Estonian flag from Shutterstock
Filed under: Digital workplace
Last week I finally found the time to drive to the Estonian embassy in Canberra to pick up my e-residency card. “Estonia?”, I hear you say. “E-resident?!?”
Just to be clear, I would have difficulty finding Estonia on the map. I’ve never been there, and I may never get there. Despite that, I’ve been fascinated with what they’ve been doing as a country, and I wanted to be part of that journey.
E-government in Estonia
Estonia is a small country of just 1.3 million people that’s part of the European Union and Euro zone. It’s also a former Soviet country that looks like it could be in real danger from Putin’s Russia.
It’s hard for a small country to stand out, particularly in a region that has such a troubled history. A few years back, Estonia decided to become the world leader in e-government.
Under the name e-Estonia, they’ve made impressive progress. They’ve established a national identity program, and comprehensive electronic interoperability between government agencies.
By law, government agencies are only allowed to ask citizens for a piece of information once, after that, the government should simply know. They also have tight rules to protect privacy, so that an agency isn’t allowed to ask for example, “How old is this citizen?”, but rather just “Is this citizen over 18?”.
Then in 2014 , they launched the remarkable e-Residency program, which “offers to every world citizen a government-issued digital identity and the opportunity to run a trusted company online, unleashing the world’s entrepreneurial potential.”
The goal is to allow anyone around the world to make use of Estonian services, as if they were a resident, located physically within the country.
I’m now one of those e-residents.
Learning by being part of the journey
I’ve been a geek since childhood. I was being paid as a professional programmer while I was still in school, and I was doing Computer Science during the birth of the web. Before you could use your credit card online, I obtained some of the very early “cybercash”, and used it to buy a cap from Wired in the USA (trust me, this was a big deal at the time). I’ve been involved in the evolution of technology ever since.
In our work at Step Two, we help organisations work better. This includes government agencies, who in Australia like elsewhere, are striving to deliver the ideals of e-government.
In many ways, Estonia is the boldest execution of e-government in the world. No doubt there will be issues and problems, but it will still be an inspiration to others.
For all these reasons, what Estonia is doing is extremely interesting. And the best way to learn about it, is to be on the inside.
The next home for Step Two?
Step Two is a truly global organisation, despite being located in Australia, a long way from everywhere. Our books and articles are read by teams in thousands of organisations, and our staff travel the globe to present at conferences.
We also have a growing list of international clients, from UN agencies to global corporations. Considering how many intranets there are, it’s surprising how few other consultancies do what we do.
So it’s natural for us to consider establishing new offices outside of Australia, with Europe being the most likely first stop.
Earlier this year, the UK would’ve been the obvious destination for Step Two, despite the clunky and complex bureaucracy. Yes, establishing a bank account is hard, and the accounting rules are complex. But as an Australian, surely the UK would be our first stop?
Now, of course, the UK is destined to no longer be part of Europe. And with clients in Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland and others, we would very much need to be part of Europe.
This is where being an e-resident of Estonia could come in handy. I can establish a company in Estonia, along with a bank account, all without stepping foot in the country. And more services are being offered every month.
Estonia is part of the Eurozone, so we would have full access to the EU, with the ability to charge in Euros.
Watch this space (and Estonia)
Full marks to Estonia for all that they’ve done so far. What they’ve already delivered far outstrips any other country, and they’re just warming up.
I’m honoured to be an e-resident of Estonia, and I’ll be enjoying the journey ahead.