Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Amazing Digital Services of Tallinn, Estonia

Summary of Working Trip to the city of Tallinn in Estonia 28-30.5.2018

Zohar Sharon – Chief Knowledge Officer, Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality

During February 2018, a delegation from Tallinn in Estonia visited Tel Aviv-Yafo. The delegation led by the Mayor of Tallinn Was exposed to various urban activities, and I had the privilege of presenting "Digitel". As you will see from reading this report, Estonia is a very advanced country in terms of good governance, promotion of important national matters, and using digitation to provide a high standard of service to its citizens. The Mayor of Tallinn, Taavi Aas expressed great interest in "Digitel", because he could see the enormous potential in an approach that moves from a reactive Municipality to a smart proactive Municipality. As a result, I was invited to present "Digitel" to the extended city management in Tallinn on 28.5.2018, and also to participate in a conference on "Governancefor Digital Citizens" which took place on 29-30.5.2018.

Important points expressed in this report

The Estonian Government is the leading body in the definition of uncompromising national standards regarding information management and the provision of national digital services, and provides all public and business authorities with consistent tools to achieve their goals.

Putting the citizen at the center and making their daily lives much easier.

The strong and positive link created between central government, local government and other financial and social entities by the use of the same standards and generic tools.

Local authorities in the country use the same generic tools, facilitating consistent professional guidance, a shared language, and the ability for authorities to share information and systems.

Some background on Estonia

The Republic of Estonia is a sovereign state in northern Europe.  The population is about 1,400,000 and to the north it is bounded by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia.  Beyond the Baltic Sea lie Sweden to the west and Finland to the north.  The largest ethnic group in the country, the Estonians, are Finnic people.

Estonia is a developed country with an advanced, high-income economy.  Since 2011 it has been one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. It ranks very high in the Human Development Index of the United Nations, and it also ranked highly in indices of economic freedom, civil liberties and press freedom. The 2015 PISA test places Estonian high school students 3rd in the world, behind Singapore and Japan.
Citizens of Estonia enjoy universal health care, free education, and the longest-paid maternity leave in the OECD (mothers in Estonia receive 140 days of full pregnancy and maternity leave, which can start 30-70 days before the expected date of birth).
Since independence the country has rapidly developed its IT sector, becoming one of the world's most advanced societies in the field of digital services for citizens. 
The country has a council (E-Estonia Council) that guides and develops digital activity and government services, and in particular defines the national digital agenda.
In 2005, Estonia became the first state to hold elections over the Internet, and in 2014, the first state to provide digital residency for non-Estonians.

Communications and Digital Information

All Estonian residents have a digital identity card, and over 84% of citizens make use of it for smart identification.

In 2016, 99.9% of bank transfers were done digitally, and 96.3% of income tax refunds were offered electronically.  (No checks are used in Estonia!!!)
In 2011, 66% of the population participated in an electronic census.

Since 21.4.2017, more than 366,931,246 digital signatures have been executed in Estonia, 1,283,700 actions using the digital ID card, and 542,826,257 electronic identity checks.


The State has developed the X-Road:
The X-Road is the backbone of Estonia’s digital services.  It is a protocol that enables online secure exchange of data between various organizations.  As a result, citizens or businesses are not obliged to request data from a specific entity (approvals, permits, licenses etc.) and then transfer them manually to another entity.  The organizations can exchange the required data between themselves, subject of course to consistent standards and maintaining customer privacy.

Payments using mobile devices
Users can pay for various goods and services using mobile devices.

