In February 2015, the European Commission's Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) ranked Denmark, Sweden and Finland at first, second and fourth place respectively in a list of the European Union's most digital nations, based on 2013 and 2014 data.
Only the Netherlands could foil a Nordic 1, 2, 3 atop the list – and, as Norway and Iceland are not in the European Union (EU), they didn't feature.
The DESI index is compiled on the strength of nations' performance in five main categories: connectivity, human capital, use of the internet, integration of digital technology and digital public services.
All scores, including final gradings, are out of 1 – and for context, Denmark topped the survey of 28 EU states with an overall score of 0.68, compared to Romania, at the foot of the table with 0.31.
The first criterion, connectivity, measures the deployment and infrastructure of fast broadband.
In Denmark, Next Generation Access – defined as a net connection speed of over 30Mbps – is available to 83% of homes, compared with a EU average of 62%. In the 4G stakes, the European Commission (EC) 2014 Trends in European Broadband Market report had already lauded Sweden as Europe's pack leader.
Finland ranked lower than its neighbours in the speed and quality of its domestic broadband, but reclaimed lost points via its availability: despite the awkward geography, broadband sits in 97% of Finnish homes.
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Finland tops Nordic IT talent pool
The next category, human capital, indicates the breadth and depth of a country's talent pool – ranging from those who handle IT's daily basics, to the advanced skillsets economies depend on for digital growth.
In this category, Finland took the top spot with a score of 0.78, followed by Sweden (0.75), and Denmark (0.73) to complete a Nordic top three. The three nations scored at the same level for basic skills, but Finland led outright in advanced IT.
The survey also found Finland's ICT sector represents a higher share of the workforce than in most other EU countries – at 4.7%. Although this share is sliding back – it was at nearly 6% in 2011.
More Finnish students are drawn to careers in ICT than in the rest of Europe, with 2.2% of the country's graduates under 30 holding a degree in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subject – compared to 1.9% in Denmark and 1.6% in Germany.
In sheer numbers, Sweden boasts more ICT professionals than in any other EU country and, according to a 2012 Empirica survey, it's the place to be as demand far outstrips supply.
Internet consumption varies across Nordics
The use of internet category assesses how heavily online citizens engage with the expanse of the web; in activities such as video, film, music, subscription services, shopping and banking, for example.
In general terms, Sweden tops the list, but differing consumption habits distinguish each of the three Nordic nations.
Denmark, which ranked in second place, isn't as fond of online news as are the Swedes, but Danish web users are heavy users of on-demand video services. The Danes came in second to the UK in their fondness for shopping online. Over 80% of Danish citizens bought something online last year.
This category showed Finland isn't as interested in social networks or video calling as their neighbours, but the Finns use online banking far more than other EU nations.
Danish companies the most digitised
The penultimate category, the integration of digital technology, assesses the digitisation of businesses and how heavily companies embrace the online mix to better engage customers and drive growth.
Denmark topped the pile, with Sweden in second place. In this field, Finland's grading was consistent with the continental average.
While Swedish companies are particularly diligent in using the cloud and selling online, Denmark leads the EU in electronic invoicing – and a comparatively large number of digital-savvy SMEs call Denmark home versus the European average.
Denmark transforms public services
The last category – digital public services – denotes the extent of digitisation at play in a country's public services; areas such as eGovernment and eHealth.
It's another category where the Danes were best of the bunch. Aided by its "digital by default" strategy, Denmark is incrementally transforming most of its public services for digital delivery.
Usage statistics showed that Danes have embraced eGovernment services – and now nearly 70% of Danish internet users send and return official forms online. It's the highest of the EU. In Italy the figure is 18% - and in Romania just 6%.
When it comes to matters medical, Denmark also leads the EU with 92% of the country's GPs exchanging medical data electronically. The European average is just 26%.
The use of ePrescriptions in the Nordics is also nearing absolute. Some 99% of Denmark's GPs – and 97% of Swedish – have already switched to electronic paperwork. Only Estonia bested the pair with its 100% ePrescription culture.
Additional research shows that, when it comes to Digital Public Services, 86% of GPs in Norway – and 96% in Iceland – use ePrescriptions, while two-thirds of GPs in both nations use electronic networks to interact and exchange medical data.
Digital divides across EU nations
Neil Murray, founder of insights platform The Nordic Web, told Computer Weekly that the DESI held few surprises.“Everybody knows that the Nordic population has good access to the internet, people are digital-savvy and there's a track record of producing exceptional companies.
“But it's still interesting, and valuable, to benchmark Nordic performance against other European countries and compare the different areas in which some countries excel, and some countries struggle.”
In terms of the EU's collective digital performance versus last year, the greatest strides were made in the area of digital public services – but vast discrepancies remain between countries.
Ranking in at numbers one, two and four puts the Nordic countries in Europe's high-performance cluster, ahead of a mid-performance group which includes Baltic leaders Estonia and Lithuania, and countries such as the UK, Belgium, France and Spain.
Countries in the low-performance segment include Latvia, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania.
The cross-border variations are cited as a big obstacle in the Junker Commission's vision: a fully-fledged Digital Single Market in Europe.