I've spent a couple of days in Oslo, Norway this week meeting with a few local IT companies and have been profoundly impressed by the country's attitude to technology and the way it works to develop it.
IT is now the second largest land-based industry in Norway by turnover (after natural resources) and it supersedes any of the country's prowess in mining or fishing, as it represents the flagship business for which this nation is recognised.
I've been impressed by Norwegian engineering excellence since I read Thor Heyedalh's seminal book Kon-Tiki Expedition, which detailed the travels of a bunch of seemingly foolhardy ethnographers setting sail by raft from Peru to the South Seas to try and prove historical human migratory patterns. They worked it out on paper and built a balsa raft and survived.
Today, Norway is recognised for its development of software and integrated systems, many of course in the mobile space. Visiting the offices of some software development firms here in Oslo this week, it appears to me that laid back team work is taken to a new level here. Shorts and T-shirts, dogs in the office, fruit and cake when you need it, toboggans and skis in the corner of the office and a massive Wii projection wall chill out room for those developers who just need to cut loose for half an hour.
It's probably the most American country I've ever been to in Europe in some senses. With so so much of our software development having emanated from Silicon Valley in recent years, maybe that's a good thing? History books suggest that the Viking Leif Ericsson discovered America in round about the year 1000 and named it Vinland three times. History also suggests that he was actually looking for Greenland and anyway, a pesky Italian called Columbus then came along and took all the credit 500 years later.
As well as mobile, Norwegian IT companies have reportedly also been pioneers in the fields of telemedicine and remote learning. The country's more advanced public-sector solutions are even starting to find international buyers. The Norwegian government's official ICT pages state that the country's technology pedigree leads it to be extremely focused on the 'user-facing' aspect of web-based, desktop and mobile software development.
According to Innovation Norway.org, “Norwegian companies are at the forefront of Internet technologies, including the development of multi-functional web- and intranet sites, super-fast web browsers, on-line games and e-commerce solutions. The Norwegian ICT industry excels at finding user-friendly solutions that put the user and interaction between people first.”
Listening to the strange contortions of the local Scandinavian tongue here you might wonder how they pull off international user-facing communication so well. Well, you might wonder that until you hear everyone from chief technology officers down to tram drivers speak in fluent English without a single grammatical slip up. Heck, they even won the Eurovision again just now didn't they?
Although I'm still looking for a more up to date report, but a BBC report citing the World Economic Forum a couple of years back now said that the US was no longer the technology king – and if you look at the table shown here, you'll see a VERY heavy Scandinavian presence.
So, no need to mention any brand names here. You'll all know many of the famous ones, especially the mobile phone company named after a Viking. Norway is fabulous, so easy to like and the people are some of the most carefree in Europe. I've not felt so welcome by a foreign European nation since I was last in Italy. So that must be good.
Just one more reason to like Norway all you Abba fans out there, Anni-Frid Lyngstad is not from Sweden you know – she was born in the Norwegian town of Narvik. A-ha! I hear you say.