Special feature

Beyond digital

– Is Oslo ready for the hybrid future?

Oslo's post-Covid competitiveness

The digital acceleration is pivotal to how top cities and regions adjust to COVID-19. With working-from-home, more restricted movement, fewer commutes and less travel, digital has emerged not only as the enabler of major lifestyle changes, but also as an accelerator of the emergence of new industries and as a lifeline for social cohesion.

A key task for Oslo will be to translate this into a positive new normal, one where governments and individuals no longer think about ‘digital’ as something separate, but take seriously how the city is now ‘blended’ and how this in turn creates new opportunities and risks to Oslo’s competitiveness.

In a post-Covid world, gaps will open up between cities that see digital simply as a driver of remote working and a threat to city centres, and those who see it as part of a much wider hybrid future for the city, and so use digital as a tool for enhancing public trust, improving how government operates, supporting a culture of entrepreneurship, and raising productivity of people and land.

How well will Oslo ‘blends’ the physical and the digital will be essential both to its success, and to its long-term appeal among prospective visitors, residents, investors and entrepreneurs.

What is the hybrid city?

A hybrid city is one that embraces the flexibility that remote working and virtual interaction can offer, yet also provides the public and private spaces to meet face-to-face, deepen relationships, socialise with friends and relatives, and collaborate and invent in person. A hybrid city harnesses the power of technology to make it easier and more efficient to work, access services, enjoy lifestyle, and participate in civic culture. Yet it also requires a step change to ensure that:

  • Cities’ advanced businesses thrive in the digital shift and benefit from local clusters that are vibrant and forward-thinking.
  • Cities have the meeting places, destinations, and work places that are inspirational as well as ‘smart’.
  • Cities harness the power of data responsibly for better and more democratic services.
  • Cities make sure digital acceleration does not leave people, ideas or industries behind.

These issues are especially important for Oslo because they strike to the heart of the region’s differentiation – its commitment to diversify, innovate and include everyone.

This means that becoming a leader in blending digital with city life will be important to Oslo’s competitiveness.

Figure 21: The different dimensions of competitiveness that digital can support post-Covid

Digital and the hybrid city

Visitor and resident experience

Will Oslo make it seamless to live, work and visit?

Innovation

Will Oslo’s advanced digital specialisations thrive?

Productivity

Will people in Oslo achieve more, in less time and with lower use of resources?

Government agility and efficiency

Will Oslo use digital technologies to enhance government efficiency?

Public trust and civic dialogue

Can Oslo continue to engage its citizens?

Visibility and talent appeal

Can Oslo raise its profile through digital channels?

The move to the hybrid city has the potential to amplify Oslo’s leadership on key agendas of sustainability and wellbeing. More emphasis than ever before is being placed on generating, collecting and evaluating citizen data, and using this to guide better decisions in our cities in support of public health and planetary sustainability.96 The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to listen to the needs of citizens in how services are delivered and to build deeper partnerships between the public and private sector.

But the rapid acceleration of digital in our lives also means that Oslo will need to be vigilant to make sure Oslo is superbly connected, communicating to the outside world in new ways, finding the right balance to foster the data economy, and ensuring governments and institutions embrace technology to improve how they work. Oslo’s push for attracting more specialist international talent, innovators and entrepreneurs will depend on addressing these imperatives head-on.

Key predictions on
our hybrid future

Digital as a driver of city
competitiveness and change

“COVID-19 provides a unique opportunity to upscale innovation and the use of online/digital tools in cities.”
[OECD]97

“Experts predict that:…Tele-everything is embraced…[and there will be] fewer forays in public than has been in the case in recent years[…]. The pandemic will speed up adoption of new education and learning platforms…some individuals, cities and nation-states will become more insular and competitive as survival mode kicks in [while] the rapidly expanding weaponization of cloud-based technologies divides the public."
[Pew Research]98

“Governments that…actively promote their digital economy are likely to have greater success in attracting investments. Success … can significantly benefit local companies, especially SMEs.”
[World Economic Forum]99

“[The pandemic] has cemented technology’s role at the heart of transformation, driving new ways of interaction, sharing, engaging and decision making.”
[Capgemini]100

“For governments looking to drive economic recovery after the pandemic, supporting digital competitiveness will be key.”
[World Economic Forum]101

