Arvo Ott: We conclude that current level of Mongolian digitalization is relatively good
Delegations from the Estonian e-Governance academy had visited state agencies for further cooperation last February. During their working visit, the Mongolian Economy interviewed Mr. Arvo Ott, Chairman of the Management Board of e-Governance Academy and Heiko Vainsalu, Consultant in Roksnet Solutions Ltd, which is partners with e-Governance Academy.
– What is the purpose of your visit here in Ulaanbaatar? Tell us some news from the meetings here?
-Arvo Ott: Actually, we had a joint project that focuses on the state assessment. Maybe you can call this gap analysis. We have meetings during this week with CITA, foreign ministries, and banks to get a bigger picture of e-Government. This project is implementing six months to one year. We can simply continue its goals. But I need to look at some resources and maybe recommendations and discuss some regulations which might be of interest for both sides. We have Estonian experiences. But every country has differences. That is why this type of learning week is important for us. We got a lot of information before. So, this time we are just focusing on some of the aspects. But it’s like that kind of recommendation looking together and might be the next steps. Then do some program coordination and might be also some issue about legislation that is so abstract. e-Government is pretty complex with so many different aspects included. Also, technology and architecture. So those are focuses that are specific on our visits.
-Heiko Vainsalu: I recapped Mongolia’s remarkable achievements in terms of bringing new e-services. Mongolia we are finding that similar authorities and institutions are very slow and low. They cannot make very high-level jumps anymore. They need support from other organizations. Now Mongolia is the right moment of engaging this kind of interoperability of cross-governmental organizations. It could be able to make more use of digital technology.
-What is the next step of the project and what would be further cooperation?
– Arvo Ott: In this project, we are just focusing on limited assessment discussion here and find also may be issues that are common this is very important. Next step we are working together with this road map to short term aims and but also longer-term aims. So, in the sense of next planning and of course, we are interested in how Estonia and Mongolia can work together in different directions. But we are not doing very much, we are not focusing on technological development in this case. With our knowledge, it is e-Government working at the central level. Of course, we have knowledge of technology and the possibilities of technology. But in this project, we are working on the framework.
-The technological transformation can make a benefit to economic growth in every sector. Could you tell us about a good example of it?
-Heiko Vainsalu: Maybe banking is the most innovative and I am thinking that road too. But Estonians already 20 years ago converted to all banking to such an extent that was happening we see nowhere in the world. The benefits that create e-Government by it means electronic identity has like in this administrative level has an impact on all the industries. No exceptions and no highlights. But just an example of everybody’s life is better off. I think the main driver for Estonia in terms of e-Governance was like we are a small country. So, we need to cut costs, we need to make the administration thinner and lighter and cheaper and yet be safe and secure. So, this has been driven for Estonia in the governmental sector and the whole society has benefited from the e-ID and a secure connection.
-There are a lot of technological changes happening in the agriculture sectors. This is one of the main economic sectors in Mongolia. How technology transforms such sectors to create a benefit?
-Arvo Ott: For example, in Africa, since like some relatively easy tool for agricultural people how to sell products and advise what’s like metrology and water, etc. this type of thing. Another case is that also technology can help and to figure out certain things and help people through mobile services. Because in those countries people are living far from the central area. In Estonia, I would say we don’t have the main dominant industry. We don’t have mining. But when we look at Mongolia, of course, the agriculture sector is one thing and some specific issues like nomads moving everywhere. Also, in mining, we have one project in Guyana which is in South America. They are starting to get wind and they are much more focused on how to use technology to protect nature and to make those production things as much as possible to protect people from the climate. This is one good example of use of technology also to use public data that would be needed for people to understand what is going on and they supporting some policies at least have the possibility to give their opinion on some projects. In Estonia a lot of people pro and against actively the use of technology. But online it makes it easier to do discussions.
-One-third of the Mongolian population is living in a poverty line according to the latest World Bank Report. I think it’s very important to solve some social problems while creating an accessible digital service. What is the relationship between social-economic factors and digitalization and how to handle it?
– Heiko Vainsalu: Public and government sectors should be providing services to the citizens when they need it and not when their citizens ask for them. This sense it long prospective to citizens should be able to be nomads or if live somewhere in the outskirt of Mongolia and do whatever they want to live for life are working being an entrepreneur or work for something that somebody else whatever they want to do and the government should be proactively providing services. This means the government has to be integrated and the government must be ready to provide services and every point is needed. Therefore, I would say a long prospective having people in connection to the internet is not so much needed. Rather the government must be aware of what is happening. But to reach that in stages of that in the meantime you have to make citizens well connected and try to reach them reasonably. And in Mongolia here this is a kind of socio-economic problem-solving type of thing that for the provision of public services, the government has to figure out how to provide services so that citizens and everyday life are distracted much. So I wouldn’t expect citizens to drive or arrive miles and kilometers to get to some service centers, but rather how to bring services to the citizens.
-Estonia has been spending many years transforming digitalization. What is the current level of digitalization? Technology always updated and innovated. What is the newest process in Estonia today?
