Language selection


CSPS Virtual Café Series: Estonia and the Art of the Possible in Digital Government (TRN5-V31)


This event recording presents an overview and demonstration of Estonia's approach to digital government through a conversation with Anett Numa, Digital Transformation Adviser at the e-Estonia Briefing Centre.

Duration: 01:03:31
Published: March 21, 2022
Type: Video

Event: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Estonia and the Art of the Possible in Digital Government

Now playing

CSPS Virtual Café Series: Estonia and the Art of the Possible in Digital Government

Transcript | Watch on YouTube


Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Estonia and the Art of the Possible in Digital Government

[The CSPS virtual café series logo appears on screen.]

[A video chat appears with Taki Sarantakis in his home office.]

Taki Sarantakis, Canada School of Public Service: Welcome to the CSPS Virtual Cafe, where we introduce public servants to interesting ideas and interesting conversations. Today we have a real treat for you. Today we are going to explore the world's digital leader in the public sector. And it's not Canada, it's not the United States. It is a small little country called Estonia, that you've heard about, largely, probably because it's digital. And it's about 1.3 million people, and they've done something remarkable. They've fast forward it into the future, all the things that a lot of countries talk about: the need to be online, they need to be in real time. They need to give their citizens seamless, touchless service, efficient, effective-- they've already done it, and they've done it a few years ago.

[Anett Numa’s panel joins Taki's.]

So, today we are joined by Anett Numa from the e-Estonia Briefing Centre, and she's going to do two things for us. The first is, she's going to walk us through a presentation on where Estonia is, how they got there, what they can do, what the philosophy is. But then second is, she's actually going to show us what they do, that- she's going to show us their platform. She's going to show us how the State interacts with its citizens. So, in a sense, today you're going to see a little bit of the future, and you're going to see what best in class looks like, and you're going to see what a lot of countries are aspiring to do. So, with that, I'll turn it over to Anett Numa. Anett Numa, good afternoon.

Anett Numa: Good afternoon also to you guys, and then I'm so happy to join you this morning for you, I guess. And I'm very excited to bring the future to you today.

Taki Sarantakis: Wonderful. So over to you.

[Anett Numa's video panel and slide show fill the screen. The first panel reads "enter e-Estonia: the coolest digital society."]

Anett Numa: Great. I'm going to share my screen with you as well so that you could also see my slides. Thanks for having me here today. And then really, I'm happy to introduce you to the future that Estonia has already built more than 20 years ago. And yes, you heard me correct, more than 20 years ago since Estonia already started with its own digitization process. So, my job itself is to especially consult different other government agencies to guide them through the process of the lessons, experiences, our success stories of building a decent story. And hopefully also this presentation will give you a little bit more overview how Estonia has been building its own society by using technology and providing the best customer experience to all of our citizens as well here.

[The slide changes. The title reads "information society indicators." Below a set of icons, facts read:

  • Entire country is covered with a broadband connection
  • 99% of state services are online
  • 98% of the population has an ID card
  • 1st country to use blockchain on a national level
  • 5 days and 2% of GDP per year is saved with digital signatures
  • 46% of participating voters use I-Voting]

So, I would first start with covering a little bit historical background and the needs of using technology on a national level, so that you would understand how did we start this process already since the early '90s? So first of all, if you think about Estonia back in 1981, when we restored our independence, we were definitely completely a different country when comparing this today. So, there were three major problems that I would want everybody to remember that actually pushed us to start using technology on a national level. And these three major problems were having a very high level of corruption in the State, having no trust between the government agencies, and, of course, our citizen side. And as a third point here, we also had a very, very bureaucratical system and very low budget. And when we think about bureaucratical system, then it is very expensive to have bureaucracy in your state. And this really, really much also influence our budget, which was very low back in 1981, when, again, we were free after way too many years of being under the control of another country.

So, definitely when we think about these three major problems, we realized since early days that if we're not going to deal with them, and if we're not going to find different solutions to get over these problems, then nothing is going to change in Estonia and people will be still very- never satisfied in a way, and we're going to have a lot of problems. And even bigger ones that we had before. So, the government that was very risk-averse at that time, and also pretty young, I would say-- or prime minister when he was in his thirties that time. They had some kind of, like, an I.T. background already. So that they were saying, "But what about if we start using technology to make everything much more transparent in our state?" And secondly, also lower that bureaucracy level by making things working a little bit more easier and automated by having technology supporting us in these processes. And then, of course, also, if things are more transparent, then you can also get rid of corruption because it's much more easier to kind of figure it out what's happening, or if anybody is having kind of sketchy schemes as well there.

So, when we started already with the first decision in 1984, which was signed by the Parliament. So again, it's already 27 years ago. By that time, very few people had an idea what technology is about and how we could use that. I'm just giving you a couple of examples here, so only a few thousand people in Estonia had mobile phones back in that time, in 1984, when the government or the parliament already decided that this is going to be the strategy to start using technology in order to provide efficient services. In fact, we advised here in Estonia, also the other governments, we always say don't ever start with just providing and building, very fancy, complex and difficult services for your people that seems to be very fancy and great to advertise, in a way. What you should start with is always, first of all, covering the entire state with a proper internet connection, so then infrastructure needs to be there in first place. Now, when we jump over, when there is a good internet connection already provided to everybody, then we can also jump to the second very essential thing, which is having a proper education. And when I speak about education, I do not only mean that you need to provide education to your professional workers in the public sector who have to deal with these platforms by themself, which is extremely important too. But I mean everybody to be fully inclusive, which means providing education to the elderly, providing education to very young students in high school already. And why not even the kindergarten, if think about the today's kids as well? And then, of course, to everybody who are lacking of knowledge. So that's what we did since very early days by providing different kind of initiatives to everybody.