The opportunity for smaller regions to improve digital visibility

“Smaller urban areas may be the biggest winners in using digital conversations to improve their visibility to access new opportunities. The most forward-thinking places area already using a long-term strategy to identify and share their unique story.”
[ING Media]102

Cities have to prioritise civic dialogue and citizen co-creation

“Local and regional governments will [need to] play a crucial role in shaping digital technologies in a way that ensures transparent, open and inclusive decision-making processes.”
[UCLG]103

This special feature reviews the latest evidence from city benchmarks and studies and real-time datasets to explore:
  • Oslo's track record of home grown digital innovation
  • The competitiveness of Oslo's digital infrastructure and how well suited the city is to the demands of home working
  • Resident attitudes towards open data and the data economy, and perceptions of the extent to which government uptake of digital has strengthened trust, agility and efficiency
  • Oslo's uptake of digital tools to enhance resident and visitor experience
  • Oslo's digital and online visibility

By summer 2020, Oslo’s innovative businesses had one of the highest levels of specialisation in sectors allied to digital technologies across smaller and medium-sized peers.

How is Oslo’s digital innovation doing?

Digital competitiveness will be crucial to the success of Oslo’s companies, start-ups and institutions.104 The latest evidence suggests that up to 85% of leading firms have accelerated digitisation since the pandemic hit, including through increased adoption of automation and AI. Cities are becoming known as digital ready, or digital unready. Businesses and talent will gravitate to those places where the adjustment is seamless and where the whole larger region is digitally as well as physically connected.

The early signs are that Oslo's digital economy – the companies and sectors where digital capability is fundamental to their edge - has really accelerated through Covid-19 and has great momentum and potential to develop further. Ongoing efforts to diversify the economy and grow the number of digital and tech-oriented firms, together with the Covid-19 pandemic, have spurred many Oslo-based digital firms to attract global attention and recognition. These include the secure Norwegian video conferencing company Pexip, a rival to zoom, and the new AI platform Exabel, which recently won 1 of 5 places for fintechs through the Investment Association’s innovation hub. By summer 2020, Oslo’s innovative businesses had one of the highest levels of specialisation in sectors allied to digital technologies across smaller and medium-sized peers (see Figure 22).

Source: Crunchbase (July 2020 data).

Oslo’s innovation specialisation in digital is growing

Figure 22: Percentage of tech enabled firm HQs specialising in advanced digital sectors

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Start-ups and scale-ups

PortalOne, a hybrid gaming start-up, has recently announced $15 million worth of seed funding from Atari and others as it prepares to launch an app that allows people to play on-demand games and also watch live shows in which they can play against special guests.105

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Start-ups and scale-ups

The Oslo-based online education start-up Kahoot! is looking to launch a “re-IPO” to a main market listing in the city and expand into Asia following its success during the pandemic.106

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Large corporates and established players

The digitisation of DNB, Norway’s largest bank, has helped it to weather the effects of the pandemic more effectively than other European lenders. New technology for fully automated loan decisions and mobile payments helped it to maintain a profit per employee around 85% higher than European competitors.107

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Large corporates and established players

Opera, one of the world’s leading internet browser providers, has recently launched a new European Fintech that offers customers an in-browser cashback service and standalone wallet app with current account and debit card.108

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Retail and hospitality firms

SNØ, the world’s largest indoor skiing hall, recently won the Global Digital Signage award in the Sports and Entertainment category for its future-proofed content strategy and adoption of infotainment via live camera streams, live TV and real-time social media updates.109

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Retail and hospitality firms

Holzweiler, an Oslo-based, family-run fashion label has seen multichannel growth throughout the pandemic as it restructured to focus on deeper collaborations and digital showrooms. It is planning to open a flagship store that combines retail and a restaurant near to Oslo’s New Munch Museum.110

Examples of Oslo-based companies that are successfully adapting to the hybrid world
Retail and hospitality firms

Moniker, a Norwegian fashion brand house, has undergone a retrofit to its flagship store in Oslo’s city centre, focusing on providing a new immersive space for customers via integration of new spaces and digital tools.111

Is Oslo's digital infrastructure fit to serve the region's long term ambitions?

Oslo’s digital speeds across the region remain competitive, but the shift towards remote working means government needs to be up to the challenge of ensuring that residents in all parts of the region have access to fast, reliable broadband.

