What can we learn from the world’s most advanced digital society?

central government, AI

If I asked you which country boasts the most digitally advanced society in the world, what would you say? America? Singapore? China? You might be guessing for a while, because to find the answer you have to look towards a tiny former Soviet republic with a population of just 1.3 million.

Estonia. Yep, you read that correctly. Estonia.

After gaining independence in 1991, the new Estonian Government decided to do something different by working with the private sector in transforming the former Soviet Union country into a leading digital nation. Since then, the country has worked hard to empower citizens through pioneering public sector technology, and the results are quite astounding.

Here are just a handful of the digital projects that have propelled Estonia into the top spot on the digital society leaderboard.


Estonia is the only country in the world where 99% of public services are available online 24/7. Estonia’s government proudly boasts that there are only three services their residents have to leave the house for – getting married, getting divorced and buying property. Everything else can be done safely and efficiently online.

This advanced digital ecosystem has enabled the country to save over 1407 years of working time annually and has alowed them to create a hassle-free environment for businesses and entrepreneurship.


E-residency has been designed to create a digital nation for all, built on inclusion, transparency and legitimacy to empower citizens globally, and achieve worldwide digital and financial inclusion.  E-residency was introduced back in 2014, and it’s the latest of Estonia’s progressive public sector developments towards an “information society”, all of which have been fuelled by emerging technologies.

To gain e-residency, applicants pay €100 to have their photograph and fingerprints taken. They are then issued with an identity card, a cryptographic key and a PIN code to access Estonia’s national systems allowing residents to do everything from paying taxes, voting in elections and checking medical records 24 hours a day.


In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world to hold nation-wide elections using internet voting (i-voting), and in 2007, it made headlines as the first country to use i-Voting in parliamentary elections.

i-Voting works by allowing voters to cast their ballots from any internet-connected computer anywhere in the world. During a designated pre-voting period, the voter logs onto the system using their e-residency ID-card or Mobile-ID and casts a ballot. The voter’s identity is removed from the ballot before it reaches the National Electoral Commission for counting, thereby ensuring anonymity. Voters are also allowed to log in multiple times during the pre-voting period, meaning they can cast a vote and then change their mind and cast a new vote which will override the previous one.

According to the Estonian government, the cumulative time saved in the last round of elections amounted to an impressive 11,000 working days!

While most countries around the world are still way behind Estonia’s pioneering digital ecosystem, the country isn’t showing any signs of slowing their digital drive. One of their key future ambitions is to provide personalised healthcare and I think it’s fair to say they’ll probably be the first nation to make this a reality.

The country has already digitised 97% of its health data and 99% of prescriptions. The same digital ID card given to citizens as part of their e-residency application is used to store and share medical data, giving access to a person’s medical history, as well as prescribing digital prescriptions. This is already providing the foundations for personalised care. To further build on this, the government recently launched a programme to recruit and genotype 100,000 participants (they aim to increase this to 400,000 participants in the next 2 years) this means an individual can see potential threats to their heath while the state can map the entire genome data of the country. By combining this information with AI, the country hopes to assist doctors in delivering personalised medicine.

As well as personalised healthcare, the government is also focused on the full automatisation of tax declarations by 2020, which could, with an organisations consent, see data exchanged in real time between the Statistics Office of Estonia, the Tax and Customs Board and Estonian banks, meaning the government would be able to predict the economy in real time.

To bring their ambitious digital strategy to life requires a highly skilled digital workforce, but yep, you’ve guessed it, they’ve got that covered too.

Estonia already provides classes in robotics and programming to children, while its schools are on track to adopt digital-only study materials by 2020.

The country has a programme called Learn IT, under their lifelong learning programme, where if you have a university degree, you can apply and take intensive IT courses which culminates in an internship with a major IT company. In 80% of cases, participants have been hired by the same firm which provided their internship.

It’s no surprise Estonia has been named the world’s most advanced digital society when you consider the giant leaps they have taken to transform their government and public services. Their society is flourishing because of their unwavering commitment to digital technology and it’s fast becoming their defining feature. Their drive to push boundaries and take risks has sparked unparalleled levels of creativity and entrepreneurialism across their nation with the country now seeing 31 start-ups for every 100,000 inhabitants – that’s six times higher than the European average. Our only hope now is that the rest of the world takes note and soon follows suit.

To find out more about Estonia’s digital journey, click here.

Posted by Helen Thomas