Exporting public e-services can be complicated, since every country is unique in its legislative and institutional environment. Quite often, a country’s historical and cultural background makes it difficult to accept changes to the existing services. Still, some ideas are just so appealing that they find their way in. We’ll describe five components of Estonian e-society that have managed to cross borders successfully.
Probably the most widespread technology transfer to come from Estonia, m-Parking in simple words is a system that lets drivers to pay for parking using their mobile phones. In Estonia, 90% of parking fees are paid via mobile.
The solution has been re-adopted, copied, replicated and mimicked all over the world (e.g. the US, Canada, Austria, Sweden and Dubai), so it’s become almost impossible to track all the implementations. However, to our knowledge Estonia remains the only country where mobile parking is the prevalent method of payment and is present in all the paid parking areas all over the country.
The solution also known as e-Government is a tool that the Estonian government uses to streamline its cabinet meetings. Besides contributing to the environment by going paperless, the tool actually helps to improve the decision-making process and make better use of the time at the meetings.
How long would you imagine a cabinet meeting lasts? After the implementation of e-Cabinet and agreeing on the process (not an insignificant factor!), the Estonian government has managed to cut the average length of the weekly cabinet meetings from 4–5 hours to just 30–90 minutes.
e-Cabinet has been adopted in Finland, but also in Qatar and Oman — Middle Eastern countries that are looking to define themselves through clever use of technology.
While it’s not one of the most visible solutions for the general public, X-Road is the backbone of Estonia’s information society e-services. The infrastructure that allows linking various e-service databases, both in the public and private sector, is an open solution. Just recently, Estonia’s PM Andrus Ansip called out for neighbouring countries to adopt X-Road as the medium to open the way for cross-border use of e-services.
Currently, Finland is building a central solution similar to X-Road with guidance from the Estonian Information System’s Authority, while Latvia already has an existing comparable system. Perhaps the most thorough implementation of X-Road outside Estonia has been in Azerbaijan; the country is determined to benefit from integrating the different state databases and start offering e-services to their citizens.
Electronic ID or e-ID stands for government-issued identity cards for both online and offline identification. In Estonia, nearly 90% of the country’s residents have them, and they’re being used for various purposes. They serve as travel documents and health insurance cards, but most importantly they enable digital authentication for online banking, digital signatures, i-Voting, picking up e-prescriptions, etc.
Among other countries that have adopted e-ID are Finland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Romania and Spain and many more.
m-ID or Mobile-ID is a service that allows a client to use a mobile phone as a means of electronically identifying. m-ID is directly tied to a person’s e-ID, so their legitimacy is equal. Developed by the oldest mobile operator in Estonia, EMT, it has spread to several countries, including Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Moldova. The latter also received an award for its m-Government at the 18th Annual Global Mobile awards in Barcelona, with the Estonian m-ID solution playing a big part in that.
While Estonia is not the inventor or originator of e-ID, it clearly shows how to use the functionality of the card to its fullest.
5. Runner-up: i-Voting
Right after Hurricane Sandy shook up the election process in the US last year, and some states had to resort to voting via fax machine or e-mail, i-Voting made the papers globally, with Barack Obama saying the current US election system needs to be “fixed”.
Estonia has been using i-Voting since 2005, with the first parliamentary e-elections in the world held in 2007. While opponents have been trying to show i-Voting as something insecure and dangerous, it’s actually a rather robust system and every bit as safe as internet banking or other e-services. Modelled after postal voting, it makes participating in elections possible for people who would otherwise not be able to vote or would write it off as too inconvenient.
We awarded i-Voting the runner-up status since electronic voting experiments have been conducted in around 20 countries in different parts of the world, but mostly via voting machines at polling stations. If there’s important know-how to be exported from Estonia, it is certainly in i-Voting.
How can we facilitate the export of e-services?
A recent analysis of the impact of Estonian e-services also discussed the potential of the services being exported to other countries. It claimed that exporting e-services has significant obstacles in the form of local organizational and institutional environments and suggested that standardizing the ICT platforms internationally could facilitate such technology transfers to other countries.
While four of the five e-services listed in this article are public services, it was actually the one commercial service – m-Parking – that could claim the title of the widest spread service. This shows the potential that lies in exporting unique commercial services, once the public sector joins in promoting them.
If there is one thing that could really help to spread e-services to other countries in Europe and the world, it is a common platform — such as the EU interoperability platform for e-ID. Hopefully Nordic-Baltic cooperation in ICT issues can create viable examples for the rest of the world to draw from.
This article was brought to you in collaboration with e-Estonia.