Estonian tech sector further expands reach of electronic services


The United States has its established technology hubs. Silicon Valley, Boston and the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle are arguably the most recognized centers of IT excellence. But as well-known as these places are (and despite the big tech guns in Austin, Texas), Salt Lake City, Utah has quietly become the new darling of the cloud computing scene with its so-called Silicon Slopes district.

With the flowering of the Silicon Oasis Technology Park in Dubai, many of us probably thought we could figure out where the next global computing zone could possibly thrive. But then, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel have both straddled local tech startups for the past half-decade or so. Ready to confuse our human senses of IT hub geolocation once again, Estonia has become the technological tiger of the Baltic that we really should have heard about.

So what form is Estonian IT development taking and where are the engines and agitators?

Skype is Estonian

It may come as a surprise to some, but Skype was designed, developed and built in Estonia, by three Estonians, a Swedish and a Dane. Although now acquired by Microsoft in 2011, the “shared workspace” center of IT start-up Lift99 in the capital Tallinn proudly displays the Skype logo alongside the country’s other IT unicorns.

For the record, these other high-value tech unicorns include the ride-hailing and food delivery company Bolt, an Uber challenge, as well as, playtech, wise, pipedrive, and Zego.

Despite harboring a small degree of withdrawn post-Soviet reserve (Estonians joked that social distancing from Covid-19 just wasn’t a problem for them), the country isn’t shy about promoting its prowess digital. The Enterprise Estonia umbrella brand encompasses Invest in Estonia, Trade with Estonia, e-Estonia, e-residency and Visit Estonia.

But what gave Estonia the momentum to build its nation of digital natives and cloud converts? Ask most Estonians and they’ll tell you it’s because when the Soviet regime ended independence was pretty much all they had. With a legacy of educated individuals hardened by a few Baltic winters, Estonia was light on natural resources and business structures.

Six-wheeled food processors

Many Estonian IT innovations are manifested at the consumer level. There are autonomous people transport vehicles, cybersecurity protection specialists, and there are Starship six-wheeled food and parcel delivery drones. But as publicized as the all-terrain purchasing robot drones are, it is for the deployment of government electronic services that the country has become best known. So how did Estonia do what it did and where will it go next?

“We want to take government digital services to a higher level of experience in our already highly connected society here. This therefore means that individuals can interact with their government through various interfaces via virtual assistants. We understand that users can be on their laptops. , but they can also use a smartphone or maybe a kiosk terminal in some form or another, or some kind of connected smart machine, maybe even a smart home device, ”explained Siim Sikkut, chief information officer. of the Government (GCIO), Estonia.

Sikkut underlines this ambition by saying that e-Estonia wants users to be able to interact with government using voice as the most common and natural interface on whatever device they commonly use.

“But we understand that users express their intention very differently when using voice versus typed written commands, so we’ll need to design an appropriate level of enterprise research capability into the way we build our platforms- forms in the future. This is a place where we are actually taking our government digital stack to the next level and are open to all partnerships, also providing our government with a test bed to try such solutions at the national level, ”Sikkut added.

Share with the group?

As an e-success model that other countries could use to develop their own digital society initiatives, Estonia has shared its so-called “Girl Scouts” initiatives with over 60 other countries. President Kersti Kaljulaid took advantage of an international technology press briefing this summer to explain the impact it has had on the labor market.

Note: Kaljulaid’s presidency has given way to the new Alar Karis at the time of writing.

Kaljulaid and his team note that where public sector jobs have been digitized and automated, in “most situations” these employees have been sucked into the private sector. With a population of just 1.3 million, professional service skills are in sufficient demand to keep the labor market afloat, whatever its shape.

“The French have succeeded in liberalizing their labor market to some extent and in launching digitization efforts in an orderly and systematically prudent manner. When former Prime Minister Édouard Philippe made his very first international visit, it was in Estonia and I think it was not unintentional. He returned to the French parliament and promised the French a cheaper and more efficient public sector. When people said “it cannot be done” he said “but there is Estonia! “As a practical example,” said a spokesperson for President Kaljulaid’s official office.

The shape of the digital nation

While browsing the digital service candy store on offer in Estonia, the country’s tech evangelists like to point out that it only takes a few hours (around three) to open a business in the country. Around 99% of patients have digital health records and almost 50% of Estonians used the country’s i-Voting system in the last European Parliament elections.

Deeper into its web of online services, Estonia has mobile m-parking for motorists, online school services to connect parents, teachers and students, it has mobile parking service for motorists, online school services to connect parents, teachers and students. online land registration, an online policing system to empower connected patrol cars and you can buy a bus ticket with a phone call to connect your national ID card to your fare payments.

On a lower level, the country’s X-Road integration technology underpins and interconnects all of the above. This branded IT product is described as the backbone of e-Estonia and is a centrally managed distributed data exchange layer that operates between information systems.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas fully supports the themes discussed here. Described in other media as “unstuffy” and able to answer questions in English “more fluent than Boris Johnson” to the House of Commons mailing box.

While Johnson is known for his obscure obscurities and occasional lapses in Latin, Kallas enjoys telling people what works, what works, and what is (one of his favorite terms) just “cool.” Kallas hosted the same international tech press delegation as the President during the recent Estonia “Digitally Wild” Electronic Services Presentation and Tour, which brought together various sites and organizations across the capital Tallinn.

Government gamification

A lawyer by training and a former Member of the European Parliament, Kallas is savvy enough to know how people actually react to technology on the streets.

The country runs incentive programs for people to perform tax services, apply for driver’s licenses, and engage with other state-run services. Non-digital people can walk into an office and stand in line, but it usually takes longer and costs more. So, is it the gamification of government services?

Kallas quotes a book called “Why grow up?” written by Susan Neiman and suggests that no one should actually be able to decide which aspects of our adult life should be subjected to traditionally “adult” behavior. She says if people have a positive experience with any aspect of life, then it’s usually always a good thing.

“I firmly believe that you should always strengthen your strengths rather than overcome your weaknesses – because your weaknesses will always be your weaknesses and someone is always better than you, but your strength can be something that (if you use it ) could make you number one in the world, ”Kallas said.

Agreeing that we could call it a form of gamification if we want to, Kallas says Neiman’s book offers a futuristic take on how the world is changing. She insists that very often we can envision how technology will develop, but not how we humans will use it. For her, if a given technology allows an individual to live their life in a productive and happy way and to be able to “speak to their country” (another of her favorite humanistic terms) about national services in an effective way, it is a strength. and another good. thing.

In order for Estonian computing to attract greater hitting status against the behemoths of Silicon Valley, it may be necessary to start hosting some form of annual tech startup convention or symposium of some sort. Or, in the same way, the country can decide to continue its local development for the foreseeable future and act as its own proof of concept (PoC) showcase.

Regardless, in the post-Covid era with no real-life (IRL) meetings, the Tallinn tech zone had first returned to the table, with appropriate levels of PCR testing and paperwork throughout. long. As we say in Estonian, terviseks!

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