Interview with Siim Sikkut, Government CIO of Estonia – Digital Testbed Framework And Digital Government Innovation Model

Siim Sikkut is the Government CIO of Estonia but officially titled as Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecom. In office since 2017, Siim is in charge of the digital government and society as well as telecommunications and post areas. 

Mr. Sikkut is responsible for setting the strategy and policies to launch and steer strategic development initiatives and regulation. He also represents the government in the EU and other international organisations, commenting and collaborating on policies concerning technology and digital adoption.

Siim Sikkut was selected to the world’s TOP20 most influential people in digital government in 2018 and 2019 by Apolitical.

Siim is frequently interviewed by top tier publications in the US, for example in the Wall Street Journal where he discussed Estonia’s plan for AI strategy.

Under Siim’s leadership, the Estonian government has launched different initiatives. He is one of the founders of Estonia’s groundbreaking e-Residency programme, which allows non-Estonians access to Estonian services such as company formation, banking, payment processing, and taxation. The program gives the e-resident a smart card which they can use to sign documents.

More recently, Siim was also behind the Digital Testbed Framework, a new and innovative collaboration model looking to attract partners globally. It gives start-ups, scale-ups and all govtech innovators, access to the technologies and experience of the world-leading digital government of Estonia – in return for free use of the resulting novel solution.

Siim Sikkut Interview Focus

1. An introduction from you – background, overview, education…

2. Career highlights – education

3. Can you tell us some of the major improvements and solutions / benchmarks that made Estonia a success?

4. What is the Estonian Government’s take on:

a. E-residency

b. Digital government and society as well as telecommunications and post areas?

5. The data for e-Estonia is not stored centrally but instead uses a data platform run by the government called X-Road to link information from local hosts. What can you tell us about it?

6. Estonia has one of the highest number of startups per capita in the world, and one reason is the ease of establishing a business. Since 2011, a new company can be registered online in less than 20 minutes and 98% of new companies are entered in the e-Business Register digitally. That initiative has made possible an impressive number of unicorns in Estonia: Skype, Wise, Skype, Ktech, Zego, ID.me. How can you weigh on this success?

7. Can you talk about the Digital Testbed Framework And Digital Government Innovation Model?

8. How do you cope with the challenges of digital disruption and fragmentation in tech and geopolitics?

9. You were responsible for Estonia’s plan for AI strategy. Can you tell us about that?

10. You are the Chairman of the OECD Senior Digital Government Officials Working Party (E-leaders). Can you share how it works and the vision?

11. Estonia was the first Nation-State in the world to deploy blockchain technology in production systems – in 2012 with the Succession Registry kept by the Ministry of Justice. Also using blockchain for elections, health records.  Can you tell us about it, some case studies?

12. You are also part of the Nordic Institute for Interoperability Solutions (NIIS), a non-profit association with a mission to ensure the development and strategic management of X-Road. Can you tell us about it?

13. What websites and places can you come to know more about Estonia’s digital initiatives?


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The Digital Testbed Framework

The Digital Testbed Framework is a new and innovative collaboration model looking to attract partners globally. It gives start-ups, scale-ups and all govtech innovators, access to the technologies and experience of the world-leading digital government of Estonia – in return for free use of the resulting novel solution.

The initiative has been 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 nation-wide 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 obtain 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.

Siim Sikkut said about the programme:

“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.

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.”  

The e-residency program

The e-residency is a program launched by Estonia on 1 December 2014. The program allows non-Estonians access to Estonian services such as company formation, banking, payment processing, and taxation. The program gives the e-resident a smart card which they can use to sign documents. The program is aimed towards location-independent entrepreneurs such as software developers and writers.

E-residents will have their financial footprint monitored digitally, in a manner stated to be transparent; the reaction to the widespread financial misbehaviour at high level revealed by the Panama Papers leak was suggested to be a factor helping the more transparent Estonian initiative according to Korjus. E-residency itself does not have an effect on income taxation — neither does it establish an income tax liability in Estonia nor does it relieve income taxation in the resident’s home country.

E-residency allows company registration, document signing, encrypted-document exchange, online banking, tax declaration, and fulfilment of medical prescriptions. Other services become available as the scheme is expanded. A digital ID smart card issued by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board in Estonia or at an embassy is used for access to services.

Korjus said that registering an Estonian business was “useful for internet entrepreneurs in emerging markets who don’t have access to an online payment provider”, and for startups from countries such as Ukraine or Belarus which suffer financial limitations from their governments.

E-residency is not related to citizenship and does not give the right to physically enter or reside in Estonia

Siim Sikkut Links And Sources

https://e-estonia.com/testbed/

https://live.worldbank.org/experts/siim-sikkut

https://ee.linkedin.com/in/siimsikkut

https://www.visitestonia.com/en/why-estonia/12-digital-services-in-e-estonia

https://e-estonia.com/cio-of-estonia-siim-sikkut-opens-the-countrys-tech-stack-to-the-world/

https://twitter.com/sikkut?lang=en

https://www.mkm.ee/en/ministry-contact/management

https://e-resident.gov.ee/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Estonia

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