Creating more customer-oriented services with the help of data

Published: 23.11.2021 15.36

At the beginning of the Six City Strategy, the six largest cities in Finland shared the view that opening data and interfaces is an important part of service and urban development. Data opening is particularly valuable for businesses and universities as it enables the development and renewal of various services. Open data refers to electronic data collected by the public sector, companies, communities or private persons that is opened for the free use of other actors free of charge.

The work was launched as a part of the ‘Open Data and Interfaces’ spearhead project in 2014–2017. The project gave a lot of information on data opening and data security. Understanding of the value of data grew on a general level.

The work was continued in the ‘Open Participation and Customership’ spearhead project in 2015–2018, which focused on testing whether the city’s client data could be used in identifying client needs and developing preventative services. Data experiments related to forecasting were also carried out in the ‘Energy Wise Cities’ project.

Increased understanding of the value of data

Development Manager Piia Wollstén participated closely in the launch of the Six City Strategy in the City of Espoo, and this is how she describes the first steps of the cities’ work related to data: “The city’s role as an enabler started to become clearer as the ‘Open Data and Interfaces’ project progressed, and our understanding grew. Data was one concrete factor bringing cities and business partners together.”

“We organised the first hackathons, data was opened and new concrete services and solutions started to emerge with the help of the data. In Espoo, we got relatively far in data opening, but the time was not yet ripe as companies’ demand for data remained small. The cities started off with raw data, whereas companies could have used more refined data,” Wollstén says.

Creating preventative services with the help of data

The City of Espoo artificial intelligence experiment 2017–2018, combined various data sources, such as data from health care, family and social services and the Population Information System and constructed understanding of clients’ needs more extensively than just from the viewpoint of a single service area. The experiment showed that preventative services can be targeted more effectively, which makes sense both from the perspective of humanity as well as economically. For example, clients can be advised and directed to various support services before they become child welfare clients.

This work has been continued at the Omnia Skills Centre for Immigrants. Wollstén describes this as an even more extensive experiment as it includes service data from the City of Espoo, Omnia and state authorities, such as Kela. The data analytics study carried out by VTT is ongoing until 2024.

“The first artificial intelligence experiment produced an excellent understanding and experience of what can be achieved by combining data from various actors.  VTT has been an important partner in our further work as from research perspective, we are now able to combine various data sources more freely and gain valuable information for the development of integration services, for example,” Wollstén says.

Wollstén also stresses the importance of data protection. The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which entered into force after the artificial intelligence experiment, makes combining various data sources more complicated. On the other hand, the Finnish Act on the Secondary Use of Social and Health Data (also known as the Secondary Use Act) enables the utilisation of data for research purposes, among other things. The national debate on the matter is moving forward, resulting, for example, in the establishment of Findata in connection with the National Institute of Health and Welfare, tasked with the processing of the research applications for secondary use of data and ensuring the safe use of client data together with the organisation owning the data.

Data as a tool in the city’s climate work

In 2018–2020, the ‘Energy Wise Cities’ project examined the city’s potential to reduce the energy consumption of its properties and improve indoor air quality with the help of energy and condition data. Data collection and refining are just the first steps along the way. Visualising the data for different users and knowledge-based management in the use of properties are equally important steps in the development process.

Project Manager Joni Leinonen explains the lessons learnt during the project as well as the challenges faced: “A lot of data is generated from buildings. The project helped us grasp what kind of data is useful. We also learnt how data visualisations should be tailored to different user groups, such as property users and experts. Our long-term goal is forecasting, and thus achieving major savings in energy consumption.”

Leinonen mentions getting user feedback as a challenge. Also technical solutions in the utilisation of data require further work. 

From reporting to knowledge-based management

Wollstén lists exactly the same challenges as Leinonen. Client feedback can be processed, as long as it is received. However, other data is also needed to support service development and management. For example, data on the effectiveness of various development measures is also needed. Furthermore, describing the current situation is not enough; service development in a growing city also requires scenario work, i.e. the ability to anticipate future challenges. 

One of the cities’ goals is to share interesting data with companies. Recent legislative amendments also oblige cities to open their data. However, we need more communication with companies about what kind of data and information is valuable to them, because data opening requires quite a lot of work from the city.

The Urban Environment Sector is currently the most active data opener in Espoo. In addition, we need capabilities that support the whole city, such as competence and user-oriented technical solutions, in order to develop data analytics and knowledge-based management.

“With the help of data, we can assess the effectiveness of the city’s operations. Data is an important factor both in the development of city services and in strengthening the vitality of the city and different companies. We have come a long way on this subject, but much remains to be done,” Wollstén says to describe the current situation.

Additional information

Links

This story is part of a series of stories about the City of Espoo’s work in the 6Aika strategy in 2014–2022. The joint 6Aika strategy of the six largest cities in Finland (Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere, Vantaa, Oulu and Turku) develops more open, smart and sustainable services in cities. The focus has been on identifying the city’s challenges and trying out new solutions between the city, companies, residents, educational institutions and universities.

Other parts of the series of stories:

  • Innovation work