The mega-project, which was signed on Monday, takes the idea of the Estonian e-state to the world and opens a huge international market for our IT companies.
On Monday evening, Minister for Foreign Trade and Information Technology Raul Siem (EKRE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international partners, which aims to create a global platform or standard for digital governance and national e-services.
According to Marten Kaevats, one of the project's lead advisers, the State Chancellery's digital adviser, this is the largest project in which the Estonian e-government could participate - if agreements were signed in May to run the World Health Organization All countries can participate, with a focus on developing countries, which may not be able to build a large and complex digital services system themselves.
"We are basically starting to order and build digital services in a completely new way. It is not absolutely a question of technology, but rather of organizational culture. The principle is that we try to make a large system as small as possible," Kaevats explained.
Raul Kaidro, one of the already dedicated Estonian entrepreneurs, the founder of the digital identity solutions company RaulWalter, highlighted the participation of the ITU as an important aspect.
"They set the standard for how things will work out. For example, what is the GSM standard in telecommunications. There is currently no e-government standard, but if such is created and we manage to be with it, then it is possible to further develop projects for very interesting countries," said Kaidro.
The cooperation project led by Estonians does not offer a unified digital state solution, because it would be very difficult to offer functionality suitable for each user. Building one large system is expensive and would be obsolete before it is ready.
The idea is to describe the cross-use requirements of the system that all elements must meet. The elements can be compared to Lego blocks and the cross-use requirements to the ends of the block with which they are attached to each other. This layer could be called the global standard for digital governance.
The blocks required in the first place include digital identity and identification, population register, payment solution. The most important of these is identity, which is responsible for convincing the service provider that the user is indeed who he claims to be.
In the next stage, services using basic modules, such as social security, will be added. Estonian e-services work quite linearly: the user initiates a query, which can move between databases, and finally returns a response, which can be a message about receiving some support. The problem is that if in the meantime some queries do not work or the database is out of order, the service will be stopped.
According to the new information architecture, a user-initiated request does not enter a linear x-path, but an x-space, where you can communicate with several blocks required for several services at the same time. If there is an error somewhere, the service does not have to be interrupted.
Cross-claims are managed by the owners of the global standard, ie the countries participating in the project, and development and administrative costs are also shared between them. The focus of the project is on developing countries, therefore the aim is to implement the global standard of the digital state as cost-effectively as possible. In particular, this means that the completed modules must be interoperable and reusable, and development will be community-based.
According to Kaevats, the principle is that if the code is written for public money, it must be free. Among other things, this approach eliminates the risk of countries being trapped by individual developers with their large systems.
"It seems that countries have caught up with the fact that it is not sensible to fall into the trap of one partner, and they are moving towards free or at least partially free solutions," commented Martin Karner, the head of the software company Net Group. Raul Kaidro agreed, noting that such an approach gives smaller companies a big advantage over large corporations.
If so far it has been difficult for Estonian entrepreneurs to offer the knowledge gained in building our e-state to other countries, then the cooperation project ITU should enable just that. For example, a public service chat robot called #Bureaucrat created by Net Group.
"It is only one building stone, but when it is ready, every state agency can set it up with our help. We will do it for Estonia, but if an international standard is completed, we would like to make it a standardized solution," Karner illuminated future plans.
The parties compare the emerging system with a repository of mobile applications such as Google Play or the AppStore - each country could go to the ITU store and select applications for their e-government that are compatible with their system.
Another important thing is that moving forward by services allows the e-government to be much more flexible and keep up with the times - it takes five to seven years to build a large information system from idea to implementation, and by that time the world will change so much that by the time the system is ready expired.
Of course, Estonia's participation in creating a unified system will give our entrepreneurs an advantage - our x-road and in the future applications operating on the x-space principle will have more users and thus our companies will have more customers.
Riho Oks, a micro-enterprise that has played a key role in creating the x-road in Estonia and is currently developing digital state solutions, believes that the ITU project could be a very good opportunity for the Estonian state and companies.
"Above all, we need to work together, everyone is strong in their field. For example, I can move data securely, but I'm not going to build an e-school. If we overcome greed and are able to put our backs together with the state and entrepreneurs, then we can be very capable globally," said Oks. He sees Estonia's opportunity primarily in building and strengthening interoperability.
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