In our article describes how the technology country has helped the country’s efforts during the Covid19 global epidemic, how it wants to further strengthen Estonia’s position as a leading e-state, and how artificial intelligence is transforming government operations
When restrictions were introduced in mid-March to curb the spread of Covid19 in the small Baltic state, the position between the advanced digital infrastructure and the world’s leading e-states provided a major initial advantage for Estonia.
According to Siim Sikkut, IT Manager of the Estonian Government and the launcher of the e-Residency program: “We switched to teleworking and We had to scale the operation, but by then the use of digital services had become part of the public consciousness, which made it much easier to deal with the epidemic. “
Estonia its capital, Tallinn, is a true technology hub – the scene of startups such as Skype, TransferWise and Taxify. Often mentioned among the most suitable cities in the world for telework , so it’s no surprise that the locals didn’t have too much difficulty switching. With online prescription writing and video medical consultation already in place in the country, Estonians did not have to face the same challenges as many digitally less developed nations.
“Since the foundations were already in place, we were able to develop solutions to Covid-specific problems very quickly,” emphasizes Siim Sikkut. As a first step, a three-day hackathon was held on the weekend after the introduction of contingency measures. The aim was to identify digital solutions to address the challenges facing the government.
The hackathon included introduction of a helpline to alleviate helpline congestion, a self-assessment questionnaire to help identify Covid19 symptoms, and a mobile data tracking solution to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Because the solutions were mostly simple, they could be implemented quickly and easily. The hackathon aroused considerable global interest, and a similar event organized for it a month ago, with the support of the Estonian e-Residency program, has already attracted 15,000 participants from 98 countries.
Leveraging decades of digital innovation tradition
In view of the above, it may not be possible to so surprising that the government was able to deploy the technology so quickly to support the fight against the virus. After all, Estonia has gained much recognition over the years for its innovative use of digital technology for government purposes. Most recently, he finished third behind Denmark and South Korea in the UN Annual eGovernment Survey .
Through the openness of its traditions and political leaders to new technology Estonia is today one of the most digitized countries in the world . Launched in 1996 with government support, the “Tiger Leap” program aimed to accelerate the construction of the country’s computer network infrastructure, especially for education. Under the program, computers and internet access were installed in all schools and IT education was integrated into the national core curriculum.
In 2001, the Estonian government through digitization. The introduction of a national digital identification system and capacity building to support data sharing between government institutions were key elements of the new approach to eGovernment In practice, this now means that Estonians can access almost any government service online, from voting to filing a tax return.
Siim Sikkut sees himself as the new generation digital leader of the project, which has been running for 20 years. “When the government really embarked on the path of digitization, some advanced technologists proposed the cornerstones. The e-Residency and X-Road programs grew out of the national digital identification system and data sharing platform. Now it is our job to further refine these. and continue to build. “
Estonia is building a truly digital society
In the future, Estonia intends to strengthen its reputation as a destination country for technology companies and talented professionals. According to Siim Sikkut, “Before the Covid crisis, we received at least five delegations a day to study our policies, consult with technology companies here, and purchase their solutions.”
New visa for digital nomads based on the e-Residency program (Digital Nomad Visa ) is one way of promoting the digital society and attracting innovative professionals. Holders of a visa can work in Estonia for one year as a freelancer or as an employee of their current employer without having to apply for a residence permit. The only condition is income above EUR 3504 and payment of a small visa fee.
“We are working hard to make it worthwhile for individuals and companies to come here and build the next generation of digital technologies here. We are happy to work with these talented professionals and provide them with a test environment, as this is how we develop. Sikkut.
The declining and aging population of just over 1.3 million was one of the main factors driving Estonia’s digital ambitions. “We see that the better we can rely on machines in government, the private sector and other areas, the better, because that’s how we can grow beyond our size,” points out Siim Sikkut.
In his opinion, artificial intelligence can change the rules of the game. Jobseekers are already using MI to match jobseekers with vacancies. The Ministry of Rural Development, on the basis of an MI analysis of satellite images, determines whether farmers are eligible for land support for the maintenance of pastures.
Previously, both activity was done by people, but Siim Sikkut hopes that by entrusting the tasks to the MI, they will be able to make better use of Estonia’s limited human resources elsewhere. There are currently 25 MI projects underway at government institutions. They intend to increase their number to 50 later.
Siim Sikkut wants MI to play a key role in civic access to government services in the future. “We want administration to be done more and more with the help of virtual assistants instead of websites and apps. Our goal is to make government administration even smoother for our citizens. communication “.
” This is our dream, but instead of just daydreaming about it, we are doing it in practice to make it a reality. “
The importance of prudent planning
Despite trying to exploit the potential of advanced technology to help transform, Siim Sikkut does not want to rely too much on technology to improve services. He is convinced that important steps can also be taken in advance through careful planning and the application of the principle of continuous improvement. “I don’t think revolutionary innovation is needed every time. Innovation is much more about continuous, gradual and persistent change. And that often matters more than big breakthroughs.”
A good example of this is the Estonian government ‘s “one – stop – shop” requirement that users only have to share all information with the government once. This principle has also helped to break down inter-ministerial partitions and reduce red tape for citizens.
“Data management is very inefficient when government institutions operate in isolation from each other,” emphasizes Siim Sikkut. “There are a lot of duplicates in terms of computing and storage capacity. From the user’s point of view, sharing data also has the advantage of disturbing them less often.”
In practice, this means that if someone has already provided their home address to the central data registry and agrees to share their data between organizations, they do not have to re-enter it if, say, they need a license.
“We are at the forefront of advanced digital government operations. Our experience has shown that bureaucracy is much more manageable when data sharing takes place invisibly, in the background.”
The next step in development is the grouping of government services. The essence of this is to bring together all the elements of bureaucratic processes related to various life events (eg starting a business, losing a job, having a child).
In this case, the information is provided in “proactive packages”, instead of citizens having to gather information from several websites themselves. According to Siim Sikkut, “the government proactively congratulates the child on the birth and then redirects the parent to the necessary information and then requests the information.”
” With proper service design, we don’t have to build a state-of-the-art MI system to better serve our citizens.
Overcoming security challenges
Sharing a lot of personal and sensitive data inevitably raises privacy and security issues. In 2007, Estonia was the victim of a targeted state cyber attack. The banking sector, government operations and the media’s dependence on digital services have amplified the impact of a denial-of-service (DoS) attack using botnets.
The general public The incident indelibly marked the importance of Internet security in the minds of the current Estonian government members. “We are learning from such incidents and trying to defend ourselves more effectively,” Siim Sikkut points out. “After 2007, we expanded our capabilities and began to spend more on cyber security. We also shared our experience in international fora, and thanks to the established security background, NATO also established a Coordinated Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn.”
According to the expert, the risks can be kept to an acceptable level with appropriate investments and personnel. In addition, a switch to analog processes would not be safer. “From a data protection perspective, the paper-based world is no safer either,” says Siim Sikkut. “It is well known that printed documents often disappear and their content can leak into the media in the same way. in a mitral environment, there is at least a clue if the attacker is not a blood professional. This is a more effective barrier or deterrent to malicious intruders. “
Citizens, despite the risks, value their country’s commitment to digital government services and the benefits of this. “No one in Estonia doubts that digital innovation has made government more efficient. And people have more confidence in a well-performing government, “concludes Siim Sikku.