So, there was an initiative called "Look at words," which was especially meant for the elderly people, and 10% of our entire population was participating in this course. And of course, also we started providing computer education for free to students in high school and university, so that they would really have an awareness. And when we compare this today, and if I would think about if it would start today, then of course, the education that we provided back in 20 years wouldn't be the same as today, because everybody that they can wake up in the middle of the night and create the PowerPoint or know how things work on that level. Today we need more education when it comes to your privacy, data protection, cyber security, and all this kind of thing. So, this is definitely also important to remember here.

So, when there is two things in place already by the infrastructure having appropriate education and then also access to internet to everybody, then we have to move over to the way that people could also use the services. And by using the services, they have to be able to identify themselves in the most secure way. And that's why, in the year 2002, Estonia also introduced its identity cards, which are compulsory documents to absolutely every single citizen that lives here. If anybody of you there in Canada is thinking of moving to Estonia at one point, then if you stay here longer than two or three months, then you will get one card, too, so that you could also use our online services. So, these this kind of identity cards, as I said, is compulsory, and this is the best decision we could make, because there was another country next to Estonia that already had an identity card before we did. We're kind of like, I always say, we kind of copied the idea off them, but they didn't make this card compulsory. So, in this other country today, there is only 40% of people have the cards, and the number here is 98%. Just compare them: 98 or 40. And if you only have 40% of your people who have identity card and are using online services, that automatically means to the state that you need to have published information, both in paper and also online, at the same time, it's expensive and requires huge security risk, too, because you need to manage two systems at the same time. And I don't wish that to anybody. So, sometimes very strict political decisions can really shape your future. And I'm so thankful that our decision makers back in that time pushed this though, and this is a compulsory card today, which we can, of course, also use for many other reason than just identifying ourself by using the government the services. We can use this card for a loyalty card in shops, travel with this card. This is our driving license. We get access to our medicals with this card, and our bank banking sector is accessible with this identity card. So, there is plenty of reasons for that.

But where we have arrived today by having this infrastructure in place is that we have today 99% of our government, the services already functioning fully online, which means that there is only two things that are still remaining on paper. And these two things are getting married and getting divorced. That's about it. That's all we have on paper today. Also, by the time of the pandemic, we changed one of the services that was also working on paper before 2020. And this was when you wanted to buy yourself a property, as an apartment or a house. And think about, the notary offices were pretty much closed, and people were afraid to go to people who were stuck somewhere in another country when they wanted to do some transactions also, and an invest to the real estate markets. So, we changed that too, and now we can also like sign the notary agreements by doing that fully remotely. So, we want to provide this kind of flexibility to people. So besides having all the services online, we also have to make sure that everything is functioning very well and securely. And that's why Estonia is the first country in the world who started using blockchain at a national level. And if anybody is thinking that this has something to do with Bitcoin or cryptocurrency, then I have to say no. This is a KSI Blockchain system that just provides us the integrity of our data. And if there is any politician listening to us, or somebody who has to really gain some kind of support from the citizen side, or sell the idea of building online services, then I got some great numbers for you as well to share. So, we can sign all of our documents online when we when we want to provide our online signature. And just by using online signature, every single citizen here in Estonia saves around five days per year. Five days per year; think about this. It's like extra week of vacation you can have. You can travel somewhere. Lake Moraine in Canada, which is one of my favourite places I really want to go to. I could fly there because I can save these five days, and this is incredible.

By the government side, we actually save 2% of GDP every year. And to make a comparison, 2% of GDP... in Estonia, that is money we spend on our defence and security sector. Which one is more important to collect the signatures in paper, or to really save that money to have a national security? So, I think the second one. And when I started talking about the trust between government agencies and citizens, then definitely also one of the proofs that we have this today, is that in the past 16 years we have been also voting online whenever we have elections. And last time we had elections, there was 46% of people who already voted by using the online method. We're going to have new local elections happening now in October, and I'm expecting this number to be at least 10% larger than the previous time. So, we're on 55%, at least. So, we'll see what we choose, but really, when people are able to vote online and they are willing to do that, then that shows how much trust do they have towards the State as well.    

[The slide changes. Its title is "three pillars: the safest combination to information security." Three boxes below it read:

  • Confidentiality, e-identification: ID-Card, mobile-ID, Smart-ID, e-residency card
  • Availability: The X-road
  • Integrity: KSI blockchain, Cyber Command, Data Embassy]

And now to go into this next slide here. If there is anybody who would ever happen to, let's say, get stuck in an elevator with a friend or with a colleague who is asking you that "Can you explain me in 2-5 minutes, how Estonian information security and the Data State has been built?" And I would gladly ask everybody to think about Estonia as a very big manor, or a house. A house that has three pillars, very beautiful, three pillars in place. And when we go and destroy one of the pillars, then what would happen with the house? It would either collapse, or it could be a huge loss of balance, a state which would start... kind of like... shaking in a way. And that's the same case when we would take any of these three pillars away from our combination of information security. So, these three things 100% always have to be in place. Talking about Confidentiality, Availability and Integrity of data.

Confidentiality, which I partly talked about, we are providing identity cards, mobile I.D., smart I.D. and the residence cards to all of our citizens so that they can use that to provide confidentially their identity as well by using services. And then the second thing here is availability. If anybody thinks that in Estonia, there is a huge, large server a place where everybody could go and get their information, and there is clouds, there is no such thing. We have a fully decentralized and distributed system. So that we have one [indistinct] approach where we store information only in one part of the information, only in one registry. So, there was no duplicated information, but sometimes still, different registries need information from each other to make decisions. And that's why we are using a data exchange platform called the X-Road. And over this X-Road system, we exchange information between different public institutions. And of course, this helps us to save a lot of time because 97% of the cases, these transactions between different governmental agencies, and of course, those of private businesses that are part of the X-Road, are automated, so it takes just, like, few seconds. And that's about it, not just somebody creating an email or making the call to another institution and asking about the information. But we need to have, like, the latest information available, and this is why we need the X-Road system that helps us to really quickly and securely exchange information. And of course, every single time we exchange information, our information is time stamped and encrypted, so it's done in a very, very safe manner.

And now the integrity of data. Blockchain I partly already covered. So, to provide the integrity of data, Estonia also has Cyber Command, which in the most simple words, is like our cyber forces. Not just armed forces, but cyber forces who are protecting us from these kind of huge cyber attacks. And then, of course, also as a small nation, we have to have back up plans, and also considering our historical background. So, a backup plan is very much needed because we can never be sure what will happen in the future with our information, fires in our data bases or servers or whatever storms happening in Estonia. So that's why we wanted to have a backup storage of our information. And that's why Estonia created also a thing called Data Embassy. Our Data Embassy today is based in Luxembourg. And if you are asking why Luxembourg and what do we have exactly there, we have backed up 10 of our most important registries to Luxembourg servers. So that's likely to go, when we submit information over here, then it goes all the way also to Luxembourg servers. There's a server room there, and the reason why we chose Luxembourg is actually because- I would ask, do you know anybody who has bad relations with Luxembourg?

So politically, they are very independent country, and that's why we can trust them. We have had a very good relations with Luxembourg since very early days of our independence, and even before that. And then, of course, also they have the infrastructure. No wonder why European banks and courts are based there. And of course, also experience too, to really provide us this kind of solution. But still, the embassy, even the Data Embassy, belongs to Estonia by the Vienna Convention, and nobody who is not Estonian citizen could enter the room even if there is a fire in the building at that time. So once again, if you're still stuck in an elevator think about this: it's a manor with three pillars: Confidentiality, Availability and Integrity, and they don't take any of these pillars away. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a very bad story. So stay, and we stuck with them.

[The slide changes. It's titled: "Essential: clear and honest principles." Bullet points below read:

  • professional development and trainings
  • access to computers and internet for everybody
  • all individuals own their personal data
  • short and simple principle
  • once-only principle
  • citizen-centric approach]

And now, can you talk about also maybe what is essential when you really want to build a state that is clear and honest and has this kind of principle? Then of course, since very early days we have been providing these professional developments and training to our people who work in public sector, because obviously they didn't have the skills before. So that's why from the state side, you will have to educate them enough regarding cybersecurity or just again how to use services and how to provide these kinds of solutions and operate on a computer. But using these online methods as well. Then the other principle that is essential as well here is that there has to be access to computers and internet to absolutely everybody. Otherwise, that's not going to be fair if just, like, one part of your society is able to access some of the services. So, definitely this is important. And when we speak about the families, then 99% of our families who have kids have also access to their computers and internet today. Of course, by the general numbers, there is still some elderly people who might not have that, but access to computers and internet in public places such as libraries or local governmental buildings are for free. We still can't afford to have that, but it still means it has to be accessible to every single person in your State.

And then, of course, also when we talk about personal data, it becomes more and more essential data privacy protection and so on. This is the most commonly discussed topic in Estonia, and I'm pretty sure also in Canada. So, one thing is also clear here, that all individuals own their personal data. The data does not belong to any state information authorities or institution. It belongs to every single citizen themselves. The state is just helping us to store our information. And by saying that I mean when different government agencies are storing and exchanging our information-- and I will get to know about this when let's say Tax and Customs Board has been asking for my home address from Population Registry. We have this data tracker, and we have an overview of who and for what reason have been using my personal information. And this is how you provide transparency, build a trust and show the people that their data belongs to them, not to us. So, the power over their information and is in their hands, not in our hands, in the government sector.

Then of course, when we talk about building online services, the other thing that is clear is that do not ever design anything to be too difficult. Because government services provided by the State are going to be used by people who are 16 years old and people who are 85. So, their literacy when it comes to digitalization is completely different. And it's up to every government to design services that are short and simple and understandable to everybody. Don't do anything too fancy because you're going to confuse people, and this is what nobody wants. And then, of course, Once-Only Principle that has made our life easier, and it's one of my favorite principles. As I mentioned before, my home address here in Estonia is only stored in one single registry, and this is called Population Registry. So, there is no duplication, and if I need to change my home address, I only need to update this in Population Registry, not in any other institution. And once again, our people can save time by having their information only in one point, and when they need to update, they don't need to think about like, "Oh, I have to take my phone, I have to call this institution, then the other institution and be like, "Oh, do you guys know I've moved?" No, it's not necessary. Update that once and this is it. And if anybody else wants to know about this information who has a right to ask this information, then they have to go and ask this from the specific institution who store this information. So, that's the Once-Only policy. And again, the security perspective, it's also much safer if there's no duplicated information in different registries; only in one single one.

And every time we design services, then we have an approach called Citizen Centric. You always have to put your citizens in the center because they are going to be your customers. I know that calling your citizens customers, maybe it does not sound good, but I would put this in a positive way. They are the customers that can be demanding, and it's our responsibility in the state sector that the really deliver the best customer experience for everybody. And I really, really, really mean that, because if they have a positive experience by using online services, they're always coming back and never going to go doing things in the previous ways anymore. So that's why they need to have a positive feeling every time that they use the services. So, these kind of principles are so essential and think about them before you start developing anything.

