Making online services for municipalities better

Oct. 12, 2015 Anders Innovations

The City of Helsinki chose Anders as one of their three partners for developing agile, open-source, online services. The contract will run for the next three years.

So what does this all actually mean and what’s in it for the citizens of the City of Helsinki? Will all the citizens have access to excellent online services that are created with smartly allocated resources? How smoothly will an organization the size of the City of Helsinki be able to transit from an analog culture into a fully digital model? This subject calls for some broader contemplating.

The economics of the state and municipalities has been discussed a lot in the media lately. One major aspect of this conversation has been ICT costs. The public sector in Finland currently spends around 2 billion euros on information and communications technology per year. According to the dean of the University of Jyväskylä’s Faculty of Information Technology, Pekka Neittaanmäki, the market is controlled by international system suppliers and consulting companies. The question then comes to mind; what if the market is actually controlled by the best sales people rather than the best ICT solutions?

The laws of scarcity force organizations into considering smarter and more resource-effective solutions to their service strategies. The City of Helsinki is now acting as a trendsetter in the municipality sector. Digitalization, online services and open data are playing a major role in this development. From the viewpoint of the local residents, all this should be realized as better use of common resources and as advanced online services. Nevertheless, using open source technology doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better end result for the residents. It is more about managing the service system as a whole and in the right way. This includes the challenge of accessibility and communicating the service to its end users correctly.

Politician and CEO of Mehiläinen Oy, Lasse Männistö, thinks that one of the major challenges is, that digital channels and the planned service paths don’t always find the user. Männistö is a known supporter of service easiness and the single service channel ideologies. He emphasizes the meaning of the communication strategy in broadening the scope of the municipality level to be more open and better targeted to where people are best reached, including social media and similar channels. Männistö gives credit to the web services of the Finnish tax authority, Verovirasto, and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, KELA, as they provide people with quality service regardless of where the person lives. The web services of municipalities don’t always reach people with the same quality and as equally as the services provided by the state.

The head of research at the Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences, Mikko Lampi, is a supporter and expert of open source code. Lampi emphasizes the basic philosophy of open source which springs from the openness of the community. These are the basic values that should be appreciated also when planning and developing public services. According to Lampi, there is always a risk of designing public services with too much focus on the technical side, which may disturb the dynamics of the service design. When the service is already technically functional, who is responsible for continuing the development of the actual service is often forgotten.

A business ecosystem development project researcher of the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT, Thomas Casey, writes about the Smart City development in the VTT Blog. He highlights the importance of interoperability, openness and a modular architecture on the technical, as well as on the business level. These have been central elements to the global success of the internet and the mobile network. Casey mentions testing and certification services of system interoperability as one of the most important tools in this development.

The intent and willingness for the change seems to be good and the timing seems right. Carrying out a process of change always requires a group of bold pioneers sharing the same vision to show the way. The City of Helsinki has a status strong enough to act as a role model. The companies involved play a big role, too, because a large organization and agility rarely go together. A company with an excellent skillset and know-how such as Anders will bring much needed agility to the development process.

To finish off, I want to cite a Finnish ex Prime Minister, Esko Aho. The thought he wanted to bring out translates roughly to “people don’t need municipality services – they need proper services”. Despite this not sounding quite as compelling and rhyming when translated into English, I think it is easy to agree with the essential message.

 
Ville Vartiainen
Business Development Lead (Sales)