What Estonia can teach us about digital transformation

Yes, Estonia. Estonia’s government received an award for leadership  this year. The country was a founding member of the  D5 alliance of countries that drove e-governance and digital transformation between 2010 and 2016 (along with the UK). Clearly, they are doing something right. But how can Estonia help your business?

After declaring independence in the early 90s, Estonia has taken a unique approach to governance. This tiny country with a population less than that of Northern Ireland is now a global leader in digital solutions, transforming their economy and their culture as they embrace change and cut red tape. Here are some of the facts:

  • In 1991, half the population didn’t have landlines. In 2000, Estonia declared the internet to be a human right.
  • All Estonians have an identity card that is the key to their personal information, which is stored on the revolutionary X-road database system.
  • In 2005 Estonia was the first country to offer internet voting in a national election.
  • In 2014 Estonia began offering the world e-residency, a government-issued digital identity available to anyone in the world.

Estonian people

It’s part of the culture

Estonia had a blank slate to work with, so their leaders, particularly former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves,, decided digital transformation would become part of the ‘e-Estonian’ culture. It’s important to have a leader to direct this level of change. They are not just there to plan and take action, but to tell a story, to convince people  and to share enthusiasm.

This foundation of nation-wide support has meant that change is embraced by all Estonians, further supported by education. They are teaching four-year-olds to code, and even the older generations are kept up-to-date. The concept of ‘e-administration’ is liked, and it’s understood. Good start.

Don't like the rules? Change them! How to deliver game-changing digital transformation - download your guide




Access is a big deal

Imagine it. You’re in the middle of the woods without a car or a person in sight. Only snow, and space and quiet. You look down at your phone. Not only do you get 4G, but you get free wi-fi. Only in Estonia. With the internet being a human right, they have installed thousands of free wi-fi spots all over the country. High-speed, broadly available wi-fi access boosts productivity and lets people be flexible about where they work. A cabin in the woods with high-speed internet connection – for some, a dream come true.

The concept of e-residency pushes this emphasis on access beyond borders. Anyone can apply to become part of this global digital nation. You can open up an Estonian bank account or start up a company (like Skype), taking advantage of their administrative system. Think about open-source projects like Linux or  Wikipedia – access means freedom, and freedom means innovation.

They have a ‘Once-only’ policy

In Estonia, people don’t like saying things unnecessarily, so the state doesn’t ask them to. They never fill in the same form twice. Once you have provided information, that’s it. Voting, taxes, banking – all so streamlined that participation and compliance are non-issues in Estonia. Not only is this a fantastic user experience, but the Estonian government has optimised for efficiency, saving two percent of GDP  by going digital.

They prioritise disaster-proofing

Estonia had a security breach in 2007 that meant many services and forms of communication were taken down. It was a lesson learned well. Since then, the government has become a leading voice in cyber-security. They have blockchain-based ID cards, using a similar system to Bitcoin, that they constantly review in order to reveal vulnerabilities.

Also, Estonia gets a lot of snow. Weather-proofing tech isn’t just about splash-resistant keyboards, for Estonia. They have moved some of their public-sector servers off-country to ensure their systems remain functioning no matter what happens. Whether the threat is man-made or a natural disaster, they are ready.

Be the Estonia of your sector, embrace digital transformation today

Don't like the rules? Change them! How to deliver game-changing digital transformation - download your guide