How to digitize an entire government

Lauren Goode: OK.

Gideon Lichfield: Then they will-

Lauren Goode: OK.

Gideon Lichfield: Occurs automatically.

Lauren Goode: Okay, on one side of me that sounds a little like Big Brother, and on the other side of me you’re probably thinking that’s how a fully digital government should work.

Gideon Lichfield: Right. It’s like Steve Jobs always said about Apple products: “It should just work.”

Lauren Goode: So Luukas’ job is to make sure that everything works?

Gideon Lichfield: Well, that’s not just his job, but he’s responsible for overseeing the digital transformation that began about 30 years ago and continuing to drive it forward across government.

Lauren Goode: Estonia is pretty small though, right? So to ask a question that maybe a Silicon Valley VC would ask: Can it scale? Is this something the United States could possibly do?

Gideon Lichfield: Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to Luukas about. Because Estonia is considered a poster child for digital government, so much so that it has almost become a cliché. People say, “Oh yeah, Estonia.” But good luck trying to replicate what Estonia is doing elsewhere. Basically I wanted to ask Luukas how exportable the Estonian model is. And he seemed to think it wasn’t as unique to Estonia as one might imagine.

Lauren Goode: Well, I can’t wait to hear that.

Gideon Lichfield: And this conversation comes right after the break.


Gideon Lichfield: Luukas Ilves, welcome Have a beautiful future.

Luukas Ilves: Thank you Gideon, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Gideon Lichfield: Do you have a bright future?

Luukas Ilves: I am. Although for me it is my gift.

Gideon Lichfield: I think most of our listeners have probably heard that Estonia is a pioneer in digital government, but they don’t know much about what that means in practice. Can you briefly talk about the key things that make a company a leader?

Luukas Ilves: Secure. I mean, the headline is quite simple: Everything is digital. There is no government service or interaction between citizens or businesses and the government that has not been digitized at this time. So everything from the mundane, which should be digital in virtually every country in the world at this point, like filing your taxes, permits of any kind, to – you know, some things that are a little less digital in most parts of the world , For example in voting, where we have been able to vote online since 2004, and in our last election more than half of the people did so. And of course we focus not only on digitizing things, but also on using all the possible tools that the new technologies offer us to constantly improve things, be it from the perspective of transparency and accountability, convenience, etc. Cost effectiveness . So in some ways I would say it’s almost unremarkable. We’re doing in government what pretty much everyone in the world is doing with digital transformation, which is finding ways to continually improve what they do using current technologies.

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