Speakers’ Corner is where the expert speakers at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre share their thoughts on digital societies and fresh perspective on how the world is moving towards global digitalisation. In this edition Florian Marcus, analyses the benefits of remote services.
Short, snappy soundbites dominate the media landscape these days and when it comes to digitalisation in Estonia, one of the soundbites you may have heard is “it takes 3 minutes to file your taxes online” or “i-voting only takes 30 seconds”. I can confirm that these tidbits are definitely true, but perhaps they don’t tell the whole story, because by only talking about the time saved we might lose sight of all the other advantages that are inherent to digital remote services. Today, let’s talk about some of the other benefits, too.
This might seem like an obvious point because any service we use online can be accessed from almost anywhere on planet Earth as long as we have a reliable internet connection. We are used to doing almost everything online, whether it’s staying in touch with friends, ordering a good book, or watching the news. But did you notice that all of these examples are provided by the private sector? In most countries, we have somehow accepted – nay, come to expect – that the public sector with all its government authorities can offer its services in a way that may have been acceptable 20 years ago. The population register in my hometown in Germany still has a fax machine and I’d be willing to bet quite a bit of money that it has been used several times within the last 7 days. When I moved to Estonia four years ago, the notion that almost all government services are right at my fingertips regardless of my location was a true revelation. People actively make use of these solutions, for example, in the Estonian parliamentary elections earlier this year, votes were cast from more than 140 countries around the world.
Apologies for repeating myself, but this factor, too, might seem like an obvious point. The internet is accessible 24/7, duh. But again, in most countries there is an almost natural understanding that government offices are only open from 9-5, and maybe in rural areas only if all relevant stars align on the third Wednesday of the month. This is a real problem because during those office hours, most of the working-age population is, well, at work. So if you need to get some sort of administrative matter sorted, you will have to take valuable time out of your workday. Your boss won’t like it and you won’t like it either because we don’t visit public authorities to socialise. Two years ago, I thought about setting up my own company in Estonia, but I couldn’t come up with a name that was not cringeworthy. One Thursday evening around 10pm, I finally had an idea, so I just logged into the e-Business Register and created my own company. It took me around 30 minutes to go through all the legal texts properly and create the founding document with the help of some legally watertight templates provided by the e-Business Register website; the very next day my company was up and running.
No stress, no hassle
Do you know who never gets grumpy or sad or irritated? Servers. Yes, they still require their maintenance every now and then so that they can continue to provide you with safe access to government services, but apart from that their mental state is pretty stable. One joke goes that it was always going to be the Estonians who would advance digital services so quickly because no one was more excited about the idea of never having to talk to another human being again. I’ll leave the veracity of these claims for others to decide, but I think we can all agree on this: Occasionally, everyone has a bad day and digital government services help you avoid unpleasant interactions.
Let’s get on with it!
With remote services available digitally, you can start at any time of day, skip the queues, and proceed at your own pace from almost anywhere in the world. Many of the core digital services in Estonia have been around for more than 15 years and we know they work. It is now upon you and me to tell our governments that they must get on board with these digital solutions: they would save both us and themselves a lot of time, money, and nerves.