How we got there

Estonia's Road to a Digital Society

How did a small, post-Soviet nation transform itself into a global leader in e-solutions?

From Potato Skins to IT-Chic

In the early 90s, Estonia's leaders were faced with a grim reality: theirs was a small country with a small population and few resources. If Estonia was to succeed, they knew, they had to find a way to push the country forward. With the internet having just arrived on the world stage, leaders made a conscious decision to use it to build an open, e-society – a cooperative project involving government, business and citizens that would mold the nation's path to the future.

Tiger Leap

Innovative project Tiger Leap began in 1996 to prioritize Information Technology infrastructure. It allowed educational institutes to have access to computers and Interact. The efforts spawned a seed of technology-savvy skills among Estonia’s citizens. The project is still active until this day creating a sustainable and healthy lifecycle of IT industry. In the same decade, legislation was passed that allowed the creation of infrastructure such as the national ID Card project and the X-Road, both critical for developing the digital society systems that were to come. Meanwhile, the private sector had also picked up a passion for high-tech solutions. The nation's banks had introduced online services that were ahead of anything in the West, while entrepreneurs were developing clever innovations like M-Parking and location-based services.

e-Estonia Takes Off

The trend continued after the millennium with more integrated e-solutions added each year and the country earning its reputation as a forward-thinking hotbed of practical tech-development. By 2007, Estonia made more international headlines by becoming the first nation in history to successfully defend itself against a large-scale cyber attack. Since then Tallinn has become the home of NATO's Cyber Defense Centre. Heading into its third decade of e-society development, Estonia is now the training ground for countries that want to introduce powerful solutions such as i-Voting, e-Cabinet, e-Health systems and more. Over 40 countries around the world are using Estonian e-solutions. And new systems are constantly in development. Even with all of Estonia's successes, this by no means is the end of the e-Estonia story. It's only the beginning.

Some Do's and Don'ts, based on Estonia's experience:

  • Do – Create a decentralized, distributed system so that all existing components can be linked and new ones can be added, no matter what platform they use
  • Don't – Try to force everyone to use a centralized database or system, which won't meet their needs and will be seen as a burden rather than a benefit
  • Do – Be a smart purchaser, buying the most appropriate systems developed by the private sector
  • Don't – Waste millions contracting large, slow development projects that result in inflexible systems
  • Do – Find systems that are already working, allowing for faster implementation
  • Don't – Rely on pie-in-the-sky solutions that take time to develop and may not work