Estonian e-tiger lost its roar

Siiri Liiva
, reporter
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At the beginning of the century, Estonia as e-state developed rapidly and received abundant praise in other places of the world. By now, the development tempo is substantially down and, rather, we come across as the laggard.

«Doubtless, our main problem is that the size of the state allows no investments on the scale of such as USA,» said IT-entrepreneur Andrei Korobeinik. As an example of that, he cited that a service used by 300 million people is only slightly more expensive as one only used by a million. «Thus, a small nation has a very hard time competing with the greats,» noted Mr Korobeinik.

According to him, these past years lots of nations have passed Estonia by in e-state development, referring not just to UK, Singapore or South-Korea, but also to somewhat surprising places as Spain. «In every state, the key to success is different: for us, it definitely was the ID-card and the services-connecting X-Road; in England, for instance, it was the use of open data,» said he, adding that while Estonia has the laws for open data, public sector unwillingness serves as a brake.

An example of the difficulties is a fresh and increasingly used e-Road Administration. «While we are constantly hearing the songs of praise regarding our e-state, as we begin to communicate with the state we hit a wall,» said a father (54) of two teenagers, contacting Postimees and desiring anonymity. The man came into contact with e-Road Administration shortcomings while applying for driving licence to his elder daughter now 18.  

The small state trouble

First, the man wanted to get registered to traffic exam for upgraded level, but it turned out it was only possible the e-way for those applying for initial licence. Thus, the people already holding a licence of some category must pay 20 percent more and still visit the traffic register (ARK) office. «If you are a minor, the law prescribes that a parent or caregiver must consent, and to file that again you must visit the ARK bureau. And the application to get registered for the exam is not accepted until one pays the state fees,» said the man regarding another obstacle, again bringing a state fee 20 percent dearer.

Thirdly he wanted to apply for driving instructor certificate via e-service, but, again, being not the novice applicant he must physically show up and again pay 20 percent extra for the service. Also, the father pointed out that the instructor certificate is only valid for a year but as they have another child growing up, now 15 of age and about to apply for provisional licence next year, he will need to apply for another instructor certificate which again brings added costs.

«With all of this, one feels you are second-class for the state and somehow suspicious, one to be necessarily checked face to face and that for higher pay,» said the father. He can’t get is why Road Administration’s e-service administrators can’t take the trouble to enter the relevant blanks to be filled and digitally signed by one, two or three parties.

«As the state agencies work on wok days and 90 percent of people also work 8 am to 5 pm, with the two initial actions I have explicitly lost about €80: the higher state fees, the missed hour at work, and 140 kilometres by car to ARK and back,» he said.

Road Administration examination department head Toivo Kangur said e-service is developed on the basis of most used first. So they started off with changing-the-driving-licence service. «This year, over 100,000 have changed the licence and over 60 percent are using our e-service,» said Mr Kangur. Next, they added applications for provisional driving licence – about 15,000 applicants a year – and change of provisional driving licence for driving licence with applicants also amounting to 15,000.

«Developing the services considering all the variations takes time,» he said, adding that the category of minors applying for B-category provisional licence is tiny, this is yet to be developed. «Regrettably, this isn’t in this year’s plans,» admitted Mr.

About the instructor certificate, Mr Kangur maintained these may be ordered in e-service. «And if it expires or a new student needs to be added, it can be done for a lower state fee,» said Mr Kangur.

Broadly looking, Andrei Korobeinik thinks it isn’t hopeless in Estonia yet, but to keep in global competition innovation would be the key. «E-residency direction is a good direction I think: the execution is weak, but that’s natural as we are breaking the ground,» noted Mr Korobeinik, who thinks Estonia’s e-state services are not comfortable to use.  

« site has no mobile version! And its web version feels like it’s from the early e-state years,» said Mr Korobeinik. Instead of reading new notices comfortably in one place, he said, every service needs to be opened separately and Estonia has hundreds of these. «Also, Estonian e-state has no interface (API) which could be used by private sector for creation of services. This would boost the creation of new services and the improving of the quality of the existing one,» he said.

Hard to keep in step

Mr Korobeinik admitted, that the future is unpredictable: «Bill Gates said we overestimate speed of changes in the two year perspective, and underestimate it in the ten year perspective.» Meaning: in two years, perhaps the world in not much different; in ten years, self-driving cars may be the norm, lots of jobs assumed by robots, and 3D printers abounding in homes.

For nations, this spells fiercer competition yet. «On the brains market, some single states are competing like USA and Australia, but near-term many will join up,» predicted Mr Korobeinik. He claims in the future people will select place of residence like we now choose a mobile operator. «One may be a great Estonian patriot, nut when Luxembourg should offer a bit better service, he may go there with his taxes.»

Mr Korobeinik thinks Estonia is currently two to four years behind of dominant trends in the West. He points at Facebook: in Estonia, it is peaking, but in near future young users will be dropping out. «In developed markets it is losing users while new markets ensure its growth,» explained Mr Korobeinik regarding Facebook. He said US developments would reach Estonia in about three years.

«Facebook’s edge is its strong platform, where it is primarily competing with Google and Microsoft, but the main threat is loss of the coolness factor,» he said, predicting that one day as Facebook is no longer trendy, it may lose its users in one or two years. Just as it happened with the global social network MySpace – in two years, its US market share fell from 90 prevent to nearly zero.

Mr Korobeinik thinks e-Estonia’s main threat is it’s lagging behind. «My gut feeling says Estonia is late in stepping into the fray – if at all – and this spells great danger tour competitiveness as a state,» said the entrepreneur, noting that Estonian state currently lacks a clear vision even regarding who and for what reasons will be living in Estonia in 2030, say.