Can you imagine a country where you can do 99% of your paperwork online? This would mean saving you from waiting in lines and waiting in person for paperwork that in most countries would take a long time. In Estonia this is a reality and is an example for the rest of the world.
Since the 1990s, Estonia has advanced in the digitization of processes, achieving to date that its citizens can perform 99% of the procedures online, but what is the reason for this achievement?
Let’s start at the beginning. Upon regaining its independence from the Soviet Union, Estonia had to rearm and create a new country from scratch. This coincided with the growing development of computers and this was where an opportunity to move towards innovation was seen.
The government opted for early digitization with resource savings in mind, bearing in mind that, in the long run, doing everything on paper would be more costly than doing it online. In 1993, citizens received their Identity Numbers, which would be the basis for further development.
The real revolution came in 2001, when the Digital Identification (eID) and X-Road were implemented, which were vital for further development.
The eID serves to validate before the state or a private party that you are who you say you are. In addition, it allows you to sign documents online and is just as valid as signing them on paper, basically it works as a digital identity card.
X-Road is a data infrastructure, where the private and public sectors can exchange data securely and transparently. This exchange layer provides interoperability that enables a unified standard.
A basic example: in most countries in the world, different government offices have different information systems and do not connect with each other. Data is not passed from one agency to another. This means that every time a citizen wants to carry out a procedure, he or she has to reiterate his or her data in different places.
With X-Road this process is simplified. The information you provide, whether to a private or public entity, is stored here and you will not be asked for it again. This works under the “Once Only” policy, which dictates that if you have already given some of your personal information to the government, you don’t have to repeat it because they already have it.
With this, it was possible to digitize health records, improve the tax system, streamline daily procedures and it is even estimated that the country saves 2% of the gross domestic product annually.
Is this applicable to other countries?
The former National Digital Advisor of Estonia, Marten Kaevats, mentions that the difficulty of extrapolating this way of life to other countries is not technical, but rather cultural.
He proposes that citizens still look with suspicion at almost total digitalization and that, as society’s confidence in these mechanisms is consolidated, the process will be more bearable and simpler to apply.
“It has nothing to do with technology, it has everything to do with people’s mentality and culture. In technological terms, this change is very fast, but from a cultural perspective it takes time,” says Kaevats.
In conclusion, the former National Digital Advisor of Estonia maintains that change is possible and it is essential to make it, but that it implies a cultural and social transformation, where digitalization is accepted as a secure and transparent mechanism.