Estonia ranks high at the IT readiness but aims higher

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Mihkel Lauk, PwC

World Economic Forum and INSEAD have for more than 10 years included Network Readiness Index in its annual Global Information Technology Report. The index measures the economic and social impacts of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to the societies as well as capacity of an economy and society to benefit from the use of ICTs.

The networked readiness framework comprises of four sub-indexes, which measure the environment for ICTs; the readiness of a society to use ICTs; the actual usage of all main stakeholders; and, finally, the impacts that ICTs generate in the economy and in society. These four indexes are divided into 10 pillars composed of 54 individual indicators in total.

The top 10 spots continue to be dominated by Scandinavian countries, the Asian Tigers, and some of the most advanced Western economies. Three Nordic countries - Finland, Sweden, and Norway - are positioned among the top 5 (respectively: 1st, 3rd and 5th), Singapore being 2nd and the Netherlands 4th.

As Estonians tend to rank their country extremely highly in terms of IT-development, the 21st place (11th in Europe and 8th in the EU) might feel as a slight disappointment. Doesn’t matter that Estonia is long ahead of other Central & Eastern European countries, when it comes to ICT, we, the inventors of Skype, feel that we should be in the top even when compared to world’s richest countries.

At majority of individual categories Estonia ranks between 20th and 30th in the world. Although it might be perceived by many Estonians, the ‘real life’ is already happening online, in terms of individual usage Estonia ranks 17th in the world. And our much acclaimed e-government isn’t setting us apart anymore from others, Estonia ranks ‘only’ 12th at government usage pillar which rates the importance that governments place on carrying out ICT policies for competitiveness and to enhance the well-being of their citizens, the effort made to implement their visions for ICT development, and the number of government services provided online.

Where Estonia truly excels is in comparison of social impacts that assesses the ICT-driven improvements in well-being that result from their impacts on the environment, education, health progress and more active civil participation. It’s focused on measuring the extent to which governments are becoming more efficient in the use of ICTs and provide increased online services to their citizens, and thus improving their e-participation. In social impact of ICTs, Estonia is 4thin the world, after Singapore, South Korea and the Netherlands.

The morale of the story: there are certainly many external factors, contributing to Estonia’s success as an e-country, but there are also lots of smart decisions and things well done over the years. The challenging part is that in our competitive world one has to make considerable efforts to retain its position – for improving it, even more efforts are required. We can be proud of our e-elections, e-taxes, e-police, e-healthcare, e-banking and e-school, but the quest is still on for better and more convenient e-experiences.

PwC recently concluded a project commissioned by Estonian Government Office in analysing possibilities for integrated management of public services provided by the state. The goal is ambitious: to be the first country in the world that succeeds in creating an integrated portfolio of all public services (both traditional and e-services). It means standardisation both in design and description of the (elements of) services, which should make the management and evaluation of services significantly cheaper and more efficient. When all public services are based on similar structure and can be described with similar technical terms, their quality and impact can be measured more diligently and better organise the development of services. Compatible databases would be able to communicate with each other enabling provision of ‘invisible’ services: automatic update of data and accompanying automatic or semi-automatic decisions.

The described endeavour is currently at the first stage and its completion shall depend a lot on whether and how its leaders will succeed to point the efforts of thousands civil servants to the same direction. The estimated timeline of the project is five years and upon its planned completion Estonia will potentially have another international success story.

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