– Heiko Vainsalu: The point for Estonia has reached now is that we have reached a situation where our digital governance has become a legacy. So we have to actively work before the items to build 10, 15 years ago must be renewed, replaced and updated. Estonia’s first digital signatures they signed in 2002 used cryptography. But nowadays it has become weak. So these signatures must be resigned and something must be done to protect the signatures from being hacked. So we are dealing with such kinds of problems with finding out ways to do this activity also. So I think that the most important thing that different country can learn from Estonia is that don’t look at Estonia so many other success stories. But rather as a place for a lot of things that have already been tried. We have failed in a lot of things, we have not successfully and not fully efficient in many things. But on this path, we have reached this point to some extent. So this is like some of what we are ready for in our legacy. The second thing is that maybe it must be understood about Estonia that throughout this kind of 20 years Estonia has never been so much technological innovation. This has been more like management government innovation and also business process innovation on how to use existing mature technologies. In Estonia it’s rather not following the principle but thinking about what other real problems in the society. That is why many rankings you cannot see Estonia is number one. We are maybe 4th, 5th or 10th place in the world. But not number one. Why? Because we are not aiming for that goal we are trying to solve all our problems. So, in this case, I think Mongolia is also important to understand what is the real problem that needs to be solved in society. Is it that efficient? Is it that government is lowing resources, what is the problem that you are trying to solve and then finding the right tools for that.
-Estonia leads its digital safety system in Europe and is responsible for the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre. So what is the technology or know-how of the safety system?
-Arvo Ott: Cybersecurity is one of the pillars. When we started to build we are doing a parallel we are looking for cyber-security. But cybersecurity is of course a wide topic such as legislation, organization, policy, technology. But the good thing is to build technological development with cybersecurity is to make some good teachers. It means that people can check their data, see how others are using data, how to protect your credential systems. This is due to the fact the world is changing. It’s a never-ending story similar to e-government.
-Heiko Vainsalu: Maybe we could even say that this e-government platform baseline systems having information security in mind. Problems have been solved looking at what are the possible threats that can be tried must be addressed. Trying to find a way of how to protect yourself against these attacks. We have designed our baseline systems. Then of course again training and education of the whole education system to be aware of that. One of the Estonian cybersecurity experts who was also director of the General Information System authority who’s responsible in Mongolia for this kind of technical implementation of e-governance. He once said breaks are needed to try fast. Which means that you need ways of how to shut things down if it starts to go bad. You must be always aware that you must be able to control that if things are still going normally or over has been attacked, somebody taken or stolen chain something like that. If these things happen we know it’s okay and removes or stops and some things remain safe. So Estonians have very pragmatics on security.
-Tell our readers for more information about the “e-Governance Academy”?
– Arvo Ott: Academy starts as an NGO. A lot of delegation started to come to Estonia with the same questions as what is X-Road, what is the digital ID, how is the organization going etc. So it was too difficult for the government to deal with. We are hosting around 50 delegations per year from a hundred countries. What we are doing is giving 6 months to one-year advice to help some countries such as Benin and Ukraine helping to create technology. Also, we are doing some training for people to understand some blocks and some business companies. But I think that you can’t copy e-Government from other countries. Because every country is different. You can learn the methodology and some knowledge from other countries. After then we are cooperating with knowledgeable people.
-There is a system called X-Road very highlighted. Recently Finland adopted this system. What is the role of this system and what exactly X-Road?
-Heiko Vainsalu: This system is one of the backbone systems of Estonia. This kind of platform has several of them. X-Road is helping backing integration systems. From the Mongolian perspective, Khur at the moment is now doing exactly what it needed to do. But things are getting more complicated and more complex. Because the interoperability ecosystem just comes up. Then we would see a reason to make changes that Khur makes it act more similarly actually how it should be built up. X-Road was adapted by Finland in 2015. We made an agreement with Finland that we are creating an NGO. The NGO developed core components of X-Road. Now Estonia and Finland are running separate instances of this whole platform. So the core platform as a technology. To Mongolia, we exported its concepts. In other countries when they are suited, X-Road like Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Columbia, and Ukraine. Now there are a lot of countries in Central America.
-What do you think about the current development of Mongolian digital transformation?
-Arvo Ott: We are working with more than a hundred countries. All the countries make a step of aiming e-Government. Almost all are not about technological challenges. I think to compare with this other country, Mongolia is doing well. Of course, there are some challenges in some cases, for example, an electronic identification card. The type of card may be the same as Estonia, but some possibilities are not the same. Some things are missing with its big picture. This week we are talking about several aspects of issues for solving immediately and some longer terms. But the good issue is that people are trying to solve some issues. However, sometimes it’s slow but some private business sectors are so active. Banks are active. So we evaluate the situations pretty well in the sense of digital technology. You can find many countries’ data are still on the paper. I think developing countries do new things much faster than already in the past 15 years with the same systems. Big countries Australia and Canada at different levels don’t have an electronic identity. In this sense, many good decisions have been done here. But in practice, people always expect much faster changes. In Estonia, newspapers are saying the “Tiger Leap” now going to slow down. Not doing the same as in the past possible. So here the situation is very much promising. We are trying to access electronic identity to make many good benefits. If banks, private sector pushing to have government together. It might be a good next future.
-How can you evaluate Estonia and the Mongolian digital transformation?
-Heiko Vainsalu: If we consider place and time and what is the current stage and where you are heading. I think that kind of perspective this time you are better off than Estonia when it had launched the X-Road platform for the second two years. With Khur now running two years, you have a way ahead. You have a better opportunity, you have many services, you have more participants and organizations showing up and you have more people using some of this app. In this sense, if you take an Estonia second year like some of 2002, 2003 and compare with Mongolia. Mongolia would be ahead. Now we are just further ways sometimes. So we cannot compare Mongolia and Estonia in 2020.