Identification using mobile devices:
Users can confirm their identity in a secure way through their mobile phones, for example when
they want to perform online banking transactions, or for digital suppliers who require smart identification.  The cellular service coexists with the digital ID card carried by every citizen.         
For more information

Companies and businesses
The electronic Companies Register enables periodic reports of active companies and new businesses being established.
The business portal enables submission of applications to register new companies, to change registration details, to close companies and delete them from the register.  95% of companies in Estonia were set up using the electronic commercial portal. Now citizens can also register their companies using their digital ID cards.  Opening or registering a new business on the Internet is a simple process that can sometimes be done within one day.  Fordetails

E-Residents can:

·         Set up a company over the Internet in less than a day.
·         Manage the company over the Internet from anywhere in the world.
·         Open a bank account and use online banking services.
·         Have access to suppliers of tax services.
·         Digitally sign and encrypt contracts and other documents.


Estonia is the first country in the world to offer electronic – digital residency by means of an ID card issued by the government, which enables entrepreneurs from all over the world to work from anywhere in the world.  By March 2017 more than 18,000 people from 135 countries had applied for e-residency.

The State Portal:  

An environment opened in 2003, in which the Government and local authorities cooperate to provide citizens, employees and companies with the information and services they need in one place.  The State has created an email address for every user with the ID document, which is intended to be the channel of communication between the State and the individual.  99% of the services provided by the State and the local authorities are electronically available through this portal.

Digital Education - thee-school

The school management system connects homes, schools and local government.  It covers 95% of pupils and 85% of schools in Estonia.

Taxes:  The e-tax board and e-customs

Customers can manage their taxes and customs digitally.

Real estate:  The e-land register

Provides full information on all real estate matters, owners, data about the land, its purpose, restrictions, mortgages and so on.

Health:   Health information system

All the information required by doctors and patients:  patients can view their whole medical history (visits, tests etc.) or book a doctor’s appointment; Doctors can share medical documents created during treatments, such as X-rays and other tests, and generate electronic prescriptions.  Since the aspect of privacy is critical, all patients can check who has viewed their medical data.

For more information about Estonian electronic solutions, follow this link.

Unification of Local Authorities

During 2017 a historic step was taken to combine 213 local authorities in the country into just 79 authorities.  This move had been in the making for a long time and faced many difficulties, but was eventually successfully achieved.  For further information:  localgovernment reform

The city of Tallinn

Tallinn is Estonia’s capital and largest city.  It is located on the northern coast (on the Gulf of Finland in the Harju region).  It has an area of 159.2 km2 and a population of about 450,000.  It is split into eight districts.

הוסף כיתוב

The city’s goals:

To be the greenest European capital by 2021.

To maintain is position among the most innovative cities in Europe (2-3 in the Innovative City
competition for 2017).
To return to being one of the 7 most intelligent cities in the world (last time was in 2013).

The Municipality’s goals

City employees should run around with paperwork, not the residents.
Databases and IT systems work for us, not the other way round.


The Municipality employs over 14,000 people, plus others who are employed by municipal companies and other organizations that are partners in the daily work.

City Budget

In 2018 the Municipal budget amounted to about 683 million euros, with most of its income from the Government.  Here we need to understand that the Estonian municipal taxation system is different from the situation we are familiar with.  The Government collects both state and local taxes from all citizens, and allocates budgets to cities based on agreed parameters, including passing part of the income taxes it collects back to the cities.  The Municipality only collects local taxes such as parking fees, animal taxes, closure of streets for special events, etc.

Public Transport

Residents of Tallinn enjoy free public transport! (Buses, trams and so on).  This is due to Government policy that prefers mass transportation over private vehicles.  The transport system belongs to the Municipality, meaning for example that the drivers are municipal employees.  Residents use a smart card for their journeys.
Tourists and non-residents of Tallinn can purchase tickets from some 80 outlets all over the city.

More information about the city’s activities in the areas of business, tourism, innovation, education and more can be found in the booklet Factsabout Tallinn 2017.

Display and Training Center

In Tallinn there is a display and training center for all the electronic solutions developed in the country and in the city.  Delegations from all over the world have been trained there and exposed to the range of existing situations.  It is possible to arrange tours of the site and meetings with relevant people. For more details:  the e-Estonia showroom.