[The slide changes. It's titled "Estonishing Future: seamless e-services available 24/7." Below, bullet points read:

  • proactive government
  • AI in government services
  • cross border digital governance collaborations]

And know let's talk about the future, too, because obviously it doesn't mean that if today everything is functioning online- besides getting married, of course- then that we can just relax and go on a vacation on this beautiful lake here in the photo that looks like a beautiful heart. We can't because we still have a lot of work to do. And by saying a lot of work to do is that we want to take our services even on a higher level, meaning that all the services should be seamless and available 24/7. That's why Estonia is currently building proactive governmental services to provide people benefits and access to services even before they can think about the services themselves. They are providing, for example, family benefits for families who have newborn babies. And when the baby's birth has been registered by a doctor, then automatically the system itself will send a message to the parents' email saying, "Congratulations in your newborn baby. And please provide us your bank account so that we could transfer you the money on your account, and you can choose which one of the parents is going to stay at home with the kid." -without having to ask for that! And I believe, I am pretty sure some of you also have young kids, and those first days with your new baby are so special. You don't want to go to public institutions, waste your time there in the queue and ask for the benefits. The state can offer these things for you by just collecting data. And then for the retirement, money as well. So, if you retire by the age of 65, and also half a year before, the state is sending you an email just reminding you that "Hey, you can stay at home now... in half a year. But if you don't- if you want to, then please provide us already your bank account so that we could transfer you the money. If you don't want, let us know and you can continue working, and we can postpone your retirement money, too." There's going to be plenty of new services, also working proactive. So, all these kind of- like the business benefits and so on. So, we really want to make that work in a way so that people could get access to things that they might not even be aware of, that they could get access to.

And then, of course, A.I. will be something essential in the future. First of all, we replace 50 public services by A.I. Technology just last year. And we will continue to replace them also this year in different sectors- mobility courts, medical sector, e-school systems and so on. So, s many, many things will be replaced, and then we can make things work more automated, and get rid of these manual things.

We will also do a lot of cross-border governance projects with other governments that are digital and have these online services. For example, by our Identity Card, we can get access to our medicals inside of Estonia today. But also, as we have a cross-border project with Finland, Croatia and Portugal, then I can also travel there to go to the beautiful city of Lisbon, or in Croatia somewhere- like there is plenty of beautiful, again, villages there that I could travel to, and I can go there to the pharmacy, hand over my Estonian Identity Card, and get access to my medicals. And we are very much counting on you also in Canada so that one day if you have this system ready, so that we could connect them, and either Canadians would travel to Estonia, you could get access to your medicals here, or we could get access to our medical also in Canada. Because, again, that would save so much time and money for people without having to go do an extra visit to their doctor, ask for the medicals, and sometimes this is a matter of life and death when somebody needs a very fast access to the medicals, too. So definitely something essential also, in the future. Now, to sum up the presentation side before we go to the practical side.

[The slide changes its title reads: "Lessons Learned: be boldest." Bullet points below read:

  • campaigns to raise awareness
  • initiate innovation globally and collaborations
  • transparency works
  • public-private partnership]

So, one thing that I could recommend to you is also spend some money on different kind of campaigns. And too, campaigns on- in a way, these places where people will listen to you. So, if you want to send a message to elderly people, please do enough research to really see which platforms these elderly people are listening to you, or the student side as well. Because during campaigns, you can't do campaigns on only one single media platform for everybody. Our, like, we consume media is so different with age groups. If you want to send a message maybe to the elderly people, we should consider doing campaigns on TV, and really put somebody that they respect to talk about these issues, either the Cybersecurity or just general digital literacy. If you want to talk to the students, ask an Influencer to do some kind of, I don't know, campaigns and really that's just talk in a way that they would listen to that. So, there is methods that we really have to start using by keeping in mind that we really know which platforms to use to talk to people. Then of course, also, we try to initiate also innovation globally to do as much as collaborations with different other governments as well and share our experience that side.

And then of course, also, as I said a thousand times already, transparency works. So that if you want your people continuously to use your services, just make it understandable how these things would work and what's the background, how has their privacy been provided, and so on, so this is extremely important.

And last but not least here, we would never have been so successful when we wouldn't have such a close collaboration between public and private sector. Because all these solutions that Estonia currently uses on a national level are designed and developed by our private companies. We've been very open to work together with private sector, and just few days ago we took an extra step that I'm very also excited to share with you. So, Estonia started a new initiative called Digital Testbed Framework, which means that we opened all of our code. So, like, open source codes, how different kind of solutions have been developed. So, these codes are open source now, and there is a Testbed where everybody from a university, from a start-up or anybody who has an interest or knows how to develop services, can come and redesign co-existing already codes and services, or create something completely new that is going to be used by the state sector. So, you can test them out, how your ideas would work. Develop these things and then you do not have to go to a very difficult procurement process, which can usually stop innovation. But you can super easily just develop solutions to us, and if we feel that there is a potential and we like the solution, and this we really breaks the chains in our society, Estonian government is going to buy this solution from you, going to start using this on a national level, and we will scream your name on the rooftops saying that this person, or this start-up, or this university came up with an idea. And please use it also in other countries, too. And I don't say that we open up for only the Estonian people. The bigger meaning here is to open up the world, so that everybody also from Canada who has the experience to be an I.T. Developer, or just has an idea how to build new services, then come over here, test it. You can register yourself until the 10th of October, and we will be happy to work with you.

[The slide changes. It reads: "Safest and strongest together: let's keep in touch! Sign up to our newsletter and follow us: e-Estonia," Below the text sits Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube logos.]

So, I do hope that with this half an hour you now understand maybe tiny bit better how Estonian government uses technology, and why technology can really make an impact for the entire society, make you closer to the people, put a little bit more hassle-free access to services, and again, just build a better future.

