Christmas season is in full swing and as we all inevitably grow older, it gets harder and harder to find a nice present that’s unique, affordable, and will actually make the recipient happy and the world a better place. Socks will not make the recipient happy, buying your loved one a new car will not make the world a better place… but if we take a more long-term view, turning your country into an e-state can be downright cheap. Prime ministers and Presidents of the world, take note!
Just last month, the National Audit Office to the Parliament of Estonia published the latest annual report (available in Estonian) which, among other things, paid particular attention to the e-government side of things. In 2018, the central government spent €123m on ICT expenditures (€40m for investments, €45m for administration, and €38m for wages). That’s just 1.3% of the state budget for 2018 (total: €9.8bn) and a mere 0.5% of Estonia’s GDP (total: €26bn). Of course, this number does not take into account the savings that go hand-in-hand with a well-built digital state: the digital signature that is legally equivalent to a pen-on-paper signature is estimated to save around 2% of the GDP each year. So yes, there are definitely some investments that have to be made at the start, but if you play your cards right (and visit the e-Estonia Briefing Centre to find out more about how we did it!) you will start saving a lot of money just a few years down the road.
Another concern that some people tend to have is that digitalisation is a job killer. And, admittedly, for some sectors this is true. Self-driving cars and, more importantly, trucks will transform the transport sector in its entirety. For the government, however, this is simply not the case. One of the more recent studies dates back to 2013, a time when much of Estonia’s public sector had already been digitalised. At that point the OECD estimated that around 22% of the Estonian workforce was employed in the public sector, while the ILO figured the number was closer to 20.7%. The OECD average? 21.3%. So Estonia’s share of government workers is absolutely par for the course.
This might make you wonder: if there is no difference in employment rates, does that mean that digitalisation has been completely ineffectual in Estonia? To the contrary. In many countries, for example, government officials across several departments have to repeatedly process the contents of documents. In Estonia, the data would have been digitised from the get-go meaning that computers can now exchange the data – that’s where Estonia saves its government employees a lot of time…which can then be spent on other things that require real human interaction.
So there you have it: digitalisation is the gift that truly keeps on giving! It’s unique and tailored to your country’s needs, it will make its recipients happy, it will most certainly make the world a better place… and yes, at the end of the day it’s pretty cheap as well. You can thank me later for giving you this great gift idea. Merry Christmas!
Speaker-analyst at e-Estonia Briefing Centre