Modern Estonia is the most modern of all

Let’s be honest: we’re sorry to say that when we think about groundbreaking technological innovation in Europe, the first country that pops into our minds isn’t likely to be the former USSR-annexed country of Estonia.

Even so, Estonia—a country that has a total population of only 2% the size of France’s (rounding up)—is currently the single most advanced digital society in the world—and has been for over 17 years already.

So, how is this small Northern European country on the Baltic Sea so modern, how did they get to where they are, and how does all this translate to the countries of the future?

A (micro)chip off the old Bloc

Back in 1991, when Estonia regained their independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union, only half of its population had telephone lines.

With no real exports of their own and nothing to make them distinct from other nearby countries, Estonia tried going for radical technological innovation.

Rather than accepting the old computer systems offered to them by Finland, their neighbours across the Baltic Sea, the Estonian government decided to start from the ground up and make something truly special—and they succeeded.

With the assistance of the Tiger Leap Foundation, a government-backed investment body, one of Estonia’s first steps was to get their schools online. And by 1998—only seven years after reforming from under the breezeblock control of the USSR—every school in Estonia was connected to the internet.

As a result, almost 20 years later, Estonia has some of largest numbers of technology start-ups in Europe. Now, the Tiger Leap Foundation funds programming classes in schools for students as young as six-years-old.

e-Volution

Estonia’s groundbreaking e-Estonia service is a government initiative that has entirely modernized the small country by replacing all of its citizens’ interactions with the state with electronic solutions.

What does that mean? Well, 99% Estonian of public services are internet-based and validated.

Their e-Governance service means that everything is available online, and there is virtually no need for Estonian citizens to ever have to physically visit an agency, including voting. In fact, there are only three things that Estonians have to do in person: get married, get divorced and buy real estate—which each seem entirely reasonable.

In Estonia, you can start a business in a mere 18-minutes. Their e-Tax system means that the bureaucratic red-tape surrounding doing business and living life is reduced by magnitudes: something that might take an entire day in queues, or weeks of verification in other countries, can now be done in 5 minutes—which is a bureaucratic time (and nightmare) saved for both ordinary citizens and officials.

Whether that be medical data for insurance companies or credit checks for banks, that exchange of information is easily accessible—but only if a citizen gives consent. Each individual owns their own data, and are able to view exactly who is accessing their information.

Digital Identity, or electronic identity (eID), in the form of mandatory smart ID cards mean that all Estonians have a verifiable and validated online presence—which means that all the services they access online—from documents signed and medical prescriptions and records—are validated, so long as the Estonian citizen knows their two unique PIN numbers.  

Some countries have implemented a few parts of these systems—South Africa has one of the most sophisticated Smart ID cards in the world, but it is far from mandatory; 99% of Malawi’s population have Smart ID Cards and an attached Digital Identity—while other countries, like France for example, are only are only just joining the bandwagon.

Estonia seems to be the only country that has implemented all the other connected systems as well, and have gotten it right.

Future-proof of concept

Yes, queuing for taxes and voting can be an inconvenience, but they’re not the end of the world; these are things that would be nice to have, but not essential.

Some of Estonia’s other systems, however, really show the potential good and innovation that such a sophisticated system can offer.

Being able to share information between different services is critical.

One of the biggest things that Estonia has implemented is their X-Road system. This allows all the government agencies—be it from e-Health services (which digitizes all medical data from hospitals and clinics), emergency services, banks or private businesses—the ability to share information easily and harmonize with each other, cutting red tape by half.

Think about it: as with Estonia’s case, having paramedics with access to a system like that means that if there is ever an emergency all the information that the EMS needs, such as medical histories, are readily available and more than potentially life-saving. It’s easy to see just how essential such technology can be.

Estonia is also leading the way with their e-Residency programme, which allows any person from anywhere in the world the ability to become a “digital citizen” of Estonia. All you have to do is go to your nearest Estonian embassy and sign up and receive your Estonian smart card and eID.

While you’re not actually a citizen of Estonia, what it does do is offer the e-resident access to all the Estonian services that a citizen can access, but, more importantly, it allows you to start a location-independent business that is based in an EU country—allowing for all the benefits and stability that doing so entails. Such a programme is going a long way in erasing the borders between countries and showing how the internet is a tool  to create a truly universal digital society.

Even with the use of  blockchain technology, Estonia is ahead of nearly every other country. While blockchain has only recently made a splash in popular culture, Estonia has been experimenting with its use since 2008.

The blockchain’s innovative way of storing information means that it is incredibly secure and virtually inalterable—which is invaluable for national registries, judicial systems, etc. The security that the blockchain provides means that it is basically impossible to hack. Such as system is essential for the longevity of a country’s culture, knowledge, history and public services.

Technology is truly revolutionizing the world, and at Digital Cabinet we have our ear to the ground—so to speak. By seeing the potential of technology, we can see exactly how it can help businesses and society thrive; and it all starts with going paperless.

Estonia’s government was completely paperless by 2000—even the cabinet and president sign bills on a tablet computer. If they can, and have done so on a nationwide scale, and so successfully too, so can you. Let us help, because paperless is what we do.

Pack your digital bags, and join the Internet Age with us.

Viva la e-Revolution!


You can find out more about Digital Cabinet at www.digitalcabinet.co.za

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