Investment in digital infrastructure is likely to be very important to cities’ long-term recovery.112 Although people worked predominantly in offices and workplaces prior to the pandemic, over the past year there has been a profound shift to remote working that many think will be here to stay. This means workers and entrepreneurs are more reliant on lower bandwidth residential networks.113 Cities such as Oslo will therefore face new imperatives to rise to the challenge of ensuring that citizens have fast, reliable broadband in their homes and that high internet speeds are available city-wide as opposed to concentrated in the city centre.

Oslo’s average internet speeds are high by global standards, and put it in the top 30% among similar cities.114 But a new survey undertaken just before the pandemic showed that Oslo ranks 19th out of 28 peers for the share of residents who agree that current speeds meet reliability and connectivity needs.115 Oslo also has the 11th highest variability in regional internet speeds among its peer group.116 The recent city-wide commitments to 5G, and the impact of the city’s new fibre agreement on the stability of international traffic, could see improvements into the middle of the 2020s, but Oslo will need to remain vigilant to ensure that it remains as well connected as the best.

Oslo’s average internet speeds are high by global standards, and put it in the top 30% among similar cities.

Oslo’s region-wide digital speeds remain competitive, but demands are growing

Figure 23: Modified trimean internet speeds in Oslo and peer cities

Source: MLab (Q1 2021).

Will Oslo use digital technologies to enhance public trust, civic dialogue and government efficiency?

Despite high uptake of digital technologies, Oslo’s residents remain more cautious than other cities about the use of open data. The region scores highly in measures of how well digital has been used. Oslo has the 2nd highest proportion of non-cash transactions amongst 28 peer regions, with 85% of purchases being completed without cash compared to a peer average of 74%.117 However, citizens are less comfortable with the use of facial recognition technologies to prevent crime (22nd / 28 cities), and despite recent moves to enable more widespread access to information on the availability of vehicles, registrations and drivers licenses, are also less willing to concede personal data to improve traffic congestion in the city (15th / 28 cities).118

Despite high uptake of digital technologies, Oslo’s residents remain more cautious than other cities about the use of open data.

Oslo excels for digital citizen engagement, but there is a lot of scepticism towards open data

Figure 24: Oslo’s position across the different dimensions of digital competitiveness

Source: IMD Smart City Index.

Technology aspirations depend on the government becoming more digitally equipped. Oslo is in the middle of the pack for the proportion of residents who agree that online platforms to propose ideas have improved city life (10th / 28), or that online voting procedures have improved citizen engagement and participation (11th / 28).119 But the city scores even less highly in perception measures of the extent to which local government information and services are easily accessible online, where it is behind the European average. In this measure, Oslo ranks 13th of 17 city regions, and is ahead Barcelona, Berlin and Rome, but behind Copenhagen and Vienna.120

Moving forwards, a key question for Oslo will be whether the pace of digitising government and public services is too slow. Together with fairly high public caution about the data economy, it will be important to avoid the risk this inhibits local demand for expertise of digital businesses, and, in turn, holds back Oslo’s regional progress as a future leader in digital entrepreneurship.

The global comparative evidence suggests that Oslo’s ability to stay relevant and grow its appeal to the next generation of consumers will depend on scaling efforts to re-imagine its retail stores and accelerate the integration of digital tools in cultural settings.

Can Oslo ensure a more seamless experience for visitors and residents?

Data and digitisation are fast emerging as a means of making urban destinations more compelling, visible and accessible. Accelerated digitisation will place a premium on destinations that provide enriched and meaningful experiences that cannot be replicated online. Digital will be a key enabler of agility, specificity and consumer confidence among urban dwellers. The appetite for a digital future will continue into a post-COVID world, adding urgency to the imperative for regions like Oslo to mainstream the use of data and digital tools in industries such as retail, hospitality and leisure.

The global comparative evidence suggests that Oslo’s ability to stay relevant and grow its appeal to the next generation of consumers will depend on scaling efforts to re-imagine its retail stores and accelerate the integration of digital tools in cultural settings. A global survey undertaken before the pandemic hit showed Oslo ranked 20th among its 28 peers for resident perceptions of the impact of digital purchasing and booking options on the seamlessness of cultural attendance and participation.121

The latest data also shows that relative to its size, Oslo is behind for innovation specialisation in sectors allied to the future of retail, hospitality and leisure. As of the start of 2021, Oslo ranks 27th among 29 peers for the number of innovative tech firm HQs specialising in these sectors, with more than 25% fewer such firm HQs per resident compared to on average among its peer group.122 Looking to the future, Oslo can accelerate efforts to re-imagine stores and cultural spaces in order to create more immersive and distinctive experiences for customers and users, as has recently been done in Oslo’s Moniker store on the city’s high-end shopping street Bogstadveien.