[The screen share ends and Taki Sarantakis returns to the screen.]

Taki Sarantakis: Thanks, Anett Numa. That's incredible. So, we'll give you a moment to catch your breath. We'll give you a moment to load up the platform. I just want to highlight a few things for people before we actually go to the showing part of the show and tell. Because telling people something is one thing, showing them something is something else entirely. And a few things that Anett Numa has said, I really want to hammer home for people so that they really kind of internalize it in their bones.

First, she said that 2% of GDP has been saved through, kind of, the digitalization, the efficiency, the effectiveness of the interactions with the State. Stop and think about that for a moment. The United States of America spends billions of dollars on defence every year, and that's about 2% of their GDP. We don't quite spend 2% of our GDP, but all of our defence spending together, if we could kind of save that amount of money through just the economic calculus, that's incredible.

Number two, forget- parking the economics, think of some of the things that Anett Numa has said. Like, you have a child, and instead of, kind of, spending your time registering your child, going to this department, to that department, to the provincial this, to the federal that. Just get an email that says, "Just kind of tell us your bank account number and your child's name, and we'll take care of everything else." Anett Numa said that when you move, you just tell one entity that you've moved, and think of how many different departments in the Government of Canada kind of think they know where you live. Whether it's your boating license at Transport Canada, or your student loan at ESDC, or something at Labour Canada, or something at ISED with your kind of your federally incorporated business. And that's just on the federal side. And then provinces, you've got in Ontario, your driver's license is somewhere, your health care is somewhere else. Your health care records are in a third place. And think of, kind of, just the fact that you could once say, you know, "I've moved. I've moved from 27 Smith St. to 36 Mary St." And all of a sudden, all governments know that. You don't have to change, you know, you don't have to contact, you know, all these entities. In addition to that, your private sector people know this too. The, you know, your Bell or your Fibe or your Rogers or your Telus, your phone providers, your cable, your gas, your electric. All of these things get done seamlessly, so that you can go on with the rest of your life.

 And the last thing I'll hit before we go into the demonstration, a lot of what Anett Numa was saying sounds very simple, and you know why? It is very simple. It's in the execution where it matters. If you talk to Warren Buffett and you say, you know, "How are you so rich?" He'll tell you! It's not a big secret, but it's in the execution that matters. If you talk to Jeff Bezos and you say, "How is your company so efficient? How is your company--" He'll tell you. It's not in the telling, it's in the actual doing. So, the last thing I want to highlight is leadership. Anett Numa talked about leadership kind of on the political side, on the public service side. It's really about taking these things seriously, and just executing them. It's not rocket science. It's not splitting the atom. They don't have a secret sauce, technologically, that that we don't have. All the tech that they have, we have access to. And it's just a matter of actually executing on the vision. So now let's load up the platform, Anett Numa, and we'll actually get to see if you're lying to us, or if the things that you were telling us are true.

[Anett Numa's panel rejoins, and she shares her screen. On her screen, a web browser shows the home page for an Estonian government portal.]

Anett Numa: I'm very bad at lying, so... So here is [indistinct] here, how things work. So, this is where the all the action happens. We luckily have the page also in English. So, for also foreigners. So, we can log here into the system.

[She navigates to a log-in page with multiple ID options.]

And by using, again, different methods that I that up before. Either your I.D. card, mobile I.D., smart I.D., or your EU I.D., I would decide to use my mobile I.D.  which I need my personal code, which is my unique number given to me when I was born already, and then my phone number. In a second now, I receive notification on my phone that says my SIM has played a tone. I accept this.

[Anett Numa shows her phone as notifications pop up.]

There is a code [indistinct] on the screen, 562 and 4. We have the same code also here on my phone. I will also accept that here, and now the system says please to add your pin number one, which I know by my heart. So- but a secure number, as I said, not going to share that with anybody. So, we should be online now in a very quick second.

[Anett Numa's login page changes to a dashboard with Estonian text.]

And as soon as we have identified ourselves, so I will again change my language back to English so that everybody would understand.

[the dashboard converts to English.]

On the main Dashboard here, first of all-

Taki Sarantakis: And just again, Anett Numa, in this part, I'm going to be bugging you a lot because I'm going to be kind of going where a skeptical Canadian would go. And so, when that when I'm poking you, it'll be in the sense of letting you show why my skepticism is unwarranted. So, this is kind of familiar to people in the sense of we do this every day with our banks. Every day we log on to the Royal or the Bank of Montreal, or wherever you happen to bank. And this isn't something that we don't have experience with as citizens, but it is something that we don't really have experience with vis-à-vis government, regardless of whether it's the federal government or provincial governments. And look at this platform: look at how clean it is. Look at how easy it looks. Look at how logical. Anett Numa talked about simplicity during her presentation. Anett Numa talked about how you have to be able to service the 16-year-old to the 85-year-old and everybody in between. This does not look like a government platform that we know. Our platforms aren't this clean. They're not this this quick. And she's talking to us from Estonia, and do you see how quickly everything is working. So, tell us a little bit what's on the left, Anett Numa?

[As Anett Numa speaks on the left side navigation bar, she clicks through, showing the different pages and options.]

Anett Numa: Yeah. So, on the left again, we have plenty of things here. There is also in your state mailbox where you can check your messages, if there is anything sent from the government side to you. It's also linked to your personal email so we will also receive emails from the state all the way to our personal email accounts. So, there is personal data that I can also see right over here about myself, me and my family. We see a lot of things here-

Taki Sarantakis: We're going to stop. We're going to stop because this is incredible. So, let's go back.

Anett Numa: Yeah, yeah.

