Digital transformation has little to do with technologies. Mindset is the key - Marten Kaevats, former Estonia's advisor explains in an interview for E15 daily (in Czech) ahead of the AmCham Czech Republic Digitization of Czechia conference in Prague.
Full article is available here:
English version follows
16. Digitization of public administration must go hand in hand with security. Isn’t the excess of digitization a potential threat? How does the Estonia protect the personal data of its residents?
This is a critical question. All of the Estonian systems have been built with high cybersecurity standards from the beginning. This is a ground work anyway. You cannot build a system nowadays if you do not consider cybersecurity. Also, in Estonia, we have had some cases such as in 2007 with first state-wide cyber attacks originating from Russia. This gave us a very good glimpse of what could come and how can we protect ourselves. Since then, we have opened a NATO cyber defense center in Estonia which basically does cyber security exercises and develops cyber security for the whole of NATO in Estonia. Cybersecurity is above all a day-to-day practice, meaning that digital hygiene of the citizens must be at a high level.
17. How does Estonia protect the personal data of its residents?
Every citizen themselves needs to know how to keep their own data secure. In Estonia, the government is doing a lot in order to keep personal data secure. I mentioned it before that Estonia uses blockchain throughout the ecosystem meaning every critical information system‘s log file is blockchained. This gives us also a very good overview of cybersecurity and the usage of personal data throughout the ecosystem. If somebody who is not supposed to, looks at the data, somebody changes the data, who is not supposed to then there are different automatic systems on how to prevent that. Estonia approaches cybersecurity via architecture, via distributed architecture, meaning that in Estonia we never put all eggs into one basket, but will distribute them around and this data exchange system is called X road. All of the personal data of a citizen is distributed among something like 250 information systems, servers and databases all across the ecosystem. So, if I am a malicious attacker and want to get hands on my personal data for example, then I would have to attack those 250 systems simultaneously.
18. One of the current topics in Europe is the use of artificial intelligence to automate the administrative process. This is also your specialty. How far did you get in Estonia?
I am the initiator of the Estonian AI strategy, policy, and law and currently Estonia has roughly about 120 different narrow AI use cases in the public sector meaning there are different bots within the public process doing different tasks. We already see that AI can help a lot with actually making the public sector much more efficient. A very good example is that Estonia is getting some EU funds to keep grasslands in the nature clean and healthy in an ecological way. Previously, the inspector would have to go to the spot and see if the farmer cleaned the land or not and get the support, but nowadays we use satellite image and the AI to actually see if farmers have done what they are supposed to. This is a good example of the efficiency, because the system deployment cost Estonia about 200,000 euros and in the first year when the system was deployed, it has already saved Estonian government roughly 600,000 euros. Again, there are 120 of these types of examples of how AI can help within the public sector.
19. The future officials will not be needed?
A project in Estonia which is gaining momentum is our Bureaucrat program - our next generation digital government architecture approach. Bureaucrat is basically your personalized digital assistant that will do all the bureaucratic mambo jumbo for you. Bots in a combined effort automate all bureaucratic procedures. I am pretty sure that Estonia can automate 90-95% of all bureaucratic routines within the next 10 years. So, if we can imagine a government without any bureaucracy then there is a potential to do so. What is really good about the AI projects is that you can start small and with low investment: Estonia is starting with projects worth 10-50 000 euros to deploy a proof of concept. These AI projects are not expensive. The main issue is that public servants should ask the right questions and try to find very pragmatic and practical solutions.
20. You are going to Prague for The Digitization of Czechia conference. Alongside you, Ivan Bartoš, the Czech Minister for Regional Development, will be speaking there, and he is also responsible for the digitization of construction management. Are building permits in Estonia applied for exclusively electronically?
A very specific question. Building construction is one of the most inert industries in a society, all of these projects usually used to come with these very large paper systems. We have digitalized our building permit registry, I think one and a half years ago and since then all of these processes for construction management have been completely digitalized. To be more precise – if all is done „exclusively electronically“? – the answer to this is that in Estonia, everything also can be done in paper, but because the digital process being so much more efficient, people tend to use digital means. People file their building permits digitally, because it is much easier for them than taking all papers to the office.
21. One of the topics of the conference is the government's support for the digitization of business. How can governments support entrepreneurs in the field of digitization?
This is a tough question also in Estonia. I think the first thing is having in place some of the fundamental processes such as electronic signature, filing of different permits in the digital way so that the entrepreneur does not need to stand in lines and work in the heavy corridors of bureaucracy. In Estonia, the issue is that more traditional sectors of business such as forestry, is not as digitalized as it could be and our government is working a lot to digitalize these more traditional industries. So the governments need to digitalize processes that are crucial for them, for example the digital signature, used by everybody throughout the society, but when this is done it is important not to create obstacles, not to come up with some strange bureaucratic loopholes that different entrepreneurs need to follow and also, I think that government can help with the ease of doing business. For example, Estonia ranks first in the Doing Business index, our business environment is very competitive thanks to the digitalization of these government processes. Through the ease of doing business and with the use of e-residency as well, the number of entrepreneurs who are coming, taking advantage of this ecosystem has been growing, day by day. These ecosystems are made both by Estonians and foreigners. So, governments can do a lot to help businesses to evolve, but it is mainly about fixing some of the very basic things. This also revolves around investment in education and R&D at universities etc. Also, good quality urban space is becoming more and more important, because as start-ups are growing bigger, they need employees and employees are coming to those places that also offer a nice living environment.