Delivering digital services the Estonian way

Janek Rozov of Estonia’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications shares the factors that enabled his government to deliver digital government services.

By Nayela Deeba
Dec. 12, 2016

Digital government services are a norm in Estonia.

The country's first two digital government services were e-banking and e-taxation, which were introduced in 1996 and 1999 respectively, Janek Rozov, Head of Department of Information Society Services Development, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Estonia, told delegates at the recent GCIO Forum 2016 in Singapore.

As the country offers more digital government services over the years, it needed a centralised database that allows state authorities and government agencies to access relevant data outside their purview to deliver good services to citizens. X-Road, a data exchange platform, is the answer to this.

According to e-Estonia's website, X-Road was originally used for making queries to the different databases. Now it has developed into a tool that can also write to multiple databases, transmit large data sets and perform searches across several databases.

Thanks to X-Road, a newborn child in Estonia can receive health insurance automatically, and citizens can easily check their personal data from national databases or declare taxes electronically.

In terms of ensuring the authenticity of the data in X-Road, all outgoing data from the X-Road is digitally signed and encrypted, while all incoming data is authenticated and logged.

Another key component for enabling Estonia's digital government services is the mandatory identification (ID) card. "[In Estonia, passports are not obligatory, but ID cards are very important," said Rozov.

Launched in 2002, the ID cards store encrypted personal information and provides citizens access to all of Estonia's secure digital services. It can be used for i-voting, digital signatures, as proof of identification when logging into bank accounts from a home computer, and even as national ID card for legal travel within the EU for Estonian citizens.

To further provide convenience to its citizens, the Estonian government is working to decrease the number of internal procedures needed to deliver a service so that citizens will need to go through as few steps as possible when using the digital government services, said Rozov.

He added that the government is also grouping services based on life events. "For example, when someone gets married in Estonia, he/she has to change his/her surname on their ID cards, driving licence and healthcare documents. [What we want to do is enable them to change it once and the change will be reflected on all platforms/channels]."

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