Digital Services in the City

The City provides numerous digital services for all kinds of needs:

Developing the concept, the services, and cooperation between all Government and Local Systems

The Mayor and the Municipal Secretary are leading the development of the concept and municipal services, working closely with employees, managers, government officials and all kind of public and private organizations.
Development of the information systems and digital services is outsourced to companies who are selected by means of tenders and must comply with strict criteria of quality, data security, national standards etc.  The Municipality has a Digital HQ which assists managers to implement their demands from the development companies and oversees the processes.  The HQ sees its task as helping managers to achieve the city’s strategic and design plans.

Sharing Systems Among Local Authorities

All Local authorities that develop IT-based services are required to meet Government standards, which includes allowing every local authority to obtain information securely online from every system via the Government’s X-Road protocol that facilitates secure online exchange of data between organizations.

Critical and Important Point:

Every local authority can obtain for its own use the information system developed in a particular town (for example, an IT system developed in Tallinn Municipality) by contacting the technology company that developed the system, making relevant adjustments and performing regular maintenance, without the need for a new tender.

Digital Identification of Citizens

All residents have a state-issued digital ID card, which enables them to carry out smart identification simply and quickly for all government authorities.  Personal actions cannot be carried out without this card.  There is also a mobile version, and with a special mobile SIM that contains the citizen’s identification data, actions can be performed directly from a mobile device, simply and security (the user only has to enter a PIN number).

An example of an IT system developed in Tallinn Municipality

A system to obtain permits for public events:  click here.
On its website the Municipality receives applications to hold events in public areas; requests are handled directly by the IT system which issues digitally signed permits.
The system deals with 3 main areas:
·         Public events (concerts, exhibitions, shows) in streets or parks.
·         Sporting events (football, basketball)
·         Events that include fireworks.

The system has special displays for the public, the organizers, and the various managers who have to approve the event.

Simplicity – all processes and approvals are handled directly by the system.
Applications use uniform templates and are therefore easy to prepare.
Applications that clash with other events or do not meet the criteria are rejected immediately.
Applications go directly to the people who can approve them and who use smart identification.
Approvals are available for viewing on a map by any member of the public.
Many applications are approved immediately and the applicant receives a digitally signed


I will take this opportunity of quoting the main points of the speech delivered by the President of Tallinn Eesti Vabariigi at the Conference:

After obtaining independence, the State understood that citizens demanded a high level of services, like those provided in Scandinavia or in the business sector, and in fact the State understood that it could not allow itself not to become digital.

The State understood that in fact it was not fair to leave its citizens unprotected in the Internet space and it must provide a centralized digital infrastructure to maintain their privacy. Of course it is not possible to give 100% protection, but digital protection is certainly better than the protection of individual privacy in the analogue era (papers, physical files etc.).

In the current era, governments must think about a new tax system since it is now possible to work digitally from anywhere in the world, and the physical location of companies and their employees is becoming less important.  The system where an employee went to the same physical workplace every day for 8 hours a day, for 30 years, has completely changed.

In view of that, education systems must also change.  Today, an Estonian who is working outside the country wants to maintain his identity and wants his family to be educated by Estonians under the Estonian system, and this is possible thanks to e-education provided by the state. For the first time, the digital infrastructure is offering a real opportunity to people who live in remote villages and people with disabilities to enter the job market and provide business services to anyone who is interested.

A tip for any government starting on this route:  it should be done immediately and with the total cooperation with everyone relevant in the public and private sectors. Start with services that do not require a high level of trust from the public (for example, online education, assistance for populations in distress, etc.) and gradually acquire public trust for the system.

The words of the President of Tallinn at the Conference give impressive expression to the spirit of leadership and trust in the actions of the Estonian government, resulting from their understanding that in order to run an advanced and competitive country, they must enlist the support of everyone and develop a shared digital language, just like the national language spoken by everyone.

Relevant links: