Next in Digital Government: Invisible Services

Next in Digital Government: Invisible Services

By Siim Sikkut, Government CIO, Estonia

Siim Sikkut, Government CIO, Estonia

The government of Estonia has been employing digital tech to the best of our ability for more than 20 years to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our public sector.

Almost all interactions between government and residents including both physical persons and legal entities have been fully digitalized. The only exceptions are interactions we consider high-risk because of the legal and life implications they bring. So to sell your house or get married, you still have to show up for – even if you do not get a paper in the end to go home with (just an entry in the right registry). In the same vain, the back office of government is almost fully digital – the only exceptions being areas such as foreign correspondence and similar services.

"Most service needs arise in relation to specific events in the lives of citizens and businesses"

For these reasons our country is sometimes even called e-Estonia, signalling the extent to which digital services and solutions permeate the lives of Estonian citizens, entrepreneurs or public servants.

These days, our services are even available beyond our borders through e-Residency. Anyone in the world can apply to get an Estonian digital identity and start using the digital services that government and the private sector offer from a distance. This way we attract cross-border entrepreneurs, from both outside and within European Union, to establish companies in Estonia – which they can manage completely themselves from wherever they are in the world at the time.

As technology develops and the horizon of our imaginations extends, the work to build digital governments never will be done. The same goes for Estonia. Even if nearly all of our services are digital, we can continue to reinvent them to be even better.

Our next goal is to make service delivery proactive and, further to that, government services invisible. The best user experience is one where the users do not need to engage with government and bureaucracy at all, and their needs are met right when they appear or (better yet) before they arise.

Most service needs arise in relation to specific events in the lives of citizens and businesses. A milestone occurs in someone’s life, such as a marriage or a first-time purchase of a house, and they need to get a bundle of things done all at once. Other than that, people rarely interact with the government, as life (and data) shows.

This is what we are focusing on in our redesign – making services proactive around the life events of citizens and businesses, and redesigning services to require, at most, a single encounter with government per life-event. We have identified 15 major life-events that we will have redesigned by 2020 in this vain.

In Estonia, we have all the underlying elements needed in place for this, such as the world’s most extensive data exchange capability (based on X-Road platform) and strong digital identity. We just need to add some more automation, better integration, analytics collection and a whole lot more redesign.

When you start a business, all the necessary paperwork should be processed immediately without requiring further registration of employees or licence approvals. When your child is born, the government should be able to send you a congratulatory e-mail with a link to provide us with the minimum amount of data we actually need to put your child in the system (what will be the name? which bank account you want the benefits to be sent to?) Currently, these questions can be answered online from your hospital bed before you leave for home with your newborn, but it takes five different websites with five different user experiences. We can improve them all, or we can take a bigger step to integrate them into a single interaction.

Some interactions we can fully automate away. For example, we have been building automated reporting for businesses. If they consent to giving our government tax office direct access to their financial data (e.g. in accounting service or software), the companies will never have to submit any tax declarations, statistics, annual reports or other documents to the government ever again. Basically, by connecting directly to the data, the government can automate the bureaucracy away for entrepreneurs. They would no longer need accountants, and could focus on just doing their business. For micro-companies and SMEs, this usually is the case and they could get a radical efficiency boost this way.

This is our vision as a government – to offer a zero-bureaucracy environment as often as possible using the digital tools. Most of such tools already exist. Often, the reuse of existing data and tools is enough. In the case of registering a child, as outlined above, the government already knows that the child was born as the hospital makes an entry into the population registry (before the child even has a name). A proactive interaction can already be triggered from this single data entry.

New technologies and artificial intelligence first and foremost among them, make the direction to get rid of interactions with government even more possible – by making it possible to become predictive and, there-by, truly proactive in service delivery. But it’s transforming how we do things in government that matters most, not tech.

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