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🎙️ e-Estonia podcast: Kevin Tammearu of Cybernetica: e-solutions act as tools for democracy

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Cybernetica are known as a company that has had a leading role in developing the X-Road – the backbone of e-Estonia. The company has been solving complex challenges for almost sixty years – both in Estonia and abroad – yet maintaining the privacy of citizens and data. Our speaker Florian Marcus talked with Kevin Tammearu, the Head of Business Development for Data Exchange Technologies, for the newest episode of our podcast “The Art of Digitalisation”. 

Kevin’s day-to-day work revolves around the topic of digital transformation – of both the public sector and enterprises. “Redesigning how these entities and organisations and, largely, ecosystems work together. We’ve found that the Estonian model – the model for interoperability and secure data exchange based on a distributed architecture – is based on universal principles for information security and governance. And it can be widely adopted in different settings and sectors – from e-governance to healthcare, insurance, banking even,” Kevin said.

Political risks

Behind Kevin Tammearu’s impressive job title is actually an even more impressive reality – he works daily with government and private sector leaders for digital transformation in Africa, Asia, and in the Americas. His job is to help them understand how to build their digital transformation strategies and action plans in a feasible way by sustaining their future needs.

“This is the most gratifying part of my job – the ability to travel to places like Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Namibia, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Japan, the Americas, etc.,” Kevin admitted.

But there are downsides, too, of course. “Political risk is a high challenge for us especially if we’re working in developing countries. Changes in political leadership can shift the entire balance of where a country is moving. So if we’ve managed to create an understanding with leaders in a government or an enterprise and then the political winds change – the process has to restart from the beginning.”

E-governance takes time

E-governance brings complex challenges. “Getting from the first conversation to full implementation takes several years,” Tammearu says. “Take Estonia, for example – reaching maturity took almost 20 years, right? And we’re still growing and developing. For other countries, of course, we can cut out some of that time because of the lessons learned and the experience we’ve gained. But it’s inevitable that it still takes time for people to get on board and to change their minds about how they do things today. Plus, there are usually many different stakeholders that all have to buy into us because they have existing strategies, plans, their ambitions, and so on.”

A legend already

Cybernetica was founded in 1960 – as the Institute of Cybernetics under the Estonian Academy of Sciences. Estonia was then still occupied by the Soviet Union. It was a lucky strike that the Institute was founded in Estonia, Kevin Tammearu told us in our podcast, because it was not a straightforward decision. Several candidate countries proposed that at the time. Having Estonia gain that Institute catapulted some of the developments of Estonia in terms of science and research in this field.

In the 1990s, Cybernetica became a spin-off into a private entity as part of a science reform, and this was when the company began finding solutions to complex challenges both in government, public sector, healthcare, and for enterprises, for the maritime field, in communications, and border surveillance, etc. “There’s quite a wide breadth of things that we do. But while solving these complex challenges, we always do it in a way that maintains information security, data security, the privacy of citizens and data,” Tammearu stressed, adding “And our solutions are robust – not prone to malicious activities or attacks, and also usable for the purposes that they have been built for.”

Among the “fathers” of the X-Road and ID-cards

Cybernetica is known as one of the leading thinkers of the X-Road – the backbone of e-Estonia. In the early 2000s, the company also worked on the first ID-card pilots in Estonia. Throughout the years, the company has been the partner for the Estonian state in really complex challenges around cryptography. “Cybernetica’s Smart-ID solution – used in and across all three Baltic countries – is based on the underlying technology of SplitKey, a tokenless digital identity that doesn’t require any hardware security or any security on the user’s side,” Tammearu shared.

Benin and the Bahamas

Kevin Tammearu also shed light on two international projects Cybernetica has been involved with lately. In Benin, West Africa, the company has been implementing nationwide interoperability and secure data exchange solutions with a citizen portal. “This will entail different services targeted to citizens and acts as a one-stop-shop for them,” Kevin explained. “It has been an excellent example of what can be achieved if you have the powerful political will. We have seen the responsible minister following these developments and keeping a close eye on what’s happening, and pressing both parties – the companies implementing this and also the government agencies behind this – to focus on actual impact, not just to implement or to install the software.”

In the Bahamas, Cybernetica works with a company called Cloud Carib. “This is a company with a strong understanding of the underlying technologies, and they were able to work more closely and more independently with the Bahamas government. In some sense, this allowed us to take a more laid-back position, providing them with knowledge transfer and the insights that we have gained, and of course, the core solution.”

To hear more of Cybernetica’s international projects, why a political science major Kevin ended up working for a tech company, and how the company could create a more considerable impact in the Caribbean region, tune in to listen to our podcast:

🎧Available on Apple Podcast and Spotify:

🎧…and on Soundcloud

Written by
Dea Paraskevopoulos

communications manager at the e-estonia briefing centre

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