Expert in the field of e-government Hannes ASTOK:
SUCCESS OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION LIES IN STATE-AND- BUSINESS JOINT INVOLVEMENT WITH THIS PROCESS
Currently one of the priority areas in Kazakhstan is the introduction of digital technologies. The country is finalizing the program Digital Kazakhstan designed to speed up a technological renewal. Deputy General Director and Lead E-government Expert of the Estonian E-Governance State Academy Hannes ASTOK talked of his opinion on this process and Estonia’s experience in an interview with Interfax-Kazakhstan.
- Mr. Astok, on the margins of the Astana Economic Forum this year you talked about the impact of digital transformation on the development of the country's economy. What, in your opinion, should be the role of government in the process of digital transformation?
- The role of government should lie in providing favorable conditions for digital transformation and creating an appropriate legislative framework that would facilitate digitization of business and of the society as a whole. Some governments introduce digital signatures or digital identification for themselves, that is, only government agencies can use them, but this, in my opinion, is not quite the right approach.
When the government invests in the development of an open system, everyone wins: citizens, business, and the state itself. I will give an example of Estonia. 15 years ago, the Estonian government introduced a system of electronic identification cards and electronic signatures. These days the country annually produces about 70 million electronic signatures, but only 10% of them are used by the government. The remaining ones are for businesses and citizens.
If we talk about who should be the main driving force in digital transformation, the state or business, then my answer is both. They must cooperate. The best technological ideas come, as a rule, from the commercial sector. The state should understand how to apply these ideas. In addition, services businesses are more intuitive and quick to use - the public sector has much to learn.
- You have been specializing in the development of an information society for a long time, and have been adviser to the Estonian president on this issue. Tell us about the digitalization process in your country, how did the e-Estonia project start?
- Let me start by saying that Estonia is a very small country. We do not have an abundance of natural resources, so it is especially important for us to consider carefully the issues of organizing the activities of the government. For this reason, effective, transparent governing bodies that are responsible for their work are a necessity for us. In turn, increasing the efficiency of the public sector requires the application of digital tools: high-quality databases available for use in various government departments, or, for example, the application of digital identification. Already in the early stages, we realized that the digital transformation process is not cheap, it requires significant financial and human resources for its implementation, so it was important to create an environmental system for the whole society, not just for the government. At the moment, Estonia is one of the leaders in terms of infrastructure: all schools, government institutions and most homes in the country have broadband Internet access, and free high-speed Wi-Fi is already in more than 1,000 public areas.
Digitization of all main databases became the first step towards transformation because digitization is impossible without data. In the first instance, the civil register, the register of commercial companies, the property register, the land cadastre, the register of vehicles were digitized. Secondly, this point is no less significant, which the government put a focus on is the simplification of the process of transmitting information within various structures. Here we follow the "once-only" principle: a citizen or a business provides information only once, and the government's objective is to ensure that this information is not lost and is available to relevant bodies.
The school educational system was one of the first sectors that was subject to digitization, an ambitious objective was set for the government to equip one classroom with computers in each school and provide access to the Internet. Here the state has not miscalculated: over the last 20 years, thanks to this project, we have managed to educate a new generation who knew computers at an early age, skillfully used the Internet, and then educated their parents and grandparents. Later on representatives of this very generation invented Skype.
- How do you assess Kazakhstan's readiness for this process?
- Estonia, having experience of creating an e-government, shares it with international colleagues. Lately, we have been very often visited by specialists from Kazakhstan, who are interested in the results of our transformation project. Obviously, the country is already ready for innovations in the public sector.
- What are the future plans of the Estonian government in the field of digital transformation?
- Our government follows new technologies and, of course, considers them as tools for its further development. For example, quite recently I learned about the project of the Estonian city of Tartu. Several years ago they devised a system that allows for improvements to the process of distributing children to schools. Thanks to the unified database, the city already knows that they have a certain number of children every year, who need to be distributed, the city knows where they live and which school is closest to them. Previously families had to fill out themselves and file an application, but the new system independently offers the city and parents the most optimal option based on the available data. Of course, if the proposed school does not suit parents for some reason, they may ask for a review of the decision, but last year more than 95% of families were satisfied with the selected options. This is not the most complex system, but it simplifies citizens’ lives of and civil servants’ work.
Our current goal is precisely to create a proactive, but "invisible" government. For example, if a citizen's driving license expires, the government can send him a notice in advance and offer to extend it as the government has all necessary information: an updated photo, a health certificate, a signature. We also keep working on the data security problem, it is now extremely important. This is one of those issues, the solution to which the countries must constantly deal with.
- Thank you for the interview!
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