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Estonia in the DESI 2020: At the top of the world… sort of

Recently, the European Commission released its Digital Economy and Society Index for the year 2020 and oh boy, is it worth a read! Let’s get the boring “news” out of the way first: just like in the last couple of years, Estonia continues to rank first among all EU member states in the area of Digital Public Services. Well done, Estonia! With this out of the way, let’s find the devil who – as is often the case – hides in the details.

We are right to be proud of our digital public services…

Looking into the different aspects of the Digital Public Services category, we can immediately see that Estonia consistently ranks above the EU average, but that the gap to said average as well as the average level itself fluctuates quite drastically. In the area of open data, Estonia still has a lot of work to do – there are plenty of datasets online, however, relatively few are linked to the national open data portal, for example. This is also reflected in Estonia’s score of 67% compared to the EU average which is just 1% lower.

The picture looks decidedly different in digital government services directly – while it is possible for most people across the EU to deal with at least a portion of government services online (Estonia: 98, EU average: 90), Estonia has worked a lot harder to implement pre-filled forms (Estonia: 90, EU average: 59). The notion that the vast array of online services available in Estonia is not just carbon copies of their offline brethren, but they are streamlined as to save as much money and time as possible. And the hard work appears to have paid off because in Estonia, people use the government’s online services (Estonia: 93%, EU average: 67%).

…but let’s not get complacent!

Another area that I think is crucial for Estonia’s further development is the area of connectivity. Admittedly, this section was not particularly fun for me to read because we all knew what was coming. Estonia still came out above EU average but only just and it was largely down to one factor – while all EU countries are still generally speaking in the early stages of their 5G network development (with a 5G readiness of just 21% across the EU), Estonia scored a shocking 0.

While this is clearly nothing to write home about, the situation is also not as dire as the grade itself would suggest. There is currently a legal argument about the tender procedure in Estonia which should be solved within a matter of months and I am very confident that, once said case is settled, Estonia will once again prove to be a fast adopter.

Looking at connectivity from an e-government angle, there are three factors that stand out to me: 4G coverage, Mobile Broadband Take-up, and Broadband Price Index. In terms of overall coverage, Estonia has been doing extremely well for the last couple of years, hovering just below 100% 4G coverage.

This means that fast internet is generally available for anyone who needs to get anything done online at a moment’s notice. Indeed, mobile internet seems to be the preferred option for Estonians, as there are 152 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 people, compared to 100 subscriptions per 100 people across the EU. Lastly, a glance at the Broadband Price Index confirms that Estonian internet is also a tad cheaper than EU average, which is always nice to hear.

Structural change management is important

Right now, Estonia seems to live through this old adage: “Staying at the top is always harder than getting there”. It is of fundamental importance that the Estonian government redouble its efforts in structural developments such as the 5G network. With that in mind, e-Estonia is still going strong and I am honestly excited about our current plans for more proactive government services and the wide-spread use of AI solutions in the public sector. Still, this alone will not be enough to keep up our momentum. The Digital Economy and Society Index reminds us that we must always remain humble and open-minded about how we can better ourselves. Onwards and upwards!

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