You have probably heard about Estonian digital governance being among the best in the world. I mean – 99% of state services are available online. So it is surprising there still isn’t “an app for that”…Well, there is now if Riho Oks of StateOS has anything to say about it.
Oks is a colourful guy and a phenomenal storyteller. He has a long career in IT, working for both the Estonian and Finnish states. He has also taken the X-Road – which serves as a foundation to the Estonian e-state – to many countries worldwide with his company called Roksnet (yes, it is formed with his initial and surname plus adding the word “net”).
In fact, he was the evangelist of the Estonian X-Road. “No public institution wanted to join it at first,” Oks says. “So I started brainstorming all the e-services that could be used with the X-road and went and talked with every one of the ministries and institutions.”
You are going to be fired!
When he digitised the parental benefits, his colleague and another early IT visionary, Linnar Viik, said, jokingly, that Oks would be fired from the state for it. “Because if there are benefits to be received by the state, it should not be easy.”
Oks did not wait for that to happen anyway and consulted the Finnish state via the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, which led to Finland also implementing the X-Road. As a result, the countries soon decided to deepen the cooperation in a more formal yet flexible manner by forming a separate jointly managed special purpose organisation to administer the X-Road development – the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS). It was decided that NIIS would never compete with private companies nor offer paid services.
Software is not like a table
Oks says that he was blamed for giving the state assets (the X-Road) away for free when its source code was published as open-source under the MIT license. “But software is not like a table that decreases in value after use – software increases in value if it is excessively used!”
Ever the visionary, ever the idea-factory, Oks needed new challenges, which is why his own company Roksnet was born.
“So I thought of offering the X-Road as a service – when a government in country X has yet not decided to implement it, but they have a dozen institutions ready to offer their services by using it,” Oks explains. “Because you can build all kinds of services on top of the X-Road, you don’t need ID-cards for it.”
Riho Oks says that the uniqueness of what Roksnet offers isn’t even the X-Road. “It’s our know-how and experience that we are selling. This know-how will save 3-5 years in a project that usually takes more time than just implementing X-Road.” (Setting up the X-Road data exchange layer software and required server capacity etc., can only take days. Preparing the ecosystem can take months, but growing the ecosystem including different services can take years. – DP.)
“I can say that as a fact because Estonia itself saves a few billion euros in taxpayers’ money a year thanks to e-governance,” Oks adds. “Estonia´s size has been an asset to try things out quicker and easier, but smaller countries are also more expensive to maintain vs. bigger countries. So to stay competitive, a small country must be smart and efficient, and this is what we have learned to be, and we can teach others the same, too.”
Since Oks brainstorms constantly, the idea of the StateOS app came to him almost 14 years ago already. “I thought of making the state portal eesti.ee somehow exportable.” But then the idea kept changing and ripening.
“What if everything I HAVE to do in the eyes of the state would be coming to me in intuitive notifications? And also everything I NEED to do in my day-to-day life?” Oks thought last year and started developing. StateOS launched a couple of weeks ago and is now in the evangelism phase. Meaning Oks is doing what he does best – going around public and private institutions and presenting his case.
Oks goes on to describe StateOS use-cases.“Nowadays, you can call your family doctor to issue you a prescription, and they promise to do that within that day, but you do not know exactly WHEN that happens. Wouldn’t it be good if you got a notification regarding that? Or if you are eligible for training equipment benefits for your child? Or why not have all of your health certificates and licenses there? Public transport tickets?”
The monetisation would come through ads (private service providers, and you can still mute some that don’t interest you) and information campaigns (public institutions).
Public and private players are joining
Today the service has been joined by the Education and Youth Board of Estonia, which integrated its Exam Information System (EIS) with StateOS, and this year all state exam
takers – around ten thousand pupils taking on average three exams each – can quickly find out the result of their state exam via StateOS.
Also, Amphora, one of the most popular document management software in Estonia used by about 700 different state agencies or local governments or companies have joined. Amphora will send notifications to StateOS users when a document in Amphora needs a person’s attention, e.g., digital signing.
Another private player, a waste management company of Lääne-Viru county, will send notices to their customers on the previous night so that people would not forget to ensure access to their trash bins. “Large waste handlers in some counties do send preliminary information to their customers, but it happens several days earlier and by email, and this way, people will still forget to put their bins out at the right time. That is why getting a notification through StateOS on the previous night actually makes it useful,” Oks says.
A common global market for e-services
Riho Oks also stresses an important aspect about his “your-obligations-in-your-pocket” app. “Only service providers with a verified identity can provide their information and services through StateOS, and the information and services are provided using the secure X-Road solution. In other words, in the StateOS environment, we exclude those situations that are becoming a nuisance today, e.g., spammy texts or phishing scams.”
Oks sees no limits to what StateOS could offer, only possibilities. Cross-border, too, naturally. And across the globe.
“We are at the beginning of a fascinating journey where we are changing the paradigm of e-state service delivery from a service provider approach to a person-centric approach. The goal is that in the future, smart services will find the right person, at the right time, in the right location, and the right device, be it your phone, smartwatch, car, or TV. Thus, thanks to StateOS, the user’s real estate, education, children, vehicles, businesses, utilities, health, and many other information and services all come together in one app. And I really see StateOS functioning as a common global market for e-services,” Oks envisions. I, as one of the consumers, would like to see that happen, too.