Estonia hosts digital transformation experts from 135 countries

This year’s e-Governance Conference, an annual Estonia-led event that brings together digital transformation makers and experts from around the world, was held virtually; despite the disruption caused by the current coronavirus crisis, a record number of over 1,100 participants from 135 countries had registered for the event.

The 2020 e-Governance Conference, on its sixth year, was held from 18-21 May; the event was entirely digital – from live discussions to seminars. All continents were represented, the highest numbers of participants from outside of Estonia came from Ukraine, Japan, Brazil, Georgia and Canada.

“The event provided participants with a unique opportunity to discuss governments’ current challenges in helping citizens manage their lives and businesses online,” Anu Vahtra-Hellat from the Tallinn-based e-Governance Academy, the organiser of the event, told Estonian World.

The technical operation room of the 2020 e-Governance Conference.

A “now or never” moment

In the opening remarks, the Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, said the coronavirus pandemic had “proved the necessity of digital solutions for each country and each sector”, which “offer relief” when it comes to movement restrictions during a quarantine period.

“Governments should change old rules and legislation to enable the permanent implementation of technologies that have been shown to be efficient during the crisis – for instance, in remote learning, telemedicine and remote work,” Kaljulaid said, highlighting that the focus now must be on development after the crisis. Describing it as a “now or never” moment, the president called to be bold in digital development and not look back.

Kersti Kaljulaid at the 2020 e-Governance Conference.

The Canadian minister of digital government, Joyce Murray, stressed in her presentation the need for openness and cooperation on a new level between countries to combat the pandemic. She described cooperation with Estonia and other digital nations as having been extremely important for Canada to develop open source digital solutions for better informing its citizens and in offering them safe online services.

Protecting the people who dare to take big risks

The main speaker of the conference, the technology trends and business innovation expert, David Rowan, said the coronavirus had warranted the implementation of digital technologies on each level of society and the economy. “For the implementation of change, we need genuine innovation, which is expressed in the way people and workers are treated, what the goal of a project is and how optimally the process of change is set out. It is also expressed in how we protect the people who dare to take big risks to bring forth change,” he stated.

The CIO of the Estonian government, Siim Sikkut, pointed out in the live discussion the need of a certain flexibility towards risk also in the government sector while innovating. “People often ask if Estonia has ever failed in IT. Yes, many times! Most often because we made things too big and complex. It should not be a black-and-white game: either we have a perfect solution or we do not do it at all. We should be acting more like startups – start building something up and the scale,” Sikkut said.

Linnar Viik from the e-Governance Academy added that even when the government is ready to act like a startup, digital transformation does not take place overnight, but step by step, adjusting to unexpected setbacks and practicing innovation in this way. “It is a process of trial and error where resilience, instead, is the key,” he said.

Linnar Viik was one of the few who participated in an actual conference room at the 2020 e-Governance Conference.

The e-Governance Conference has been organised since 2015 in cooperation with the Estonian foreign ministry by the e-Governance Academy – a Tallinn-based consultancy and think tank founded for the creation and transfer of knowledge and best practices concerning e-governance, e-democracy, cyber security and open information societies. 

Cover: This year’s e-Governance Conference, an annual Estonia-led event that brings together digital transformation makers and experts from around the world, was held virtually. Images courtesy of the e-Governance Academy.

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