Key Insights

Smart City Improves Employee Mobility and Expands Services by Moving to the Cloud


The city of Oulu is one of the most technologically advanced population centers in Finland. Oulu adopted Microsoft 365 to expand mobility and collaboration for its employees, and the city now offers flexible working hours, secure remote access for mobile employees, and an ever-broadening array of services to its citizens. The move to Microsoft 365 will also lower office space requirements and hardware replacement costs in the future.

"This wasn’t simply a technical decision—we also wanted to give our people more freedom in how they work. Moving to Microsoft 365 delivered that forward-thinking way of working to our employees."

- Tuija Sipilä: Director of Oulu ICT and Digitalization Services, City of Oulu

Founded in 1605, the northern city of Oulu, Finland, today boasts over 200,000 residents and a technological focus that belies its centuries of history. The largest city in the north of the collected Nordic countries, Oulu is often referred to unofficially as the capital of Nordic Scandinavia. This pedigree, along with the presence of the technologically focused University of Oulu, has driven the city to become the region’s northernmost technology hub.

Recently, large-scale preparations for the implementation of regional government, health, and social services reforms offered the city of Oulu the opportunity to reconsider its infrastructure. Though the shifting political landscape caused these preparations to be discontinued in March of 2019, the potential side effects of the shift included limiting the usefulness of the city’s on-premises infrastructure. During the preparations, many devices had moved with the health department personnel, and because many of the software licenses that the city held were tied to that hardware, Oulu needed to find a way to fill the licensing void. Though device refreshes were an option, city leadership took the circumstance as an opportunity.

A close look at the city’s existing solution uncovered several areas that could benefit from modernization. The city’s aging Skype for Business environment was due for an upgrade, and email security needed improving, as the city had recently experienced a number of phishing attacks. Additionally, employees could access data only from their desktops, and they lacked the freedom of mobility.

Though Oulu had previously maintained a primarily on-premises infrastructure, the education services department had migrated to Microsoft Office 365 in 2010. The city, therefore, already knew about the core security and collaboration benefits a cloud-based Microsoft solution had to offer. “Since 2010, we have seen the breadth of the Office 365 solution bolstered by Windows 10 and advanced security layers,” says Jussi Tarkkonen, IT Architect in Oulu information and communications technology (ICT) and Digitalization Services. “Microsoft 365 is a mature, robust platform, and we see it as being quite capable of handling our needs.”

If licensing could shift to a user-based model as opposed to the existing hardware-based system, workers would gain the freedom to work anywhere they wished on devices of their choosing. “This wasn’t simply a technical decision,” says Tuija Sipilä, Director of Oulu ICT and Digitalization Services. “We also wanted to give our people more freedom in how they work. Moving to Microsoft 365 delivered that forward-thinking way of working to our employees.”

A more flexible way to work

The user-based licensing system that Microsoft uses to deploy Microsoft 365—a complete, intelligent solution, including Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, that empowers everyone to be creative and work together securely—had an immediate effect on Oulu. Under the previous hardware-based licensing system, budgetary constraints in some departments denied those employees access to modern solutions like Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus, and Microsoft Exchange. As the city adopted Microsoft 365, this changed. Many employees discovered the productivity and collaboration benefits of Office 365 for the first time. Others began to experience the freedom to work anywhere, anytime.

The city also benefitted from the new licensing model, which required the creation of far fewer accounts for the same number of employees. Employees can now sign in via any of their approved devices with the same account, eliminating the need for additional licenses. If more employees choose to work from home in the future, fewer dedicated work spaces will be needed per department, and Oulu could begin transforming some of its offices into open, modern work spaces that cost tax payers less to maintain.

Collaboration anytime, anywhere

Oulu is also saving money by using Microsoft Teams. Because Teams is part of Office 365, which comes with Microsoft 365, all of which operates in the cloud, the city no longer needs to undertake the hardware refresh that it had planned for its on-premises Skype for Business environment. Teams is more than just a meetings app, and its enhanced chat features have already driven improved employee collaboration in Oulu. ”In Teams chat, you always have the record of what your department is working on, but you also have other channels dedicated to specific tasks and groups,” says Tarkkonen. “It also helps employees converse and collaborate on documents in real time. We didn’t have that option before.”

Teams is already helping city managers adjust to the modern habits of their employees. “I use Teams chat functionality if I really want information fast,” says Sipilä. “I can also share materials through Teams and collaborate faster. The entire team can reply immediately, and everything is kept together in a single task-related channel.”

Developing a new generation of city services

Oulu is also able to fulfill its regulatory requirements, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other local government mandates. As modern, mobile ways of working create the need to monitor user behavior to protect sensitive data, Oulu is introducing strong identity-based protection that regulates the information housed on employee devices.

With Microsoft Azure Active Directory Plan 2, city employees will soon be able to access all their apps and documents remotely through Azure Multi-Factor Authentication. To bolster this security stance and further reduce the risk of a data breach, Oulu is also using Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection, Azure Advanced Threat Protection, Microsoft Cloud App Security, and Azure Information Protection for enhanced email, app, and data security. As a result, the city’s once worrying number of phishing attacks has dropped by 30 percent.

The city implemented this layered security approach in a non-intrusive way, allowing employees to work freely and maintain productivity. “Some of our users haven’t even noticed that we implemented enhanced security features,” says Tarkkonen. “I think that’s the best way to implement security—seamlessly and in the background. Because Microsoft provides so many security products designed to work together, we can deliver that seamless experience to our employees.”

As Oulu continues to grow as a smart city, Azure is becoming a more integral part of the most advanced services the city offers its citizens. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in water department equipment will soon be able to help citizens track down leaks via usage monitoring. Areas with low water pressure will be visible to the city faster, allowing for proactive response. City office buildings will also soon become more comfortable, safer, and more cost-effective through active temperature, carbon monoxide, and light monitoring. “Azure has been the one thing that helped us move forward as a smart city,” says Tarkkonen, “and it will be our citywide IoT platform going forward.”

Azure will be there even further down the road when the city begins expanding services into robotics and AI solutions. “Implementing every aspect of what Microsoft 365 can give us will be a huge undertaking,” says Sipilä, “but that’s what being a smart city is—taking advanced solutions and making the most of them for your employees and your citizens.”

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