Can Oslo gain a larger share of the digital conversation?

Oslo is less visible on online and digital platforms than other cities. With so much global travel and physical exchange on pause, proactiveness on digital promotion and visibility is more important than ever before.123 Throughout the crisis social media, news outlets and informal online forums have been where much of the conversation about which cities to visit or move to once the pandemic has subsided has taken place. Oslo is well placed to build its digital profile and access new opportunities in a post-Covid world, but will need to be up to the challenge of emerging from the pandemic on the front foot with a clearer and more digital friendly proposition. This can underpin a renewed cycle of confidence in and enthusiasm for the region among prospective visitors, residents and investors.

Recently, Oslo has garnered significant global media attention for its safe streets and lack of pedestrian related deaths. The city is also commonly recognised for leading the charge on uptake and testing of electric and autonomous vehicles. But overall attention on Oslo, including on social media platforms and in the news more broadly, remains behind. Oslo held steady at 142nd globally for the quantity of stories, references and recommendations shared about the city online in 2020 and stands out as a city that is much less visible online than in comparative studies of city performance (see Figure 25).124

Oslo is less visible on online 
and digital platforms than other cities.

Oslo is much more visible in global comparative studies than in the online conversation

Figure 25: Difference in ranking between visibility in global benchmarks and visibility in the online conversation

Sources: Resonance World’s Best Cities; The Business of Cities research.

Implications for Oslo

Oslo’s performance in 2020/21, combined with the insights from thought leaders and the approaches of other cities internationally, suggest that there are 8 especially relevant features that moving forward will be important to Oslo's hybrid future:

1.

Ultra-fast connectivity access across the region to enable flexible work.

2.

Regular audits to map and secure the region’s digital infrastructure assets.

3.

Focus on digital upskilling and communicating the benefits of digital.

4.

One-stop shops for civic engagement and innovation for the whole region.

5.

Digital buildings and place management to make districts more dynamic and flexible.

6.

More accountability and confidence in tech systems, finding ways to make online a healthy space for positive democratic debate.

7.

Mainstreaming gender equality and accessibility in digital.

8.

Use of digital to build attachment and affinity to different places and experiences in the region.

Overall, 3 priorities emerge for Oslo to work on collectively:

  • Prove to the world that Oslo is a ready for the hybrid future and capable of serving a new flexible work-live-play model. This means investing in ultra-fast digital connections across all places and embracing digital platforms to make sure that buildings and assets in all parts of the region are used to their full potential.
  • Create more virtual and face-to-face environments for citizens to co-create and for civic innovation to occur on key agendas, that make it easier for residents to access information and services online, solve problems, and participate in the enlarged digital economy.
  • Grow Oslo's digital presence and narrative through recruiting digital ambassadors, storytellers and developing next generation city dashboards. These can become powerful tools for sharing experiences online and addressing misperceptions about what it is like to visit, study, invest and live in Oslo in 2021 and beyond.
As strategies for Oslo’s positioning after Covid take shape, this means it will especially be important for Oslo to:
  • Ensure that it remains as well connected as the best, by conducting a full audit of the region’s digital connectivity and inclusion and identifying gaps in access to ultra-fast broadband.
  • Assemble shared lessons from recent digital initiatives and use these lessons to develop larger and more successful Civic Innovation Challenges that can bring digital companies into closer contact with social challenges and government agencies.
  • Develop an accessible one-stop civic engagement, reporting and feedback platform to make it quicker and easier to tackle problems and provide a more up-to-date evidence base.
  • Pave the way in showing how cities and regions can improve digital capabilities in ways that build citizen trust and confidence, while actively communicating the potential of digital.
  • Fast-track efforts to explore multi-sector leadership, governance and joint resourcing of the region’s ‘Smart’ and ‘Digital’ approaches so that they become more integrated and less siloed.
  • Mainstream the use of digital twins and visualisations into major developments and use them to improve cooperation between developers, planners, and communities about future place character in Oslo.