Estonia: a Forerunner in Digitalization

To begin with, we, as a part of today’s society, live in a world that is constantly changing. And, generally speaking, 21st century is often referred to as the information age or the era of technology. In fact, this is the time when, more than ever, all kinds of digital technologies are being integrated into everyday life. To emphasize, digitalization affects everything that can be digitized therefore making us more and more dependent on technology. Can you imagine the present age without digital technologies and innovations? Having said that, let’s explore the situation in the European Union (EU).

As reported by Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2017 rankings, countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have the most advanced digital economies in the EU. Namely, digital economy refers to an economy that is based on digital computing technologies and is possible through the process of digitalization. It is also swiftly developing all over the world, therefore constantly changing the world as we know it today. In addition, DESI is used to track the progression of EU member states in digital competitiveness through five linking components: connectivity, human capital, use of the internet, integration of digital technology, digital public services.

Accordingly, the most recent statistic indicates that in DESI rankings Estonia places in the ninth position overall. As shown in the picture below, Estonia falls behind the Nordic countries mentioned before, as well as other European countries such as the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium, United Kingdom and Ireland. However, the data also reveals us that Estonia is the leading country in the EU in the online provision of digital public services where the focus is mainly based on eGovernment (short for an electronic government). This feature is used to measure the success and development of such things as digitization and modernization of public services which, in particular, can lead to effectiveness both for the public administrations and citizens. As a result, a country with only 1.3 million inhabitants is a close rival to its Nordic neighbors. So, what is the story behind the success of Estonia?

Picture 1: Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2017 ranking

As we can see in a study on eGovernment services in the EU 2016, online public services these days are becoming more and more accessible across Europe. To illustrate, 81% of data nowadays is digitalized or, in other words, available online. One of the key elements of Estonia’s success, for instance, is the creation e-Estonia. It is an extensive movement by the Estonian government which goal is to combine various citizen interactions with the state using numerous electronic solutions such as e-Residency, e-School, e-Tax, i-Voting and many others. Under these circumstances, over the past few years, Estonia has received worldwide recognition as a digital society and is often considered as one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world.

Thus, by using various components of Estonia’s integrated e-services, Estonia has become a better functioning state by helping its citizens to save a great amount of time and energy in everyday life. For instance, citizens of Estonia don’t have to worry about spending hours in a queue while waiting for a doctor or to participate in voting. Instead, a prescription for medicine can be acquired online; the same as participating in elections is possible online, regardless of your whereabouts. All you have to do is verify your identity using an ID card.

Furthermore, authorities in Estonia have spent many years trying to figure out the best way for securely exchanging important data. As the years went by, in 2014 Estonia shocked the world by being the first country to offer e-Residency. It is a transnational identity available to anyone, despite their location. As cited in homepage, e-Residency offers to every world citizen a government-issued digital identity and the opportunity to run a trusted company online, unleashing the world’s entrepreneurial potential.

In addition, X-Road is the most crucial tool or, in other words, core for making integrated e-services in Estonia possible. It was designed already back in 2001, and ever since then has been constantly improved. To clarify, X-Road is a crucial connection between diverse databases, therefore, making all kinds of data easily accessible by the authorities that are authorized to use it. In fact, sharing data between countries, not only locally, nowadays is gradually becoming more and more possible. For instance, Estonia and Finland are linking their electronic health records.

Picture 2: X-Road connecting numerous databases

Last but not least, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, believes that Estonia has one of the most transparent and cleanest governments in the world. As a result, people’s trust in Estonian government is at a high level, and Estonia is attracting many entrepreneurs from all over the world. Until now, nearly 6000 e-Residency cards have been issued to people in 119 different countries. Taking everything into account, the statistic about the success of Estonia speaks for itself, making us wonder how significant role in the era of technology Estonia will play in the following years.


DESI                    Digital Economy                   eGovernment                              e-Residency