Taki Sarantakis: So, you go a personal. Okay, so a little bit higher. So, you've got your health in there. You've got Support, you've got Education, and you've got Traffic and Vehicles and you've got Real Estate.

Anett Numa: Yeah, there is. There's plenty of things as well here. Yes.

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. So, let's look at some of them. So, your driver's license.

Anett Numa: I have to say I do not have one.

[Anett Numa giggles.]

Taki Sarantakis: You don't drive? All right. So, if Anett Numa drove, that would be her driver's license. I assume you don't have a car because you don't drive.

Anett Numa: That's correct, too, yes. Well, the international life has got me stuck a little bit. But anyway, there is plenty of things here, even when they go under the Real Estate side here. We can see also what kind of real Estate do you have. Like there is, there's plenty of things that we can submit material and see from this side too.

Taki Sarantakis: Can we go on Education?

Anett Numa: We can go under Education, yes. We look at data from the language groups and exams here, the e-certificate here.  Maybe check that one over here. So, we should be able to see my...

[Anett Numa's educations page loads in Estonian, showing school names, dates and other info from her educational history.]

Yes, if you go all the way here, we see all my degrees starting from 2001, since I went to high school, and all these kind of different school levels here. And then my last university studies, in the University of Tartu as well. My master's degree.

Taki Sarantakis: If I'm an employer, can I see this? Do I ask you? how does it work? You're applying for a job with me.

Anett Numa: Yeah. Well, I can send it to you. Obviously, if you apply for the public institution again, like if they need to know exactly if you have this degree, then you can just easily send and then select an email access. This goes by, again, like, I signed, so it's already signed by the institution, which means we don't have to go and ask this specific minister of Education and Research to give us a diploma or to scan it to send it to somebody like, that way. So, we just click on that here. It goes all the way through the email you want to, and you can prove which degree you have also.

Taki Sarantakis: Right. So, I'm just going to pause you here, Anett Numa. Even just employees in the government of Canada, generally speaking, when you apply for a job even within the government of Canada, you have to keep showing your degree all the time. And here it's just a matter of, "Oh, here you go, click." It's done and it's authentic. It's secure. But let's say, you know, you work in the Department of Land, and you're applying to the Department of Air, and I want to see it. Can I see it without your permission?

Anett Numa: Do you mean if I want to apply for like working somewhere?

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, if you're applying for a job, can I, without you giving permission, can I look at your degree?

Anett Numa: It depends very much which positions we are talking about. So, sometimes if you applied to somewhere, then they already say that by like "applying for this position, we are able to ask your degree from this specific institution as well." But in some of the places, it's not allowed to do so. I know that they're also known of the private companies can just easily access your degree level, so that's not quite impossible because of the privacy side as well.

Taki Sarantakis: Right, so you said earlier that, kind of, everybody owns their own data, so you are in control of the data.

Anett Numa: I am. And then again, it's just like if somebody wants to access this information, then at least they don't ask permission, but they will let me know that if you do this, specific thing, then we are able to access this part of your information. So, we're still kind of informed before. I also know, like, maybe a better example regarding the educational diplomas was when I bought myself an apartment and we have a special thing here in Estonia that usually you have to make a down payment for your apartment or a house, which is 20% of the entire like, cost of the apartment. But for students who have a master's degree, so they only have to pay 10% of the down payment. And when I apply for the loan to the bank, then they didn't ask me to send my university diploma, and I said I have a master's degree, and by just doing one click there, I said, I allow you to access from the Minister for Education and Research my university degree too, so that he could get the proof that I actually have a degree.

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And look at that now again, for the audience, once you've kind of had connectivity of data and secure data, now you can start doing public policy efficiently, like Anett Numa just mentioned. Which is like, you know, everybody in the population, you have to put down 20%.

[as Taki Sarantakis speaks, Anett Numa navigates to a tab called "Data tracker." She selects an information system called "population register" and it loads a long list.]

But, you know, if you're a little more educated, we're allowing you to kind of only have to put half of that down because we know that, you know, statistically speaking, you're more employable, etc. You can get more granular in public policy when you have some of these things. So, let's flip now, to... can we look at Family for a moment?

Anett Numa: Yeah. One of the things that I also just wanted to put it here for a very quick second, which I talked about during my presentation was data tracker. So, in the Population Registry, if somebody is asking my information from the Population Registry, I can see exactly here at what time of the day, as I said, who has done this query, and what kind of information they have been looking for.

Taki Sarantakis: What happens if somebody has accessed that information and you're kind of going "Well, why would they look at that?"

Anett Numa: I can report about that. We have a specific institution who is dealing with this kind of reports. And then they will investigate every request or every report there has been. And if there's no reason somebody has, just for curiosity to check somebody's information, then usually we have very, very clear, also, kind of like punishments for these people. There has been cases when that when people have been looking for their information on their friends or somebody and have lost their job because of that, because they have violated the privacy regulations. So, we did try to, again, that's why again, raising awareness in people who are working in the public sector and who have access to, again, the citizens information, then that they would be aware that if they do access somebody's information, then it's going to be trouble because you can also face some kind of consequences.

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And we've had that situation in Canada for our audience. We have it with not frequency, but we have it with some regularity, where every once in a while, somebody will kind of snoop on one of their neighbours, their tax records or, you know, they're ex-spouse or something. And when you discover that, you kind of discover it by accident, but look what Anett Numa's showing you here. What Anett Numa's showing you is there's a record of who accessed your information, when, where. And because there's a record, it actually reduces the kind of the privacy invasions or the privacy issues, because you actually now transparently know who's accessed your records as opposed to doing it by accident.

[Anett Numa expands the "family" tab in the side bar, showing a variety of options.]

