Estonia’s Digital Government Innovation Model: Dinis Guarda Interviews Siim Sikkut, Government CIO of Estonia

“We’ve developed a legal framework, like a standard agreement, under which we can work with innovators for free, no red tape, no procurement.” This is how Siim Sikkut, Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom and Government CIO of Estonia, describes the recently launched Digital Testbed Framework in a new interview carried out by Dinis Guarda. This initiative, part of the Digital Government Innovation model, is a new milestone in one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Besides that, Mr Sikkut discusses the role of the government and initiatives like this one to help businesses thrive in a digital transformation scenario. 

Siim Sikkut, Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom and Government CIO of Estonia

Being selected amongst the world’s TOP20 most influential people in digital government in 2018 and 2019 by Apolitical, Siim Sikkut, Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom and Government CIO of Estonia, has been involved in many of Estonia’s digital solutions: from the e-residency program to the recently launched Digital Testbed Framework to help businesses thrive.

In fact, and as it can be seen in the interview carried out by citiesabc and openbusinesscouncil founder Dinis Guarda, Mr Sikkut is especially proud of the work his office has done to get Digital Testbed Framework off the ground, describing it as “a new and innovative collaboration model looking to attract partners globally.” The framework gives access to start-ups, scale-ups and all government technology innovators to the technologies and experience of the world-leading digital government of Estonia. They only ask for the free use of the resulting novel solution in return. A small price to pay for such an opportunity.

Key Facts

• Siim Sikkut is the Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom, and Government CIO of Estonia in office since 2017. Mr. Sikkut is responsible for strategizing the launch of development initiatives and regulation. He also represents the government in the EU and other international organisations, promoting and collaborating on policies concerning technology and digital adoption.

• The Estonian government has launched some remarkably unique initiatives under his leadership like e-Residency and more recently, the Digital Testbed Network.

• The interview is part of the citiesabc openbusinesscouncil Youtube Podcast series, where leaders and influencing personalities across various cities share and present their insights, potentially making global impacts.

Having launched some ground-breaking initiatives for digitization of the Estonian economy under his leadership, Siim talks about his trajectory of work and his journey experiences. Siim pointedly states that his appetite for technology, since childhood, was due to the Estonian government’s initial efforts of digitization.

“We’ve had motivation and drive. Making our government digital has not been a cool project for us. It’s been a necessity. Given as small as we are, 1.3 million people, even less than 2, we have to be very efficient and effective with the limited resources we have if we wanted to be anything in the world,” recounts Siim as the driving motive behind the fast-paced digitization of the Estonian economy.

Taking help from a series of phenomenal dynamics, Estonia is now one of the most advanced digital societies.  Dinis asks Siim to highlight the success and scope of eResidency, a programme launched by Estonia in 2014.

He modestly explains, “It is a realization that a digital identity or an e-resident from any part of the world can get access to Estonian government services.” Under this revolutionary program, e-residents get a smart card that can be used to sign documents digitally. The program is aimed towards location-independent entrepreneurs such as software developers, writers, innovators and more. Their financial footprint is monitored digitally, in a manner stated to be transparent.


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The Digital Testbed Framework Initiative

When Dinis brought their recent initiative Digital Testbed Framework & Digital Government Innovation model to the conversation, Siim stated that the Digital Testbed Framework is a new and innovative collaboration model looking to attract partners globally. It gives start-ups, scale-ups and all government technology innovators, access to the technologies and experience of the world-leading digital government of Estonia – in return for the free use of the resulting novel solution.

The initiative was designed with simplicity and efficiency in mind. Users can produce government-level IT solutions safely and quickly, via live-market testing and approval in a nationwide digital government testbed, without having to navigate any red tape or lengthy sales or approval processes.

Through this cooperation model, users will have access to the government tech stack, know-how (and in some cases data) to help develop their own emerging commercial solutions. It also allows them to partner with one of the most digitally developed countries in the world to “rubber stamp” their ideas and obtains proof of concept.

The Digital Testbed Framework has been used by the Estonian parliament and the Ministry of Education and Research to collaborate on reusable AI components, and the Estonian Health Board to create HOIA – the official COVID-19 exposure notification app for Estonia.

It’s also been deployed across applications such as the TEXTA Toolkit (which uses AI functionality to predict whether comments should or shouldn’t be published in public forums) as well as being hugely successful in helping the Police and Border Guard Board detect domestic violence cases.

“The problem many start-ups face today is that the environment for cooperation the public sector is built on is old, outdated and inflexible and this makes integration and collaboration difficult. As the saying goes, ‘there’s no need to reinvent the wheel,’ and that’s why we’re inviting anyone and everyone to use the same tech stack we use to run and build our own digital government, for free.”

Culminating the interview, Siim takes the citiesabc openbusinesscouncil platform to warmly invite active global participation in Estonia’s digital testbed framework to analyze its vastness and versatility.

“We want to partner with innovative people from all over the world and in a variety of sectors. Whether you’re a coder wanting help improve the digital services of Estonia, or an entrepreneur looking to test your solution with one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world – we’d love to connect with you.”  

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