Finland leads the technology pack

Helsinki and Finland have become synonymous with high technology

Finland is a global superpower when it comes to information and communication technologies (ICTs), with most of the country’s population wired up to the internet or glued to mobile phones.

This content was published on November 20, 2003 minutes

In fact, almost 90 per cent of Finns own a mobile phone, and one in two regularly surfs the web.

However, first impressions of the capital, Helsinki, do not call to mind a metropolis surfing the crest of the technology wave.

On a damp, autumn day the austerity of the city’s sombre facades does little to convince the visitor that they have landed in a country which has topped the ICT charts for the past decade.

But take a look in every shop, from the modern to the downright dated, and you’ll find that everyone is hooked up to the internet.

And out on the streets, in the cafes and on the buses, they’ve all got telephones stuck to their ears.

Technology powerhouse

Finland may be the land of lakes, forests, saunas and functional design, but it’s also a technology powerhouse.

“This success is the result of several things,” explains Tobias Christen, a Swiss engineer living and working in Finland.

“Here they liberalised the telecoms market very early on. And the Finns are a very open, crazy bunch who are ready to accept new, crazy things.”

This may come as a surprise to many outsiders who tend to see the Finns as sober and efficient rather than bright and exuberant.

But Christen, the vice-president of Stonesoft, a company that develops and sells security solutions for information networks in 19 countries, knows differently.

The 36-year-old has been based in Helsinki since 1999, and his four-year sojourn has enabled him to see the Finns in a different light – especially vis à vis the Swiss.

“Here, decisions are taken very quickly. And the person who is right is not necessarily the most powerful in the organisation, nor the person with the loudest voice. In general, it’s the most competent person.”

Northern lights

Fellow countryman Simon Riesen is another Swiss who has enjoyed success north of the 60th parallel.

Riesen provides technical support for sales teams operating in the network division of telecoms giant, Nokia, in German-speaking countries.

“In Finland, hierarchy is practically horizontal. Bosses are not there to ensure you do some work, but to coordinate the effort,” says the 37-year-old engineer from Basel.

And for the Finns, it’s all about quality rather than quantity.

“We don’t work more than eight hours a day,” says Christen. “But there is tremendous efficiency. When you’re at your desk, it’s heads down all the way.”

Happy marriage

Both Riesen and Christen have married Finns and decided to settle in the country, seduced by the way of life as well as its women.

“There are many big, open spaces,” enthuses Christen, “And there’s also a lot of space in people’s hearts.”

But Riesen also believes there are many similarities between the Swiss and the Finns.

“Like us, the Finns are more reserved and cultivated when it comes to work. But they are also very attached to freedom and respect for others.”

And the two engineers find the winter months anything but a drag. Come night time, the pubs of the capital reverberate to the sounds of local techno music and free-flowing beer.

“We drink like they do in Ireland: not every day, but when we do, we put our hearts into it,” notes Christen.

swissinfo, Marc-André Miserez in Finland

In brief

Finland is the size of Italy and Switzerland put together, yet has just 5.2 million inhabitants.

Forests cover three-quarters of Finland, while the country’s 190,000 lakes take up about a tenth of surface space.

Since the start of the 1990s, Finland has invested heavily in training, research and development in the field of technology.

The government equipped schools and libraries with internet connections. One Finn in two regularly surfs the web.

At the end of 2002, 88 per cent of Finns owned a mobile phone and the country counted 1.1 million internet connections..

Over the past decade, Finland has regularly appeared among the top three wired nations.

Finland is also home to Nokia, the world’s number one mobile phone provider.

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