Opinion
Estimated reading time 5 min

Finland can find the keys to competitiveness in the data economy, but success in a complex transition requires robust co-operation

The challenging economic situation calls for new sources of growth. Data and new business models that leverage it can create a new competitive edge for Finland. But to seize the opportunities it offers requires concerted effort towards a common goal. We have created a tool for this – the ‘fair data economy will to act’.

Writers

Laura Halenius

Project Director, A roadmap for a Fair Data Economy, Sitra

Kaisa Olkkonen

Board professional and chair of the steering group of the national Roadmap for a Fair Data Economy coordinated by Sitra

Published

Data affects everything, whether it’s farming, large-scale industrial company operations or the daily activities of ordinary people. 

The importance of data as a force for economic and societal change will grow further in the coming years. Finland is well placed to create data economy success stories, as our strengths are a co-operative and trust-based information society, a high level of skills and a national will to succeed in the data economy. To harness these strengths, we must further intensify co-operation between the public and private sectors and make investments in cross-sectoral management.

Bleak economic growth outlook spurs search for new sources of growth

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened the economic outlook for Finland and Europe by increasing uncertainty, fuelling inflation and raising the prices of raw materials, food and energy. The prolonged Covid-19 crisis continues to weigh on the global economy. Many companies are also wondering where the much-needed growth will come from, now that the Russian market has been lost. New success stories are sorely needed.

At the same time, the ambitious goal of the European Union is to become one of the data economy powers alongside the US and China. As a result, Europe is now rolling out major legislative initiatives and funding programmes to achieve this goal.  

Driving the use of data in healthcare, industry and accelerating the green transition

The data economy creates a wide range of opportunities for different sectors and tools to overcome crises. It is now important to focus work in particular on areas where the benefits of the data economy are already evident and achievable. These include promoting the green transition and making better use of health data and industrial data. It’s time for the operators especially in these sectors to have the courage and ability to share their data in order to keep pace with developments and to create new business opportunities. If we can do this, we will be taking a huge leap forward and create the models we need for development work.

The Finnish healthcare system generates data that can be used to better guide the treatment systems and generate internationally competitive innovations. Data can be used to target measures to prevent disease and develop new and more effective treatments. At best, this could significantly increase the life expectancy and well-being of Finns.

Pioneering companies are already innovating, growing and gaining market advantage by utilising processed data. Data should now be shared between different operators to enable new circular economy business models required by the green transition could become reality. For example, enhancing transport chains using data at different stages of the logistics chain would reduce both costs and emissions and take us towards carbon neutrality targets.

The Roadmap for a Fair Data Economy creates a common direction for developing the data economy

But achieving the benefits in question will require determined co-operation between the public and private sectors if we want to create innovation and not just follow other countries in their development of the data economy. In Finland, the challenges include the relatively limited understanding of the data economy and its potential, perceived obstacles to data sharing, a shortage of skills and difficulties in letting go of the previous models. These challenges cannot be addressed by any single operator. 

But achieving the benefits in question will require determined co-operation between the public and private sectors if we want to create innovation and not just follow other countries in their development of the data economy.

We need broad collaboration to generate solutions. Some solutions have already been identified, including collecting and sharing the best pioneering practices and developing tools to boost skills. The availability data as raw material for innovations should also be ensured. An infrastructure for data sharing is needed and legislation should support the widespread use of data. 

It is also important to ensure that the rules of the future data-driven society are fair for all and that the opportunities for exploiting data no longer remain the prerogative of a few large operators. The power of users to manage and benefit from their own data, for example in the form of better services, should be strengthened.

To make this happen, the national Roadmap for a Fair Data Economy, coordinated by Sitra, has brought together a broad network of operators to build a common transition. The data economy will to act can be seen as a manifesto for Finland’s renewal. It reflects a common will for change and highlights the need for change. This work is the starting point of the Roadmap for a Fair Data Economy to be published in spring 2023. 

At Sitra’s invitation, top executives and experts from key organisations in terms of the development of the data economy in the public and private sectors and third sector have participated in the work on the will to act initiative. The work has already proved that Finland’s greatest strength lies in co-operation.

Are you inspired by the development of the data economy in Finland? We welcome you to become involved in building the success story of the Finnish data economy collaboratively and through concrete action.

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