In my first blog about my trip to Estonia in 2014, I wrote about two of the key drivers behind the eGovernment Strategy and their approach to a Digital Society in Estonia. The key drivers were (and continue to be):
Will this benefit the citizen?
Will this improve services across internal government departments?
During my 2014 visit I spent time at the ICT Demo Centre, meeting some of the team that delivered eGovernment in Estonia, and meeting the eHealth team, also known as the Health Tech Cluster.
Their ICT Demo Centre is a modern office space clearly built to impress visitors, but this isn’t just a nice-looking office, there is real substance behind what they have achieved, and they were happy to share their approach and lessons learnt.
The team provided me with a presentation on eGovernment in Estonia, their title slide stated:
Estonia ICT: reducing administrative burden
Throughout my visit in 2014 I was continually impressed by the clarity of vision and purpose behind their approach to all things digital and technology. You were very rarely left questioning the why or the purpose of what they were trying to achieve.
They are very proud (and so they should be) of some of their social indicators for a Digital Society, for example:
- 100% of schools and government organisations are ICT equipped
- 99.8 % of bank transfers are performed electronically
- 95% of income tax declarations are made via the eTax Board
- 95% of medication was bought with a digital prescription in 2013
- 66% of the population participated in the census via internet
How did they get to the position of have 95% of income tax declarations being carried out online? This all goes back to one of their key drivers, will this benefit the citizen?
Part of their implementation approach was to ensure benefit to the citizen and to businesses, and with the eTax programme it was a guarantee from the Estonian Government to ensure payments to individuals and businesses are paid back within five days of completing the online platform.
The discussion around infrastructure was an interesting one, by the end of 2015 they are committed to having 100mbps to every single home in the country. The entire country is already covered with broadband, 76% of homes have broadband and they have rolled out 4G networks ahead of many other countries.
An interesting question from a Guernsey perspective, how are they going to achieve getting 100mbps to every home? By having public sector and private sector working together, but also having the telcos working together to achieve the goal.
Estonia has had the benefit of funding from the EU on this project but they managed to get a guiding coalition together, which included the telcos. In simple terms, they have the backbone network provided by the telco operators, they have the ‘Middle Network’ which is the EstWIN network, and then the ‘Access Network’ which is the last mile to the home, to the enterprise and the mobile network.
The Middle Network is the key area where the EstWIN project made sure the telcos worked together to ensure the infrastructure is in place through collaboration, but when it comes to the Access Network (the last mile they call it), that is when they encourage competition to win the business ‘from the road to the house’.
Three highlights from the Estonian broadband vision are:
- Make 100Mbit/s broadband available to the majority of Estonian households and businesses by 2015
- Bridge the digital divide that today exists between urban and rural areas
- Improve competition
Yet again, we see a nice clear vision and direction. I was also slightly jealous that they were making clear progress with improving broadband competition, something that we can only dream of in Guernsey.
We have a fascination with broadband infrastructure in Guernsey, which we know is only a piece of the digital puzzle (albeit a vital piece); Estonia has realised that a broader view is required for a fully empowered digital society.
Another vital piece of the Estonian Digital Society that we spoke about in the ICT Demo Centre was their approach to education and creating the skills to enhance the Digital Society.
There are a number of education initiatives that are part of the Digital Society; for example, they provide schoolchildren with a tablet from a very early age to begin learning digital skills. IT Science and Computer Programming is also part of their curriculum and they started an initiative in 1996 to support ICT in schools through the Tiger Leap Foundation, which is now teaching coding at a very early age.
What are we doing in Guernsey in this space?
Thankfully there are a few passionate people trying to get coding into schools, which is brilliant, but we are already nearly 20 years behind Estonia. It’s no wonder that Estonia is churning out an average of 200 technology startups each year with their approach to education.
I mentioned in my first blog on my visit to Estonia that I was impressed by the Estonian approach to implementing the Digital Society, and the culture within Government to exploit the opportunities and benefits of technology, and their approach to education and skills development impressed me even more.
Estonia looked at their curriculum and were beginning to invest in the right skills for the generation currently entering and growing the digital world we live in, but they way they ensured everyone was behind the vision was fantastic. The technology changes within schools and the curriculum were implemented with the teachers being involved, some of whom were cautious and even afraid of technology.
Change was implemented together
Many teachers were given equipment to assist with the channel shift to eSchool and now each school has a technology ‘champion’ whose role is to promote the right use of technology and train staff on new technology and initiatives. I must also say that their approach to communication was brilliant, frequent and consistent: simple and clear communication throughout the process and journey.