Estonia’s top tech official: EU states should integrate their digital systems

Siim Sikkut, Government CIO of Estonia. [Annika Haas (EU2017EE)/Flickr]

Estonia is trying to convince European ministers to agree on the “once only” principle. That means that if one member state has information about a citizen, another member state should not ask for it again, the country’s chief information officer told EURACTIV Slovakia.

Siim Sikkut is the head of Estonia’s e-Government. He is one of the founding fathers of the Estonian e-residency system. Now, he and his team are pushing the agenda of digitisation under Estonia’s presidency of the Council of the EU. He spoke to Euractiv Slovakia’s senior editor Lucia Yar. 

You are one of the founders of the Estonian e-residency system that has recently become a closely watched subject. Is e-residency working so far?

From our point of view, the e-residency is still going better than we could have imagined.

When we started it, the concept had a simple goal to make it easy for our foreign partners to make business with us or to run a company. Then we realised that the potential is much better. We allowed global partners to run their business location-free and without hassle.

Currently, there are about 24,000 e-residencies, which perhaps is nothing on a global scale but for us, it’s about three times more than what we expected by now.

The Estonian government is about to implement a data analysis system to predict citizens’ behaviour and needs. How will that work?

The idea is wider than just data analytics. We call it invisible services or zero bureaucracy. Most interactions of people or companies with the government can already be predicted pretty well. There are simple tasks that citizens need to take care of each year, like paying taxes.

For instance, if a child is born, then we can easily predict what will be the next step that the parents will have to take.

Right now, you can do all of them one-by-one online. In the government we know that the child was born so instead of waiting for you to come to us with a request to get something done, we can actually come to you, thank you for the new citizen, and ask you several questions, such as what will be the name and how do you expect money to be sent.

We ask for data to work by compliance. But if we have data then we do not have to bother you anymore, algorithms can work on compliance. Thus, we can get rid of it.

Having the data from companies, we can predict which sector is getting into trouble in the near foreseeable future. And if those sectors are regionally clustered, it might have direct links to particular areas and we can target services proactively.

Digital policies are also a high priority for the Estonian government as the current presiding country at the Council of the EU. Where do we stand in the digital single market from your point of view?

We have always been a very strong supporter of the digital single market. During our presidency, now it is really our chance to help others advance in the area by briefing member states on the issue.

We have to take over issues that are currently on the table firstly, for instance in telecoms legislation. But we are also trying to raise discussions on what should be the next frontier to bring the digital single market together.

For instance, we are now trying to convince ministers to agree that we should have more data exchange among European governments through the “once only” principle. That means that if one member state knows something about me, the other member state should not ask me this again. That would force us to integrate more.

If someone moves to another country, he would not need to carry a lot of papers. Digitally all that information would be available for another country as well.

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