News October 9th, 2017
Nortal and Estonia's digital development: We’ve been to the Moon, now we’re headed for Mars!
Having created about one-third of Estonia’s e-Governance information systems, Nortal wants to make IT work for people, businesses and governments. Last week, Nortal was announced to be the most competitive communication and IT service enterprise in Estonia.
“What is going on in Estonia today is like outer space for the rest of the world. We have been to the Moon and we are about to fly to Mars. The rest of the world is meanwhile gazing at the Moon and dreaming of visiting it,” says Priit Alamäe, Nortal’s CEO, in an interview with Comeptitiveness Ranking 2017 magazine.
When he started Nortal almost 20 years ago, IT was a hot topic and the bubble of the dot.com boom had not yet burst. The main idea was that, as a rule, IT did not understand business and business did not understand IT. Alamäe sensed an opportunity and started building a company that today is a multinational success story.
“When you are an entrepreneur, you are head over heels into it, business cannot be done as a hobby,” he says and adds that starting a business is no different from starting a band. “You live in a garage, eat fast noodles, and at first you play for free in pointless clubs. If the people are talented and willing to work like hell, they take off at some point.”
Nortal worked for over ten years before the eventual “Eureka!” moment – finding how to bring business and IT closer.
IT should be approached as construction
Alamäe says that businessmen and state leaders often fail to realize the competitive edge that can be gained from the smart use of IT. They are not willing or able to make big strategic decisions inspired by the advances in technology.
On the other hand, IT businesses often don’t have the skills to help their customers with the best solutions; they just fill orders – even if the orders are unreasonable.
Nortal approaches IT like construction. When a traditional building company wins a contract for a new theatre, it may lack the experience or skill to actually build such a complex structure. It might not understand whether the design is good or whether the acoustics have been considered. When design defects become evident in the course of the construction, the builder will be blamed, although it is not exactly the builder’s fault.
It’s the same in the IT field. When a minister or company director has a problem, their strategic consultants will help devise a solution. They indicate the direction but do not say how to start moving. A third party will implement the solution.
Nortal is the most competitive communication and it service enterprise in Estonia
These days, every change usually comes with an IT project, and IT companies usually do exactly what they are asked to do. If the whole process does not yield the desired business result, the unfortunate decision-maker has no one to blame – each player has performed their part but the result is not quite what was required. Alamäe admits that understanding this market flaw about five years ago was a real breakthrough for Nortal.
“At one point we understood that there was nobody in the market who wanted or was able to take responsibility for the end result of the process. How is it possible to make intelligent strategic decisions inspired by advances in technology, to knowingly manage changes in the organization and in consumer behavior, and to make sure that IT solutions actually deliver the business goals? It’s a magic mix,” says Alamäe.
Coming back to the building of a theatre – this approach ensures that when the keys are finally handed over, you can be certain that the acoustics are right, people can get in and out, and they can park their cars. Everything runs like clockwork. Therefore, Nortal is now both an implementer and consultant, creating new IT systems hand in hand with the customer.
Nortal’s solutions have created meaningful impact globally
Nortal’s turnover is currently 50 million euros and the company employs 600 people. Alamäe is modest and admits that in global terms, Nortal is tiny. However, it has crossed a critical line and now believes in the accomplishment of great things.
Nortal has created a considerable share of Estonia’s public sector e-systems. “At least one-third of what is known in the world as Estonia’s e-Governance has been done by us. We are very proud of that,” Alamäe concedes.
The company’s code wizards have telecom, health, media and public sector solutions in their portfolio. This includes the e-Tax solution, Telia’s self-service, the census IT system, the e-Ticket system for the Väinameri ferries, the e-Health and Unemployment Insurance Fund information systems, and many others.
The company has also had success on a number of export markets. For example, Nortal built the Treasury Single Account for Nigeria, e-Tax Administration in Botswana, e-Governance in Oman, the public governance portal in Qatar, and many others.
Nortal is interested in countries and organizations that can and want to change. Nortal operates in three main regions: the Nordic countries, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and the USA. The company has subsidiaries in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, the USA, Serbia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
In Oman, Nortal effectively helps to reform governance and introduce e-Governance. This goes beyond mere software development and involves applying the best experiences of Estonia and the rest of the world to make public governance more efficient.
An example of “doing the real thing” is the Invest Easy project, the purpose of which was to improve the business environment to make it easier and more transparent to do business and to have more investments and jobs locally. IT was an important component of the reform, but the cornerstones for the customer were legal reforms, the implementation of new processes, and changes in organizational behavior. Nortal had to bring all these aspects together in one project. Now, Nortal is helping introduce VAT in Oman.
In Botswana, Nortal is building a new e-Tax Administration to make tax collection more efficient while reducing the administrative burden for companies and citizens in their communications with the tax authority. “We will introduce Estonia’s smart public governance experience to the world!” says Alamäe.
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