So, let's look- so we're under Family now, and again for the audience, you have Marriage, you have Registration, you have Children. Let's look at just Pregnancy and Early Childhood. Like just again, you've just become...

Anett Numa: So, there's plenty of information here. You can also see if the child is born already, parental leave.

[Anett Numa clicks on "parental leave" and the screen shows articles and info regarding parental leave. Anett Numa navigates around the page's tabs.]

If, for example, you click on that here, we see the main information right over here so that you can know what application is required when receiving family benefits. If you have registered your birth in Population Registry, you will find the benefits in the Self-Service portal Social Insurance Fund within a week. So maximum in a week, and then you get the rest of your family and your money in your account, and all kind of different things that you can choose over here. Then we go under the services, Self-Service portal for Social Insurance. Registering the baby's birth, let's say if you have had a birth at home or in another country, for example, or changing your bank account for your Social Insurance board as well. When we see or also the kind of different laws, family benefits, we want to make sure what are the latest laws when I'm going to have a baby. Related articles, again, opportunities for parental leave, rights of working parents and so on. Related institutions that you might have to contact with some kind of references. So, you, again, simple and short, as I have said thousand times already. It's not just a main document full of information, but these are the most asked questions, and the most, again, interesting parts of what has to do with parental leave.

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, and what I'm particularly struck by is how helpful this is. It is all there. It's all the kind of things, or the vast majority of the things that I would want to know about, think about. And it's not just kind of my data. It's not just the registry part, but it's also help. It's like, here's information you might want to know about. Here's Pregnancy, here's articles, here's laws, here's services, etc. So, can we stay under Family for a second, Anett Numa? You've got Marriage, Childbirth.

Anett Numa: Don't forget the pet.

Taki Sarantakis: Sorry? Yeah, let's look at Pets! Do you have a pet or is it like a driver's license?

[Anett Numa navigates to the Pets page. It has a similar clean set up with simple tabs and articles.]

Anett Numa: I wish I had, but I travel every week, so my future dog would be very, very sad.

Taki Sarantakis: Okay, so we can't use you anymore. We're going to get somebody else who has a dog and who has a car.

[Anett Numa clicks on a link, Taki Taking her to the nationwide pet register.]

Anett Numa: I do have two dogs at my parents, so I'm a very big dog lover. But anyway, the nationwide Pet Registry. I mean, you can log in as a pet owner or like search for a pet I.D. or e-services.

Taki Sarantakis: So, hold on, hold on. Your pet can have an I.D.?

Anett Numa: Of course, yes.

Taki Sarantakis: Really? Like your cat?

Anett Numa: Yeah, if they have a registration number. So, if you want your cat or dog to be vaccinated or all the check ups or something, or they have the chip under the skin, if you lose them somewhere, the dog is running away from home, which my dog would do if I wouldn't be at home, like at all. So, you could find it easier as well here.

Taki Sarantakis: All right, let's go back.

Anett Numa: Okay, let's jump back all the way here.

[Anett Numa navigates back to the main government website.]

Taki Sarantakis: So, now just for the techies in the crowd, did you jump to another registry?

Anett Numa: Yes.

Taki Sarantakis: So, you went from one registry to another, but again, like, look at how seamless this is. Look at how you couldn't tell, you're right back. We looked a little bit at having a child. Let's go to the other end of the spectrum, getting elderly. So now we're in a different part in our life. So Elderly People.

[Anett Numa navigates to the "Healthcare in Older Age" page, showing its articles and tabs.]

Anett Numa: Elderly Coping and Care and Healthcare and Elderly. So, we see dental care, technical aids, medical devices. Like, tons of different things, so we can see where they get some kind of, like you see, once every three years, they will get 260 Euros for some kind of dental care as well here. Or again, all of these kind of benefits that you could get as well. Again, services you can see your prescriptions, dental care benefits, Patient Portal, Self Service Portal. Again, see different laws here, related articles, institutions references. So again, for the for even somebody who is not very, have a very high e-literacy, I don't think this is difficult to use to find the most simple information.

Taki Sarantakis: So, let's go back to the left, keep scrolling down a little bit. And you've got Doing Business. Now, I want to start a business. So, what's going on there?

[Anett Numa expands the "Doing Business" tab on the sidebar.]

Anett Numa: Very simple. Establishing a business usually takes not more than 15 minutes without having to go physically anywhere.

Taki Sarantakis: Did you say 15 minutes?

Anett Numa: Yes. Usually, it's 15 minutes to half an hour. It's like we call it, one stop shop. So, if you register a new business, you can already get the VIT number, register employees, all these kinds of different things that you can do in One-Stop Shop in a way. Here you can, of course, get a lot of information. If you want to establish a public limited company here, again.

[Anett Numa navigates to the corresponding page, scrolling through its tabs.]

What must be done before, what documents do you need, a how to register this, the costs of doing this, how long will it take. All this kind of different things. Do I need to have any money if I- like how is my company? Again, law side, related articles, institutions, and so on. If you want to establish doing business as the sole proprietor, or just registering the company, how to get the VIT number, all these kind of, different things. So, you can just easily, like, looked into. And the thing is that you don't even have to be an Estonian citizen to see that information. You can see that already also by not having to even log into the system. And this is also kind of like pretty simple. So, if people are looking for new places where to run their business and move to a new country because they feel that this business environment is attractive to them, so that they can also check this information beforehand and then decide whether they want to do that.

Taki Sarantakis: So, let's look at Consumer Protection. That's on the bottom, there.

Anett Numa: OK, Consumer Protection here. So, what do we have here?

[Anett Numa hovers over sidebar options as she mentions them.]

