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Digitalisation, perhaps something to learn from Estonia?

Last update: 11/02/2019
Pix source:
From M. Saraswathi

DUBAI, Feb 11 (Bernama) -- It is common to see developing countries such as Malaysia often looking-up to advanced nations when it comes to tapping expertise on nation building, digitalisation and innovation.

"Although we are not far behind in that field, Malaysia still lagged in fully incorporating or taking full advantage of these expertise despite the smartphone penetration rate of 65.14 per cent among the population as of 2018."

"For instance, we do not have a single platform for all government services."

For example, even a small process of paying for municipal council compounds or services is made cumbersome as each application had its own gateway. Imagine the hassle one has to go through," he said.

"And hassles aside, discovering that the gateway is not protected or doesn't work on a certain platform after going through the painful process of creating an account, warrants a story on its own."

"I always wondered why? It is not like we don't have the brain power or the necessary technology."

Hence, it came as a surprise to me to discover Estonia, a tiny and little known country, as least for me, was making waves in the digitalisation world.

"Would you believe if I said that this country in Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, is the most digitally-savvy society in the world."

In Estonia, he added 99 per cent of public services like voting, health records and taxes were available online.

"We have reached a point where our country is often called e-Estonia," said an elated Prime Minister Juri Ratas at the just-concluded World Government Summit here.

As prime minister, he daily signs tens of official government documents digitally with the use of his mobile phone.

"Digital signing alone saves every working Estonian at least five business days a year, amounting to a total efficiency gain of at least two per cent of Gross Domestic Product, annually," he pointed out.

Although one cannot deny the mammoth work that needs to go into the technicality of such a vast and high-level digital penetration, people will also argue that it is easier for a country with a population of 1.3 million people but it will be a lot more complex when you have to deal with a bigger population of 30 million people.

Ratas had the perfect answer.

He said the most critical component for a truly digital society is "an open mind-set and trust in digital solutions."

"Trust is a key element. Using technology requires trust from users, but technology can also help you build trust. As a user, I want to be sure that my data is safe and secure and that I have control over it," he said, adding that Estonia had been using blockchain since 2012 to maintain data integrity of log files.

He went on to say that every citizen in Estonia can find out who has been looking at their data.

“We have built such features into our critical services. For example, I can see when a doctor has checked my electronic health record and I can ask (him) for the reason," he added.

Ratas also had a balanced view.

He warned about cyber attacks and that governments must take care of cyberspace in the same way it took care of security in the streets.

Such threats are common and something that needs to be dealt with as the country has much more to gain by using digital tools such as higher economic growth, better governance and a more connected society.

As Malaysia aspires to make it big in the digital economy, perhaps there is something for us to learn from Estonia or may I say "E-Estonia."


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