Shaping a competitive offering for Sustainable Smart Cities
Business Finland is the Finnish government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel, and investment promotion. The organization joined forces with Nordkapp in autumn 2021 with the purpose of creating a shared future vision and high level offering for Finnish actors who are developing services and solutions in the emerging global smart city business area. The driving factor for the collaboration with Nordkapp was Business Finland’s wish to understand how strategic foresight can be utilized in mid-to-long term offering development.
The project also introduced new ways of working, processes and methods to Business Finland — in addition to producing a shared vision, approach and a playbook for continuation, the project grounded new collaborative and co-creational foresight methodologies for Business Finland’s future projects.
Competitive advantage for Finland through a shared vision
Globally, the smart city ecosystem is diverse and ambiguous. Sustainability is already the overarching principle, and increasingly, a necessity in most projects. In Finland there are many companies offering solutions and services which fit this business landscape. However the common ground for business ecosystem development is missing. Business Finland recognized that there was no shared vision among the players, nor did Business Finland themselves have a common approach to enhance collaboration amongst the companies and NGOs present. For Finland to build a competitive advantage in a large, resource-intensive market, the players would have to come together and craft something bigger than their own solutions – Finland’s competitive offering for smart and sustainable cities.
As the project advanced, Business Finland and Nordkapp defined four objectives through which Finland could better compete, and even lead in the future smart sustainable city ecosystems:
Creating a shared vision for Finland amongst relevant companies and non-profit organizations.
Understanding how strategic foresight can benefit solution development and what possible short and long-term futures there are for smart sustainable cities.
Building competitive advantage for Finland by offering something more than individual companies’ solutions.
Connecting and encouraging dialogue, ecosystem creation and piloting amongst the Finnish companies whose business complement each other.
Strategic foresight for smart, sustainable cities
Urban planning and development in the cities is inherently slow, and thus Business Finland and Nordkapp anchored the project to smart and sustainable cities in 5-, 10- and 15-year horizons. To connect the project to today’s business environment, the project team partnered with select Finnish companies and the Finnish leading research institution VTT. KONE, Vaisala, and Nokia represent large global corporations in the holistic smart city ecosystem through built environment, sensoring, networking and technology solutions, whereas Varjo brings the scale-up point of view through world class advanced virtual and mixed reality solutions and platforms.
The work consisted of three distinct areas:
The first phase included a landscape study produced by VTT, and a cross-sectional business analysis from Nordkapp. The VTT report analyzed future opportunities, risks, trends, and drivers in smart sustainable city business areas.
In parallel, the Nordkapp team compiled a comprehensive smart city strategy mapping by studying 16 cities and their approaches in 4 different geographical areas. This study created a Sustainable Smart City Quadrant Framework, a tool which enables companies to position their offering in this market area. In addition, the quadrants are complemented by the smart and sustainable city offering vision, and four sales approaches with key communication elements for Business Finland consultants to promote the Finnish offering.
In the third phase Nordkapp facilitated the participating companies a framework for positioning their future offering business development. Going forward, the team crystallised specific opportunity areas together with the participating companies, and what changes they anticipate in the future.
An offering larger than its parts
As an outcome — Business Finland now has a shared vision, holistic approach, and a future proof collaboration model to build the mid-to-long term sustainable smart city offering with Finnish companies.
In addition, Business Finland has completely new methodologies in their development toolkit: Before the project, Business Finland hadn’t used strategic foresight systematically in their daily business development. The chosen project approach proved to work extremely well for this type of futures orientated work. Business Finland are planning to incorporate the project outcomes in other upcoming programs as well.
One of the key findings of the project was that even the global corporations’ offerings represent a narrow part of the whole smart sustainable city ecosystem. To successfully build a winning offering, the different local actors need to collaborate closely together internally. In addition, each location has an unique public-private ecosystem with key players. The project already identified many potential business opportunities and ideas between participating companies and new markets. This alone is an accomplishment, and an exercise in building trust and partnerships.
It is still too early to analyze the project’s business impact, but clearly Finland is prepared to compete in the smart sustainable city landscape in the coming years.