|Issue:||Europe II 2008|
|Topic:||Next step for the e-state: e-state 2.0?|
|Title:||Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications|
Juhan Parts is Estonia’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications. During his political career, Mr Parts has held the following posts in Estonia’s government: Deputy Secretary-General, Ministry of Justice, Auditor General, and Prime Minister (2003-2005). Mr Parts is also a Member of the 10th Riigikogu – the Parliament of Estonia – since 2003. He was Chairman of Res Publica Party. Mr Parts graduated from the University of Tartu, where he earned a degree in law, Cum Laude.
Estonia has been encouraging the use of computers and the Internet in schools since the 1990s. Students fascinated with the new tools convinced their parents to buy computers and get Internet service. This stimulated the use of e-banking, e-commerce and e-government services. The government’s basic data exchange solution lets government agencies develop their own services and lets people interconnect securely to both state and private services. These are the first steps in what Estonia hopes will develop into a full-fledged e-state.
In projecting future developments, Estonia’s experience in building the e-state poses a question about the role of the state in helping today’s users to contribute: how can they participate in creating new services? How the concept of Estonia’s e-state was born In Estonia during the second half of the 1990s, the Tiger Leap project inspired citizens to buy computers on a wide scale for home use and Internet access. The project aimed to establish a solid computer base for schools and to connect educational institutions to the Internet. Schools and libraries were equipped with computers and connected with the network but there was another benefit from Tiger Leap – young people caught the ‘computer germ’, took it home, infected their parents with the bug and convinced them to buy a computer and connect to the Internet. Estonians used the Internet mainly to communicate with friends, for entertainment and to search for information. The so-called entertainment phase enabled people to become acquainted with the Internet and to familiarise themselves with its opportunities. After the first users had become familiar with the Internet as an entertainment and communication medium, it became possible to offer services via the Internet. This required more participation from people than simply reading or chatting with friends. The acceptance of paid services via the Internet meant that, instead of being just a high-technology niche product, the Internet had become a reliable service used on an everyday basis. Creating trust through banking In Estonia, the mass use of Internet banking stimulated the expansion of e-services. Any breakthrough in the spread of e-services must, first and foremost, take place in people’s attitudes and habits. Banks are establishments with which people trust a bulk of their assets – banks symbolise trust, security, discretion, and to guarantee it, they must have maximum security. If bank clients are willing to use e-banking services, they are ready to use commercial and public sector services as well and services become a part of people’s everyday lives – as common as going to the supermarket, watching TV or reading a newspaper. Today, most of Estonia’s retail trade is facilitated by the Internet. The development of the information society and e-state has been Estonia’s policy and priority for almost ten years. Estonia’s e-state is developing simultaneously as both the Internet and people’s habits change. As a result, many types of e-services, such as easy and secure submission of tax declarations to the Tax Board via the e-taxboard service, are now available for use. Establishing a company via the Internet takes less than a day and the founder can accomplish the task using a digital signature certified by the state. However, the most important thing is that citizens of Estonia can exercise their rights and obligations as citizens – including being able to vote in parliamentary elections – using the Internet. The 2007 parliamentary elections in Estonia were unique in the world – for the first time citizens could vote for legislative power via the Internet, by using their ID-card. Decentralised service E-services do not function by themselves; users and infrastructure to support the services are needed. Decentralisation has been the primary principle in the development of Estonian e-services. Accordingly, those who can create superior content and services make them available via the Internet to all those who wish to use them. There is no central organisation in Estonia to develop the e-state and create services, thus every state agency is free to develop the necessary systems itself. The only criterion that has to be met in the development of decentralised systems is interoperability. Systems must ‘understand’ each other and be able to operate and exchange information among themselves. This principle means that the number of centrally developed components is minimised and only those needed by the organisations creating services are developed. For example, the Tax Board develops its e-taxboard independently, the Ministry of Justice develops its company registration system itself, and so forth. Although the centrally developed state information system is kept to the minimum, it plays an indispensable role. The most important central solution is the X-Road, the functioning of which is maintained by the state. X-Road is a data exchange layer that private companies and state agencies can connect to by user interfaces, making it possible to exchange information with each other. Rapid development is one of the main benefits of decentralisation; since each organisation knows the needs of its users best, it is therefore the most efficient in creating those services. The logic of decentralised state information systems is comparable with the logic of the market economy. Everybody has the freedom to do whatever they are capable of, however they consider best. Many applications are created simultaneously and their development is facilitated, rather than hindered, by numerous central criteria. The ID-card is another essential state-centred solution. The ID-card, the size of a credit card, is a secure means of identification equipped with a chip. It can be used for identification instead of a passport, inter alia, for travelling inside the European Union and for using a digital signature. The ID-card is more popular than the paper passport – almost 90 per cent of Estonian citizens have one. The card enables citizens to identify themselves electronically when communicating with state agencies, but also when using the e-services of banks or other private companies. Although the functioning of the ID-card is secured by the state, NGOs may also create ID-card services. I consider that the integration of the public sector and commercial services in developing the e-state is of utmost importance. The concept of an e-service space is quite important. E-service space is an environment where providers of services, i.e. entrepreneurs, NGOs and the public sector can freely communicate with the users of services. The service space includes the infrastructure for the provision of services, as well as the preparedness of its users. In other words, e-service space is a virtual environment where it is easy to provide and convenient to use a wide variety of services. What will e-state 2.0 look like? Today’s information and communications technology processes are largely replacing those where paper and pencil and, not so long ago, facsimile transmission were once used. Processes are faster, more easily available and convenient on the Internet. However, information technology makes it possible to create completely new operation chains and systems of events which do not copy the existing ones. We will get the whole benefit from technology only if we are able to generate totally new processes taking advantage of the new opportunities. In the e-state 1.0, state/citizen communications on the Internet is of central importance. The concept of e-state 2.0 covers processes created by information and communication technology that do not copy the processes created in the paper and pencil era – would not even be possible with pencils and paper, but are completely new ICT-dependent services. Today, many such services use various word processors, browsers and other standard computer programmes, but tomorrow, we will be able to use various special interfaces or communication environments to communicate with the e-state to access more user-friendly and powerful services. The Internet world is gradually moving towards platforms that enable the development of various services and processes. The platforms also make it easy to find the services. Moreover, the platforms specify a logically built framework for a service, so that the interface for each service will be as similar as possible to the others and thus, easier to use. It is too early to say whether Google, Microsoft, some application of a social network, or something else, will eventually provide such a platform. Whatever the platform is, the development of e-state 2.0 will take a similar turn. Until now, people could only use the services developed and provided by the state, but in the future, they will be able to create services for themselves with the help of a platform. For e-state 2.0, the main concept is e-service space where the state secures infrastructure in the form of a universal data exchange layer and secure ‘authen-tification’- authentication and identification. The state’s function will be to supply service creators with data, which today are mainly kept in the state’s databases. The creation of e-state applications will gradually move out of the public sector. It will be easier to create services based upon widely accepted standards; standards-based services can be used more easily and they will be more available. Ideas will be of utmost importance. People will be able to create their own e-state view, the e-state will become more personal, and many new processes will arise that take full advantage of the technology. Proactivity will be an important feature of e-state 2.0. This means that users will not have to provide data that already exists in the systems. The system will query all the systems connected before asking the user for data. Proactivity will require much more interoperability than we now have, but this will be remedied with time. E-state 2.0 will provide more convenient, direct and speedy communication between the state and its citizens. The next generation e-state requires much more interoperability of systems and international cooperation. For global cooperation, though, many political agreements will be needed.