When the world went online

An extraordinary amount of data was transferred via Finland’s telecommunications networks after mid-March. Coronavirus and the state of emergency forced a large number of Finns to telecommute. Schools and studies turned to distance learning, and the need to move day-to-day business online reached unprecedented levels. We withdrew to our homes, and moved our lives online.

After an initial spike, the increased use in telecommunications networks has become more even over the course of the day, and there have been no problems with capacity.

Networks in Finland are built sustainably, and Finnish base stations, for example, are mostly equipped with optical fibre. According to a situation analysis by the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom and the National Emergency Supply Agency, telecommunications networks have coped well during the crisis. Officials’ critical communications are also safeguarded in all circumstances.

Finns manage well in a digital society

Compared to the rest of Europe, Finns have excellent digital skills, as shown in this year’s DESI study. We were already familiar with telecommuting, and already used digital tools.

The situation also forced universities to develop their entrance exams so that applicants could take the exams remotely. This has meant a significant digital leap for universities, and entrance exams taken remotely may remain a permanent fixture in the student admissions process. It is great that Finland has the information-technical skills for such a rapid and extensive overhaul.

Necessity is often the best muse

The Minister of Transport and Communications, Timo Harakka, has set up a working group tasked with assessing the impact of digital development during the state of emergency and drawing up a plan to accelerate recovery after the state of emergency, as well as to permanently increase Finland’s digital operating capacity.

The working group has now produced an interim report. The working group’s term has been extended until the end of September, which is the deadline for the group to draw up an action plan for digitalization projects to be carried out as part of the strategy for the aftermath of the crisis.

It will only be possible to analyze the impact of the state of emergency in depth later on. Among other things, remote health care appointments have only now been taken seriously into use, even though we have long had the skills and technology to do so. Only the necessity of avoiding physical contact has accelerated the adoption of remote health care services.

Coronavirus has also resulted in a huge digital leap forward for e-commerce. As it was unwise to physically go to a store, grocery stores responded to the sharp increase in the demand for e-commerce. A number of specialist stores also moved online. Many restaurants set up online stores for customers to order meals for delivery.

The diverse use of digitalization combined with necessity-driven innovativeness has also produced climate-friendly operating models. We will only truly be able to measure their impacts in the future.

Reliable electronic identification for services

A key factor for dealing with matters online is reliable electronic identification. The state of emergency has taught us that Finns have strong electronic identification systems that function excellently. Practically everyone uses either telecommunications services’ Mobile ID or online banking credentials which can be used to effectively and reliably verify your ID.

There are no digitalization bottlenecks in electronic identification for different services. Some electronic services, however, can be either difficult to use, or missing entirely. All public services must be digitalized as soon as possible.

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to focus on the essential. For the state, it is the quality, accessibility, and scope of services, not electronic identification for services.