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The key ingredients to Estonia’s success as a leading digital society

This interview with Priit Alamäe, CEO and founder of Nortal, on how e-government democratizes data, create a level playing field, and a fairer marketplace first appeared in the Digital Cooperation Organization’s (DCO) Digital Prosperity Report.

What key ingredients were central to Estonia’s digital society success?

Much of Estonia’s success was based on the government acting as an enabler of the digital economy, working alongside private sector players, and not in competition or above commercial entities. In Estonia, we see Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a cross-cutting encourager of growth across the entire economic value chain. ICT solutions are not simply deployed as ‘nice to haves’ but are integrated across the fabric of government, business, and society at large.

An excellent example of our multi-layered approach to using tech and data is our e-government services, particularly how these are used to pay taxes. The Estonian Tax and Customs Board (ETCB) has created a dynamic platform – “The Mirror” – where businesses have access to sectoral data and can benchmark themselves against other taxpaying organizations. ETCB’s approach to data sharing, in turn, creates a transparent and empowering environment whereby businesses gain invaluable insight into their peers and the market.

In what ways can a digitized government enable a start-up culture?

A large component of e-government is how it democratizes data and creates a level playing field and a fairer marketplace. Estonia’s approach is to support local e-service developers, thereby scaling up homegrown digital start-ups. Our use of open-access technology has meant that local companies are motivated to build their own core technologies and not just resell products developed abroad. By giving local firms a leg-up, we are creating a more diverse set of sustainable, adaptable firms with serious growth potential.

Over the past 20 years or so, the digitized government has helped to transform the Estonian population into a digitally fluent society. People are not afraid or suspicious about digital services and new service models at large. This creates a perfect test-bed for start-ups to launch and market-test their new services.

As an observer, what added value can Nortal offer to DCO member states and emerging players in these economies?

As the Estonian and global economies have digitally transformed, so have Nortal’s portfolio of value-added services. Before, we would adopt a very siloed approach to finding tech-driven solutions for business problems.

Progressively, the world has started to realize that ICT solutions are applicable across all spheres of the economy and society. We have been part of Estonia’s own transformative journey and see that the same building blocks that enabled the change in our country can be applied to any organization.

What role can tech leadership play in creating an inclusive digital economy?

Today, we see excellent companies operating in each segment of the digital economy. However, there is often little connection across the value chain for the digital economy to function as a globally interconnected network. To drive change, we need leaders who believe in the need for digital transformation. We need strategic enablers who work across the value chain to drive suitable solutions that serve communities.

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