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 Anett Numa discusses the essentials of tackling digital transformation.
In Estonia, our daily interaction with digital services is often so smooth and natural that we don’t even realise how unusual or rare such an experience might be for other people around the world. For those who come from digitalised countries, living elsewhere can be a real eye-opener: It turns out that many people don’t have the choice to avoid bureaucracy. These experiences can help us truly appreciate the flexibility and freedom that we have come to enjoy and expect in our home country.
The e-Estonia Briefing Centre hosts a high number of delegations every day. A portion of the delegations who visit us have already implemented some working solutions, but are now facing a new challenge. The adoption of these digital services by citizens and residents is slow and so is the process of growing their trust. This raises a crucial question: How do you entice people to stop doing something which they have been accustomed to for decades and help them jump into the digital age?
I think we can all agree that when it comes to digital transformation, it’s important for people to see a tangible advantage – digital services must be easier to use, more convenient, cheaper and time-saving. Talking about trust, we should raise awareness with regards to privacy concerns. In Estonia, for example, people are not compromising their privacy, in fact the opposite is true. On the Estonian state portal, I can see who has accessed my data, be it my entry in the population registry or medical information. And if there was unwarranted access, I can file a complaint with the Information System Authority. In most countries, this type of traceability and accountability for data access is simply impossible to implement because of the reliance on paper files or the challenges of incorporating these principles into existing structures.
Estonia’s experience has been as follows: If you have the choice between declaring your taxes online within one minute and getting your potential refund within two weeks or alternatively, queuing up for hours in a government office and waiting a couple of months to get your refund… Which option do you choose? Easy. So in Estonia, citizens feel like they are taken seriously and government authorities don’t want to waste time, neither that of the citizens nor their own.
So what does the state have to do? First, you need the digital infrastructure that makes services accessible. Second, we must not forget about digital literacy – media, education in schools and state-funded courses for basic computer skills are crucial to smoothen the transition into the digital age. The latter is particularly true for the older generations that need more support than the digital natives of the younger generations. The result in Estonia is convincing – 95% of people declare their taxes online, 97% of retired people apply for their pension payments online. We can clearly see that we did not leave anyone behind.
The way forward
Here’s the bottom line though: Digital transformation is happening everywhere, whether we like it or not. This change offers new levels of flexibility, lowers costs in every sector. But we have to adapt in order to make full use of the opportunities that lay ahead. Digitalisation will continue to advance and it is extremely unlikely that ignoring or legislating against it will stem this tide.