Opinion digest: Why is Estonia a follower in the digital field?

European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

In a recent opinion piece in Postimees, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip found that while Estonia’s e-governance is exemplary, its digitization of business continues to lag.

According to data released by the European Commission in early March, Estonia was ranked 9th in the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2017, which measures the digital economy progress of EU member states through five components, including connectivity, human capital, use of the internet, integration of digital technology and digital public services.

Ansip noted that while 9th place reflected well on Estonia as a developed digi-state, times are rapidly changing and the ranking also hinted at a number of bottlenecks in Estonia’s digital development, which only broke the top ten due to the country’s e-governance.

According to the index, Estonia was the European leader in online public services, ranked above the EU average for digital literacy and use of the internet and has strong mobile broadband use, however the country was lagging in the digitization of its business sector — ranking 20th in Europe — connectivity and the size of its fixed broadband network, reflecting the country’s slow progress in the digital field.

Ansip found that a functioning e-government alone was not a sustainable means of remaining a leader in the realm of advanced information societies, and while Estonia’s e-state was no doubt one of the best in Europe, without it, the country would immediately rank much lower in terms of digital development.

"It often tends to be forgotten in Estonia that according to multiple indicators, our achievement is below the EU average and in some fields we are utterly among those in last place," he pointed out.

The vice-president cited the country’s slow uptake of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, ranked 25th in the EU, despite its broad potential for application — including in inventory control systems, industry production lines, animal husbandry, libraries and public transport — and proven ability to inexpensively yet markedly increase productivity, better organize workflow and save time. "It seems to me that Estonian businesses aren’t yet acknowledging to themselves that they need new technological solutions in order to remain competitive in the future as well," he posited.

Ansip compared Estonia to its northern neighbors, noting that the latter kept a close eye on international rankings, drawing their own conclusions, correcting mistakes and reacting quickly based on the results, while Estonia seemed to lack the inner compulsion to do the same. "We say that everything is great," he pointed out.

He went on to note, however, that robust digital development was of crucial importance to the economy, and that Estonia as a small country must become even more competitive in an increasingly digital society, adding that the results of the DESI rankings needed to be taken seriously.

"DESI attracts plenty of attention across Europe and it is used to describe digital development throughout the year," Ansip said. "A better position in the rankings would do much more to improve Estonia’s international image than any boulder."


This opinion piece was originally published by Postimees (link in Estonian) on March 10, 2017.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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