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Estonia Sharing Its Finnish-Made E-Government Solution With Finland 83

Posted by timothy
from the circle-arctic-circle dept.
paavo512 writes "For the last decade or so, Estonia has developed a national electronic data exchange layer called X-Road. Is is based on national electronic ID cards and allows creation of common electronic services like founding a company, declaring taxes or e-voting. Every day, over 800,000 enquiries are made via X-Road (the population of Estonia is 1.3M). According to the PM of Estonia, the solution is saving 2% of national GDP annually. The Estonian ID card technology was originally imported from Finland; however, it appears Finns have for 10 years failed to come up with any significant e-services making use of them. So it is now agreed that Estonian X-Road solution will be expanding to Finland as well."
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Estonia Sharing Its Finnish-Made E-Government Solution With Finland

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  • how does this work on days when it isn't working? All service "access" cards are inherently also service denial systems if you don't have a card or the access system is down. Is their a fail over system available to every service access point?

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... org minus author> on Thursday December 12, 2013 @12:52PM (#45671603)

      You end up with a choice of: 1) wait for the service to come back up; or 2) visit an office in person and talk to a civil servant.

      Basically the same choice you have when your bank's internet banking is down. If you need to initiate a transfer, you either wait for it to come back up, or you walk into a bank to do it. If their backend system is down, you can't walk into a bank either, so you just wait in that case. Same here; if you want to register a new corporation and the site is down, you either fill out the registration on paper and submit it the old-fashioned way, or you wait for the site to come back up.

    • by fatphil (181876) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @01:13PM (#45671841) Homepage
      I'm not a big user (e.g. I sign my company's annual reports once a year), but I know other poeple who use it a lot more, and I've never known the ID card infrastructure to be down. That's one of the benefits of a small country - we'll never have to cope with a third of a billion people wanting to use a system.

      The biggest issue I had was java/driver/OS incompatibilities which mean that I can only use the card and card-reader on my g/f's x86_64 machine, not my POWER machine, nor my x86 laptop (all running linux). Anyone with delusions that java actually actually runs everywhere at this juncture should be taken outside and put out of my misery.
      • "That's one of the benefits of a small country - we'll never have to cope with a third of a billion people wanting to use a system."

        Something many people overlook when saying we should adapt X country's Y system to the US. Estonia has 1.33 million people. Finland has 5.4 million people. The US has 20 states with larger populations than Finland (40 larger than Estonia)... it makes a big difference when trying to scale.

        • Then perhaps it should work like a group of united States. Where states are left up to their own vices for setting up laws and services. And if one state does something that another likes they can adopt it. Like Finland adopting Estonia's system. And the federal government is left to do little more than the EU does. Central currency, regulate trade between states, etc.

      • The biggest issue I had was java/driver/OS incompatibilities which mean that I can only use the card and card-reader on my g/f's x86_64 machine, not my POWER machine, nor my x86 laptop (all running linux). Anyone with delusions that java actually actually runs everywhere at this juncture should be taken outside and put out of my misery.

        That was because the Java applet contained platform-specific code for some bits that couldn't be (or just weren't) done in Java. But we've overcome that for now, more or less.

        • by fisted (2295862)
          The single only platform java will ever run on is the jvm. It indeed is one of the least portable languages around.
          • by kaladorn (514293)
            I can carry a JVM on a USB key as well as complete Javadocs. I'd say its quite portable!

            (Okay, that's a dumb comment, but seriously... yours is a bit much too)
            • by fisted (2295862)
              Yes, yours is. No, mine is not, you just didn't think about it, or you consider implementing a jvm a trivial matter.
              Or, are you even thinking that just because a machine is virtual, it doesn't qualify as a platform?
  • Usually, governments trying to automate such things, find out it is more expensive, in stead of a money saver. Support and maintenance are always more expensive than budgeted, because a realistic budget would prevent the project from being started, hence losing prestige. In the Netherlands, government IT projects fail as a rule, by costing at least several times the budget, taking several times the planned time to create, and never being able to perform to specifications. By the time the project is so far f
    • by fatphil (181876) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @01:21PM (#45671907) Homepage
      However, in Estonia, we tend to solve problems for about 1/20th of the budget of other countries. And deliver more quickly. And work. There was a healthcare example about a year or so ago. Some big consultancy said they could tweak the already-up-and-running system Finland was using for something stupid like a hundred million. We said "screw you", and wrote something better from scratch for about 5 million, which was set up in a way that it could be tweaked for other countries' use for next-to-nothing. (And yes, that was *tweaks* for a hundred million.)

      I suspect that that particular healthcare thing is indeed part of this larger e-Government solution.

      Everyone else designed the one to throw away. Finally, there's one worth keeping. (And no, I'm not blowing my own trumpet, I had no involvement with it at all, I'm not even sure which company was behind it.)
      • Healthcare.gov is estimated to cost up to $677 million, or about $2.16 per capita for a brand new system.
        A $5 million tweak in Estonia works out to be about $3.76 per capita... for a tweak.

