The Nordics countries have long been leaders in progressive societies and policies that focus on citizen services and wellbeing. Digitalization has created an incredible framework from which to improve and update services. It has challenged us to question existing norms and practices and re-create them, to make them work more flexibly for individuals and communities. In practice, digitalization brings citizens, companies, and public services together and this is well demonstrated by the smart city agenda.
Electronic services increase the opportunities for citizens, businesses, and communities to use public services regardless of time and place. Electronic transactions are also the easiest and fastest way to handle government matters, also in real-time. As the use of electronic services increases, public service production will become more efficient and common tax resources will be saved. The premise is that smart city, e-government services are functional, easy to use and secure.
Smart cities in practice across the Nordics
There are some advanced examples of smart city developments today, especially from the Swedish and Finnish capitals Stockholm and Helsinki.
The City of Stockholm has implemented a smart traffic steering system based on cameras instead of sensors in the ground, saving unnecessary groundwork and money. Additionally, as they receive real time information, they can minimize traffic congestion by building AI into traffic light control systems. This system has the added benefit of being more environmentally friendly, which fits the Swedish agenda to be ecological, economical, democratic, and socially sustainable in the future.
The City of Helsinki is building some really cool digital services for their citizens too. Some projects that are currently ongoing include a hobby passport for youngsters to find something easy to do, daycare placement arranged via one SMS, local services in your hand through an interactive Helsinki map, Helsinki digi advice services (free advice in libraries, resident houses, elderly service centers etc), workspace reservation for citizens in public areas, chatbot for welfare advisory services, and free of charge digi support week.
Where next for the Nordics and smart cities?
Different cities are at different stages with their projects. Some have started to build their main strategies and have also built supporting data strategies, some are already building the necessary infrastructure, some are procuring services for clerks and schools to support the 24/7 open city goal, some have even hired their own software groups. There are also cities that have implemented solutions using IoT technology already, though often without any data strategies behind them.
In my view, before starting to build public services, the main task must be to have a data strategy in place with focus on security privacy. Most large cities across the Nordics seem to have one. There are many aspects to this. For example:
What do we want to achieve with the captured data?
- Does the data need to be stored? If so, where should it be stored? On-premise, off-premise, sovereign cloud, multi cloud.
- How accessible does it need to be?
- What should the city expect in return for sharing data with private sector? Value of the data can not only be expressed in terms of hard currency.
- Who can access the data and how secure does it need to be?
- How do we protect the data from viruses and ransomware?
- How fast does the data need to be restored if lost?
These questions, plus many more form the basis of a strategy and needs to be answered. This strategy must ensure public trust is maintained but can also form the basis of a business strategy, which can help public sector pay for services using money other than from the taxpayer – something that would be popular with Nordic citizens.
When the data strategy is in place, the basic infrastructure needs to be established. Network, storage, compute power, IOT, end user devices etc. depending on what solutions will be provided. This, too, is not a small task but the Nordics countries tend to be advanced in terms of digital infrastructure.
One thing is certain, the smart cities agenda is firmly in place across the Nordic region and likely to gather pace over the next few years, bringing benefits to communities and supporting efficiencies as well as the green agenda.