March 25, 2023

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“e-Estonia, model for the future”, the country that is in the world charts for the digitization of the public sector

It ranks first in all world charts regarding the digitization of the public sector, the acquisition of digital skills by the population and the favorable environment for entrepreneurship. How a poor country with no experience and no resources managed to become the most digitized in the world, you will find out this week from the PRO TV News campaign “e-Estonia, model for the future“.

Estonia, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world

The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation has listed the Baltic country as one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Currently, in Estonia, only marriage and divorce cannot be done online. Otherwise, any interaction with the Estonian state can be done digitally at any time, directly from the armchair at home. Any operation takes only a few minutes depending on the speed of the Internet and the digital skills of the user.

Estonia has only 1,300,000 inhabitants living on a total area of ​​45,000 km2, roughly the size of five counties in Romania. In the 1990s, after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, it faced a great challenge. Without natural resources, but determined not to lose control of their own destiny, Estonians set out to become the most digitized society on the planet.

Erika Piirmets, digitalization advisor e-Estonia: We don’t exactly have a manual for how to build a digital society from scratch, because no one has ever done it before, but we’ll try“.

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They didn’t have money, IT infrastructure or digital legislation, but an invention had appeared that they set out to take advantage of: the Internet.

The digitization process did not happen overnight, it started more than 20 years ago and continues even today. The key to success, however, was continuity, because the goal of digitizing society remained essential, regardless of the color of the party that was in power.

What the Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology says about digitization

In his office in the center of the capital Tallinn, the current Estonian Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology explains why digitization was and remains primarily a pragmatic solution to most problems in the public sector.

Kristjan Järvan, Minister of Entrepreneurship and IT:You save a lot of money! Instead of having an office in every city, if you can bring all of these together in one application, then you save money. No one gets fired, they get new jobs“.

The benefits came quickly. Since 2000, Estonians have been able to declare their income online. Goodbye papers, counters, queues. Today, in terms of interaction with the state, I can do online what Romanians only dream of.

Local:Almost anything. You can order a passport, pay for a taxi, start a company“.

Local: Everything is online, if you want to find a job, if you want to vote, if you want to buy a bus ticket, everything is online, everything“.

Currently, approximately 98% of Estonian public services can be accessed online, from home, in front of a computer or directly from a mobile phone. Thus, by digitizing these processes, money and time were saved. It is estimated that the Estonian state saved about 2% of the gross domestic product, and each citizen gained five days a year because they stopped walking around the counters.

Corruption, another problem of the public system solved in Estonia

Going beyond the image so familiar, in Romania, of the bored employee at the counter, digitization has solved another problem of the public system that any former communist country faces: corruption.

Carmen Raal, digitalization advisor e-Estonia: Having all these digital services means I can no longer give you anything under the table for you, as a civil servant, to do me a favor“.

Bringing state services a click away was based on three main elements: an IT protocol that has become the backbone of the Estonian digital society, a strong IT security system and, last but not least, the electronic identity card. It was introduced in 2002 and has been the most valuable asset of every Estonian ever since.

Erika Piirmets, digitalization advisor e-Estonia:With a single method of proving my identity regardless of the accessed public service, database or entity, I can enter using an electronic identity, which will connect the different parts of data that correspond to me and give me access to all services“.

Today’s digital Estonia has become a reality thanks to an unshakable partnership between visionary political leaders, a highly active IT private sector and a population willing to embrace new habits with the conviction that only this way will be better for them. Estonia became the first country to vote online, back in 2005, and in the last election, 47% of votes were cast digitally. Estonia is the first country in the world to offer e-residency, meaning it gives all foreigners the chance to get an electronic identity and then be able to set up a company online in the country without ever having to physically move there. It is also the first country in the world to be saved in a cloud.

Carmen Raal, digitalization advisor e-Estonia:We became the first country to store its entire databases away from physical borders. This means that if something happens to our servers here in Estonia, we don’t have to worry because we can take all the information from Luxembourg“.

The pandemic not only did not block the development of this country, it accelerated it.

Erika Piirmets, digitalization advisor e-Estonia:Society has not gone into shock that they have to work from home or that they can no longer go to the counters. For most, this was already everyday life“.

What the Estonian authorities want to do

The fact that they are way ahead of the world does not stop the Estonians. They now want to transform state services into a kind of personal assistant of the citizen, endowed with artificial intelligence.

Kristjan Järvan, Minister of Entrepreneurship and IT:We are now developing these services resulting from life events such as the birth of a child or marriage so that the benefits resulting from these events are automatically suggested to users“.

Estonia is able to share with the world the benefits of a digitized society and the lessons learned during these years, because Estonia has proven with numbers that digital solutions save energy, time and money. Every day this week, at PRO TV news, you will see how Estonia managed to become a digital paradise and export its IT solutions all over the world. More than 60 governments have asked Estonians for help. Not ours either.

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