Mauri K. Elovainio, Secretary General, Sonera Ltd
Keynote speaker - EGEDL'99 - 10.8.1999

The Outstanding Role of Telecommunication in the Finnish Information Society: Making the bridge between telecommunications and learning

Finland is progressing towards a knowledge-based society. In the information society, knowledge forms the foundation for education and culture and constitutes the single most important production factor. Information and communications technology (shortly ICT) significantly promotes interaction and exchange of information between individuals, business enterprises, and other organizations, as well as the provision of, and access to, services. The extent to which the information society is implemented in schools and libraries, health care, the promotion of business and industry and other administrative services, as well as enhancing transparent decision-making, largely depends on the decisions made and the measures taken by local authorities.

The national vision is a society, which develops and utilizes the opportunities inherent in the information society to improve the quality of life, knowledge, international competitiveness and interaction in an exemplary, versatile and sustainable way.

Half (51%) of the information society projects are regional and nearly 17% local and national. International or Internationally regional is about 20% of the projects. There are more regional and local projects in Finland than in Europe on the average. International and interregional projects there are less.

To open up better opportunities for self-enhancement, interaction and influence the decisive factors for the competitiveness of a business enterprise are rapid responses, flexibility and networking. The public sector develops the overall conditions for the information society and promotes the construction of technology and the infrastructure. To be able to make the best use of the opportunity thus offered for everyone who needs new skills or intercommunication with one to other.

Uncontrolled information society development may lead to the exclusion of some population groups and regions. The increasing use of ICT in office work is conducive to efficiency, and at the same time it reduces labor needs. Electronic transactions and trade may impair services for those with inadequate skills and knowledge for electronic self-service. Access to sources of information in the midst of the information flood may increase inequality between people if the cost of reliable and well organized information services is too high. The constantly expanding data systems include more and more information about individuals, which, if abused, may compromise people's privacy. Dependence on ICT may increase risks in nearly all activities, which highlights the need to prepare for exceptional circumstances.

Information society development is influenced by global trends, such as progress in the global economy and electronic trade, the rapid progress and integration of ICT, the growing presence of the media and the growth of populations. Growing social inequality and urbanization, environmental problems, increasing mobility and the strengthening role of regions in Europe has also promoted the rapid development of information society.

How is the information society going to strengthen cultural creativity, and will it allow each citizen easy access to multiple cultures while preserving his own identity?

The role of the public sector is to create conditions for building an Information society, which meets the needs of both individuals and business enterprises by means of legislation, research and education. The public sector also promotes the development of serviceable technology and infrastructure. By means of strategic management, it will ensure access to information and promote the development of knowledge, an efficient innovation system. Also conditions for business activities, balanced regional development, the implementation of human rights, and equality, credibility and security in society will be developed. The public sector must constantly re-evaluate its own role and mission.

Democratic and open access will be offered to every one through reduced costs. It can be for the diffusion or use of the interactive services offered on the various communication networks. Each citizen will be granted easy access to the kind of knowledge, which until now has been difficult to reach. Today he has the facility to access the interactive tapping of cultural goods as those from libraries, museums or galleries' art collections. The development of permanent education will hence be made easier while specific cultural identities will be preserved.

It is the administration's task to strengthen democracy and improve citizens' access to information and opportunities for social influence by developing legislation and procedures and making use of the opportunities offered by technology. Legislation and legal control also promote the implementation of the individual's data protection and freedom of speech and improve the individual's status as a consumer.

Decentralized decision-making highlights the need for management by strategies. ICT creates new opportunities for producing and distributing public services, but at the same time it entails the renewal of processes in co-operation with the private and voluntary sectors.

  1. Information society development and changes in the operational environment must be constantly monitored to provide support for strategic management. The action models and cost-effective utilization of technology must be developed and promoted in the administration to ensure compatibility and sufficient steering of information management. Efficient procedures and funding practices, which provide incentive for good performance must be developed and instituted for cross-sectoral R&D projects in particular. All this entails substantial annual funding.

  2. With a view to transparent decision-making and the empowerment of citizens, users must be able to access the information produced by the public sector in an electronic form.

  3. The public sector must take responsibility for data security in society and, together with enterprises, ensure that all critical systems function under all circumstances. The administration must develop norms and regulations governing exceptional circumstances and see to the dissemination of information.

Shared responsibility and competitiveness must be developed in tandem, and due consideration must be given to ecological factors. The individual requires new skills as a citizen, consumer and employee in order to manage, critically analyze and make full use of the information flow.

Knowledge management requires good feedback channels, indicators and incentives, as well as constant alertness to changing needs. The prerequisites of knowledge management can be improved with the introduction of renewed procedures. Educational institutions, business enterprises and other work communities can engage in closer cooperation with a view to knowledge transfer and the utilization of information reserves.

