1. Real-time economy as part of daily lives: Economic data has an impact on all levels of society

The digitalisation of economic data is a concrete area, in which the digital abilities of all societal parties can be increased. The digitalisation of economic data and the advancement of automated processing also develop other areas of digitalisation, such as the real-time nature of commerce, logistics, subcontracting chains, primary production, taxation and social benefits.

The working group proposes that Finland implement the structural changes required for the availability of digital economic data and adopt operating models and services that support this development. The working group also proposes that Finnish digital economic data solutions be scaled as part of the EU's data management structures and Finland act as a European example of a real-time economy.

2. Making use of AI: Better targeted and knowledge-based basic public services

The advantages of digital data and automation can be achieved not only by increasing the availability and free mobility of data, but also by developing and using AI. Alongside up-to-date economic data, AI improves the ability of Finnish society to react, improves the efficiency of basic societal activities and increases productivity in all sectors, ranging from agriculture to industrial production.

The working group sees that Finland should build a legislative framework to harness data and IT to support decision-making and services. AI applies to all sectors, and its usability calls for more interoperability at all levels in processes, data management and the consideration of data protection.

The working group finds it important to have an influence at a EU level, where a regulatory framework for AI is currently under preparation.

3. Better availability of data: Business competence to be strengthened in the data and platform economy

According to the working group, the availability and mobility of data should be advanced at a national and EU level, also regarding data other than economic data. The understanding of companies regarding the advantages of data sharing should also be increased. 

The working group proposes that the government allocate development investments to the transmission services and interfaces required in the use of data and to identity management. There are various areas requiring investments, such as healthcare and social services (genomic data, Findata), transport (route network and transport services), agriculture and water resource management, environmental and climate data, data about the use of energy, the built environment (including infrastructures and property data), the circular economy, geodata, address data and satellite data, IoT data and the previously stated real-time economic data.

The working group would like to point out that the EU offers significant investment aid to achieve necessary investments in digitalisation and data in both public and private sectors.

4. Increased trust: Built-in and acknowledged information security

The working group proposes that Finland build a readiness for the maintenance of information security throughout society. Trust in digital services comes from built-in security in services and users' understanding of their significance.

By supporting research and the Finnish cyber industry, we could generate Finnish intellectual property rights to information security and cybersecurity technologies, skills and services. This would form the ecosystem of Finnish information security and cybersecurity, strengthen the cyberinfrastructure and secure Finland's international competitiveness.

To promote cybersecurity, a cybersecurity development programme, spanning over several government terms, is already under preparation. The programme is being prepared by the Ministry of Transport and Communications under the cybersecurity director, and its goal is to clarify the overview of projects and research and to make national guidelines concrete.

5. Recreational services more easily available online: Harmonised VAT rates

The coronavirus crisis increased the digital range of event, culture and sport services, while this mainly took place by building new operating models "out of necessity", because the digitalisation rate in the sector was low to begin with.

According to the working group, one reason underlying the weaker initial situation regarding recreational services was the non-harmonised VAT rates applied to recreational services, which does not encourage service providers towards digitalisation. This can be seen, for example, in differing service prices, depending on whether services are provided online or physically.

The working group sees that harmonised VAT rates are a precondition for promoting service markets that are independent of time and place and to improve profitability.

6. Data economy and stronger coordination in data policies

The working group finds it important that measures related to digitalisation and the data economy are coordinated and monitored on a sufficiently broad scale.

Extensive preparation

On 4 May 2020, the Ministry of Transport and Communications established a working group for digital measures in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. Its task was to assess the impact of digitalisation development during the exceptional circumstances arising from the coronavirus crisis and to prepare proposals for recovery from the exceptional circumstances and for the development of laws and governance to be more favourable for digitalisation. Another task of the working group was to more broadly handle digitalisation and the digital repair deficit highlighted by the crisis.

Laura Vilkkonen, Director-General of the Data Department at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, acted as the chair of the working group and Anna-Maija Karjalainen, Director-General of Public Sector ICT at the Ministry of Finance, was the vice chair. The working group included representatives broadly from different sectors, business life and governance.

The working group's intermediary report was on an extensive round of statements, with more than 130 different parties issuing their statement on the report. The intermediary report was already used in the preparation of Martti Hetemäki's crisis follow-up group.

The working group's work was based on Prime Minister Sanna Marin's government programme, one of the goals of which is to make Finland a pioneer in digitalisation, technological development, innovative procurement and culture of experimentation. One of the programme's measures is to develop the regulatory environment and governance so as to enable digitalisation and sustainable development.

Additional information:

Laura Vilkkonen, Director-General, tel. +358 40 500 0817, Twitter: @vilkkonen