        Just something to consider.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          That put things in perspective. But I don't think it considers that the whole point of CS and IT is that it can reasonably scale up to handle much more (in this case, people). So it's not as simple as comparing cost per capita, imho.
        • by fatphil (181876)
          Given your last 2 replies to me (and possibly a few previous ones) it seems as if you have massive comprehension issues.

          Clue - there was no "5 million tweak".
        • by fatphil (181876)
          How can healthcare.gov only cost $677M when Oregon on its own is supposed to have spent $300M?

          http://washingtonexaminer.com/oregon-signs-up-just-44-people-for-obamacare-despite-spending-300-million/article/2540529

          The Estonia figure was all inclusive, so you're not comparing like with like, you need to add all 50 extra $300M's, or whatever they may be.
          (And if they are all indeed $300M, then you may conclude that we do things 50 times more cheaply, not 20 times, as originally guestimated.)
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @04:24PM (#45673993)

        Mmmm,

        I first saw what the Estonians were doing in 2001 or 2002.

        At the time I said to all and sundry how amazed i was with what the Estonians were able to do on a small budget, against what the so-called giants of the technological world were doing routinely spending billions for a hundreds of invariably failed major IT projects. Estonia did have the 'advantages' of, first coming to the arena of 'modernisation' and IT integration late, second not having a heap of spare cash to blow on IT projects, third having to build their infrastructure and software ecology from the ground up, and fourth being able to integrate many disparate players (but most critically the banks and financial sector) from Day 1.

        That said, what they did (on what we in the rest of the world would call 'pennies') still remains one of the most cost effective, efficient, useful and pervasive IT value adding I've ever seen. They didn't invest much in 'big metal', or huge development teams, or bring on board massive communications, hardware, and software consortiums ... they concentrated on what could be done with a small to mid range systems client-server environment running back-end database packages for Web and other open standards based front ends ... and surprisingly they coordinated it all so that it all worked together relatively seamlessly. As the elements of the system came online, they got new stakeholders onboard, developed new functionality and applications, and incorporated that into their.

        The Estonians I met at a conference in Canada asked me to write a paper outlining my support for, and opinions of, their efforts, to be used to support some acquisitions they had in mind for the next government budget .... which I was delighted to do.

        If any government or major enterprise is going to embark on a major IT project in the near future, I'd recommend they look at how the Estonians do it. For 1/10 of the cost or better Estonia can develop and integrate systems, and add immense value, convenience and functionality to its citizens lives .... which is way better than any other country I've seen over the last 10-20 years.

    • That is just bad management, nothing else.

      The main benefit of all the IT stack is that it saves a lot of time: you don't have to run around with a bunch of papers between various government agencies who manage everything digitally anyway. The X-Road is a data exchange layer: it is a common service-oriented stack to connect various databases and IT systems together, it just provides a secure way of doing it, nothing else. Secure as in with strong cryptography, auditable, etc. Starting a company, doing taxes

  • Wow, if we could save 2% of GDP, that's £40B, which is our entire education budget.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @12:55PM (#45671633)

    Perhaps the next iteration of healthcare.gov could be outsourced there. Just a thought.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cold fjord (826450)

      Unfortunately the way that would work out in practice with the current government would be: If you like your Estonian doctor, you can keep your Estonian doctor. That's great if you're in Estonia, but that would make visits from the US to doctor's offices a pain.

    • by crtreece (59298)
      Outsourcing it to Elbonia didn't work out very well.
      • Ah, but the Estonians do not wear silly hats (except at Rennaissance festivals) and their level of mud is much lower (except during the spring thaw).

        Seriously, they're about the most wired country in Europe, having brought you Skype, digital voting and a network of electric car charging station. ThankYouVeryMuch. If anybody can figure out a way to make some nutbar digital system work, it's them.

        Disclaimer: Half Estonian. Making nutbar digital things work daily.

  • What is "is," and why is it based on national electronic ID cards? I think it (is) should be "it" instead of "is."
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What I've understood it's a middleware which routes (service registration, queuing) messages between services.

    While this does not sound like rocket science, apparently it has allowed them not to pursue commitee made generic interfaces between services (see HL7 crap). The amount of money that is spent on HL7 fiddling around the globe per year must amount to a small nations yearly budget (citation needed, I only know of the Finnish amounts).

    Instead of design-by-committee they probably have been able to "use i

  • Kudos for staying under budget, Estonia. But let's look at what we have here. An easy-to-use, ubiquitous identity solution that's easily integrated everywhere?

    Sounds cool, right? But only if you trust your government, and every government thereafter. With small countries (Estonia, Iceland) this is much easier than with bigger countries. And I'm not even talking Russia or the US, but, say, the supposedly benign and enlightened folks in the UK. First there was the anti-child porn filter, that wasn't to be use

  • Is is....is is? is is! is is is

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