  1. Strategic management of knowledge and processes which support it must be developed to keep know-how at a high standard on a wide front and a sufficient part of it at the top level. The national priorities in education and research and their financing must be regularly reconsidered by the combined cooperation of both the public and private sectors to ensure a flexible response to changes. Methods for anticipating changes in working life and in industrial structures must be developed to help business enterprises and educational institutions to respond better to the challenges arising from these changes. Enterprises in growth fields could make the know-how qualifications in their key professions available to job seekers and educational institutions on the information network.

  2. Measures must be taken to develop such methods for measuring human capital which encourage organizations to appreciate and increase their own human capital and which also serve to develop funding for growth of enterprises. The accounting of organizations must indicate the investment made in know-how. Taxation practices must give incentive for the development of know-how.

  3. Wide-scale cooperation must be carried on, and further expanded, to offer the necessary basic skills in the use of information society tools and electronic services to all citizens, and especially to those who have not had instruction in the new skills during their education or in their line of work. All levels of education must increase the teaching of skills needed to acquire, critically evaluate, transmit and present information and to interact in the modern, international communications environment. Teachers' initial and continuing education must be essentially improved to enable teachers to utilize the possibilities of the information society and to pass on relevant knowledge to their pupils.

We should critically exam the idea where service provider is considered as information provider. As a provider of service platforms we should not take the role of content provider. There are many principles that are worth of building the digital nervous system. In a workplace, where we were simply transferring information from paper forms into the computer are not needed because they've been replaced by self-service. People going directly to their PC, connecting to the Internet, and getting or putting the information they need. All the jobs have to be converted into far more empowered jobs, where you can actually deal with complex situations, and be value-added in a world where just simple activities, like entering information, are no longer necessary at all.

The concept of the global classroom is an excellent example of nervous system. To create network which it self increase amount of information for educational use. It's a reality because of the expansion of world communication systems. These new and diverse telecommunication technologies represent powerful tools for linking both students and teachers together for sharing knowledge and diverse solutions to problems; and for actually creating the global classroom. As this learning environment is evolving, education is developing new visions of learning and teaching. That will provide students with new ways to think and live in the global village.

Today there are many global classroom projects that have been designed for implementation. These projects provide the tools for developing global understanding as well as in depth studies in a variety of content areas and a thorough introduction to computers and telecommunication skills. We should remember also the projects to develop methods for the creation and publishing of electronic learning materials.

To what extent is the Information society a worldwide stake?

The fundamental features of the information society are global interconnection and interoperability between multiple professional educative or entertainment services. A unique opportunity is thus offered for the distribution of a very large range of products and creations, which will reflect the most diverse cultural and linguistic identities.

The stake of information society is worldwide because the interconnection of national communication networks gives birth to a global infrastructure thus linking economical, political and social operators. The information society will have considerable social and economic impacts which will affect all citizens in various aspects of their daily lives.

The G8 member states have recognized the importance of that stake and during that conference will express their intention

  1. to lay down a common strategy defining the global principles without which the information society could not properly function on a world-wide basis,

  2. to identify those applications and pilot-projects of global interest in order to promote the new services available,

  3. to encourage developing countries to participate in long term cooperation to reinforce democracy and have easier access to knowledge and

  4. the education.

The building blocks of the information society

Communications systems combined with advanced information technologies are keys to the information society. The constraints of time and distance have been removed by networks (e.g. telephone, satellites, cables) which carry the information, basic services (e.g. electronic mail, interactive video) which allow people to use the networks and applications (e.g. distance learning, teleworking and telemedicine) which offer dedicated solutions for user groups.

Open service interfaces promote competition.

People themselves have responsibility for their own choices, as well as for making their needs known or for putting their personal data at the disposal of the markets. Information society development, together with the liberalization of world trade, create new business opportunities and new markets for enterprises, as well as subjecting them to stiffer competition and to internationalize themselves.

The decisive competition factors are information and knowledge management, swiftness in applying technologies and innovations, strategic management, flexible organization and procedures, and networking throughout the value chain, both in product development and production as well as in marketing.

There are still many questions open, but I hope that you will find some answers from the publication "Facts about the Finnish information society" which has already been delivered to you. (Reijo Lilius - Finnish national fund for research and development)

When we build and develop the information society we have to break a gap between different sectors. To achieve society coherence there has to be someone who makes technology flexible to build the bridge and make interactions between humans possible.

Attached Slides

Application areas of information society projects

The most important financiers of the Finnish information society projects

Information society strategies of the regions

Public libraries - 1200 service units

Elements of Sonera's information society solution

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