Key Consumer Protection Requirements, Requirements for Advertising Settlements, Unfair Commercial Practices.

[She navigates to the "Unfair Commercial Practices" page.]

 Again, you just have this information. Again, it's not too long. It's not too difficult to read this through here. Our key Consumer Protections here, the laws, related institutions. You can just read that through, and get whatever information needed from here, too.

Taki Sarantakis: So Anett Numa, if you have like, for example, you know, like you have a listeria outbreak or something in packaged lettuce or something like that or, you know, throw away spinach. Can the government tell the population- like can you get an email that says, "throw away all your bagged spinach because it has listeria?"

Anett Numa: I have to say I'm not 100% how does that work. But I'm pretty serious too like that because thanks to these big registries then they can, they can easily get access to that information and find it out like we said first.

Taki Sarantakis: All right, now, let's go. I saw COVID up there and it's 2021. So we can't have a conversation without COVID. So what's there?

[Anett Numa navigates through the COVID-19 tabs.]

Anett Numa: Yes. So, we have the like health information. So, you can see the platforms for, again, to helpline or you can go testing, or you can get their vaccination information. You can register yourself for vaccination through the platform. Just find a time that is suitable for you. Border crossing, like temporary jobs, volunteering, for example, which we started also, so that if you lost your job because of COVID, there is some kind of temporary jobs where you might just be able to work for a short term if you're still looking for new one here. Yeah.

Taki Sarantakis: Do you have proof of vaccination on this platform?

Anett Numa: Not exactly here. We would have to jump to the Patient Portal where I can just log in there, like you see Patient Portal here, and then I log into the system, and I can download my vaccination passport also super easily there. Here, by doing that, by identifying myself, even by doing that, by the European Union vaccination, or also there is an option to get the Estonian one. So that there is different kind of QR codes, which we allow all across Europe.

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. So, we have had a little bit of a kind of a tour of us of Estonia from just Anett Numa's keyboard. From birth, to pension, to death, to buying an apartment, to your graduation, to your COVID certificate. You can see how easily the power of data is when you have a principle of tell us, once you have a principle of confidentiality, you have a principle of availability and integrity. And you can see that as a citizen, Anett Numa is very well served by her government. Anett Numa, you didn't say it this time, but I've heard you say another time or two that there's a philosophy of kind of interactions with government must be pleasant. Tell us a little bit about that.

Anett Numa: Yeah. So, what we always say, and I very briefly brought it up before saying that the experience that you have with the state has to be pleasant. Which means again, that if you talk to the state, it shouldn't be a process that you feel like gives me headache, and I can't find information, and I have to be on a line with somebody on a call and or wait in a queue and waste, I don't know, take my day off from work to get my stuff done. It has to be some something that is done seamless so that you don't even feel that you're doing that. So, you feel that you have your own stuff running, that you can seriously focus on, and you don't have to go through this difficult process of providing a lot of information. And again, duplicated information so that somebody is asking you the same information for too many times. So, if you will have already submitted these things before, then the State needs to be able to provide you the services absolutely seamless, and this is what we have been trying to do. It's very early days already to make this experience as a very pleasant one so that if you would ask from somebody, "how do you feel about the state services," or "how has your experience been with government, the services?" Then the only answer that we're expecting is "excellent."

Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And that's again, that's a really important facet of this because when we interact with the state, we often interact with the state during their critical life moments, you know, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, and you're already quite stressed and strained. Having an interaction with the state at that point that is aggravating, that is challenging, that is difficult, is really putting an inordinate stress on you. So, Anett Numa, I want to do one last thing and then we'll let you go. The there's a lot of, kind of- there would be a lot of naysayers that would say, "Well, yeah, OK, that's Estonia. 1.3 million people, 1.2 million people. They, you know, their system of government is simple. We're very complicated. Our work, we're complex." What would you say to those people that kind of go, "Yeah, yeah, Estonia can do it because- but we can't do it because..."?

Anett Numa: I do not agree with this at all. Of course, maybe the implementation process is faster in smaller states, but it always start from here, from our heads. And actually 80% of our success story is based on our decision-making processes, and only 20% of technology. And when we think about solutions, then I mean, for such a platform that I just showed to you, it doesn't matter how many people are using this platform. It's still one single platform designed for everybody, either if it's 50 million people using it or just one million people using it. So, it definitely starts by clear decisions and clear frameworks, because seriously, when we think about countries, there is only one strategy to Estonia and it could be only one strategy to Canada. It's really doesn't matter how many people are using the services. We see right now very huge changes going on in very large states as well, such as also in India. Even they try to develop a lot systems in Singapore. There's much more people living. And it can work in in different countries too. I mean, the size is just the very small factor that we shouldn't really be stuck on and use this as an excuse that we can't do that because we are much larger. I mean, again, technology doesn't really care how many people are using it. Maybe just the support team behind there has to be stronger. But still, in a way, it's still one single solution.

Taki Sarantakis: Anett Numa from the e-Estonia Briefing Centre, thank you for your time. Thank you for your energy. Thank you for showing us the future, which already exists in some parts of the world. And most of all, thank you for being a friend of Canada's public service. And we'll get you here once COVID is over so you can brief our decision makers a little more, because this is just something that I think COVID has shown us the power of connectivity in a way that- and the need for connectivity and the need for these principles, far more so than pre-COVID. It's now kind of shifted the debate from not so much whether we should do this, but how quickly we should do this. Thank you again, Anett Numa, and we'll talk soon.

Anett Numa: Thank you. Have a nice day. Bye.

Taki Sarantakis: Take care. Bye.

[The video chat fades to the CSPS logo.]

[The image fades through black to the Government of Canada logo.]

Related links

Date modified: