How Estonia became the most digital country in the world

"Digitization is not only about technology, but also about changing people's mentality," said Marten Kaevats, digital advisor to the Estonian government, as he began his talk at Deep Digital, the digital transformation event.

99% of the services provided by the state are online and 98% of citizens have a digital ID. The transformation process began, in the late 1990s, in education.
99% of the services provided by the state are online and 98% of citizens have a digital ID. The transformation process began, in the late 1990s, in education.

Estonia was catalogued by media and innovation specialists as the most digital country in the world. "In Estonia you can do all the formalities online, except getting married, getting divorced or buying a property. 

Declaring my taxes takes less than 15 minutes," Kaevats said. The road to get here was neither immediate nor magical: it was 25 years of processes that, he repeats once again, not only implied the adoption of new technologies but a change in the way citizens think.

"Artificial intelligence is only a tool. We have to understand why we use it and how it helps improve our lives. In Estonia we change people's way of thinking: from paper to digital," he stressed.

46.7% of citizens vote online (the rest vote on paper by decision), 99% of state services are digitized and 98% of citizens have a digital document.

The turning point was when, in 1997, they decided to adopt a digital government with the aim of improving the competitiveness of the state, reducing paperwork times and improving people's welfare.

From then on, a series of changes began to be made that continue to this day, in addition to a series of projections for the future. The tip of the iceberg was to start with modernization in education, Kaevats said, when asked by Infobae, after his talk, about the steps that led to this change.

Estonia began providing connectivity and computers in schools in the late 1990s and by the year 2000, all schools were online. In turn, the government at that time already began providing digital training for adults.

In 2002, the country launched a digital identification system, consisting of an identity document with an information chip and a 384-bit ECC public-key encryption. This DNI is not simply the digitization of a physical document, as occurs in Argentina or other countries, but is a system that provides digital access to all online services offered by Estonia for its citizens ranging from access to the health system, the ability to vote, pay taxes or access the bank, among other issues.

Secure digital identity

Any digital society must have a unique user identity, Kaevats said. He explained that this digital identity must be robust and secure. In this sense, he explained that the digital ID that the citizen receives at birth is public and can be used to do all kinds of procedures.

So, for example, you could update your driving record with that ID but the system does not link that ID to your first name, last name, date of birth or address. That information is protected, he explained.

"There is no centralized server in Estonia. We don't have a Big Brother," Kaevats said. He added: "We have a distributed architecture. We don't put all the eggs in one basket because if that basket falls, everything is lost. That's why there's no single centralized server.

When it comes to cybersecurity, you don't have to ask if there will be a vulnerability, but what will happen when that security breach occurs. Hence the importance of maintaining a distributed architecture, he remarked. He also mentioned the use of blockchain to ensure the transparency and reliability of processes.

Although he offered a technical explanation of processes and did not skimp when talking about technological processes, he concluded with the same maxim with which he began his talk: "digitization is a cultural change rather than technological".

How information is shared

Gustavo Giorgetti, the founder of ThinkNet, then spoke. He delved into the principles of the Estonian government and explained how, from his company, he helped to build an integrated ecosystem, which seeks to bring the principles of digital transformation from Estonia to the Neuquen government.

In Estonia, the "Once only" principle is applied, which involves storing user information efficiently so that citizens do not have to re-enter all their data each time they want to perform a procedure.

"The system must have the information already stored. This is achieved when there is interoperability and communication between government agencies," Giorgetti said.

And he added: "In Neuquén we made a portal for the government itself on the basis of shared architecture. We made a kind of Uber of certificates, which is based on this concept. Asked by Infobae about this initiative, he said that this system has already begun to be applied in 9 municipalities and various provincial organizations in Neuquén. This interoperability portal made "more than 60 procedures invisible" to the citizen, he said.

Digitization to reduce time and bureaucracy

The event was opened by Sabina Schneider, Director of Solutions at Globant, who shared the case of a digitization initiative they carried out for the London Metropolitan Police. The idea was to find a solution to reduce the time spent filling out forms and reports. In other words, streamline these bureaucratic processes.

"So we designed an app for the cell phone and the tablet that in a few clicks allowed them to make formalities and notes. This reduced by 65% the time officers spent making reports," he explained. As part of this digital transformation in which they participated, 90% of road traffic reports were made online, and 1,100 crime reports were recorded digitally per week.

Then Schneider analyzed the principles that should be given in the framework of any innovative process that wants to do in an agency or company.

The road to innovation

Think short-term

It is not only necessary to take into account long-term projections, but also to contemplate plans that can be acted upon in the short term and that can be measured in terms of savings, efficiency and other impacts they will have.

Autonomy and more horizontal structures. 

"It is necessary to generate autonomous teams with the possibility of deciding on the basis of clear objectives". In this sense, Schneider stressed that it is necessary to put aside the anachronistic model of vertical hierarchy with a boss who says what to do and does not give autonomy or decision-making capacity to his team.

Clear communication

There has to be transparency in the objectives and communicate them clearly to the team so that they know where they stand and where they want to go.

Encourage mistakes

"The digital transformation starts from the base of encouraging oneself to try and therefore opens up the possibility of failure. If we don't fail, it's because we're not changing enough, we're staying in the status quo and we're not innovating enough," he said, making it clear that these failures must occur within a planning framework.

Source: Infobae

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