Public Sector Future Podcast: Episode 6 | e-Estonia: Using Data to Deliver Trusted Services

Episode 6 guest speaker, Siim Sikkut

e-Estonia: Using Data to Deliver Trusted Services

with Siim Sikkut

Siim Sikkut is the Government CIO of Estonia, which has been called ‘the most advanced digital society in the world.’ He was named one of world’s top 20 most influential people in digital government by Apolitical in 2018 & 2019. He is the chair of OECD Working Party of Senior Digital Government Officials.

Episode 6: e-Estonia: Using Data to Deliver Better Services

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

In this episode we are joined by Siim Sikkut, theChief Information Officer of the Government of Estonia. Sikkut shares what it’s like to be the CIO of one of the world’s leading digital governments, his focus on user centricity, and how digital approaches can build trust between people and their governments. He gives advice for public servants and a glimpse of what’s next for Estonia.  

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

Using data to deliver better services: Building trust in Estonia

We are joined by Siim Sikkut, the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Estonia, who has held this role since 2017.

Sikkut shares what it’s like to be the CIO of one of the world’s leading digital governments, his fundamental focus on user centricity, and how digital approaches can build trust between people and their governments. 

He gives advice for public servants and a glimpse of what’s next for Estonia. 



Estonia’s approach to digital government – data sharing with trust 

The Estonian government focuses on how data can be reused across different government services to ease the burden on citizens and businesses and provide joined-up experiences.   

Estonia is pushing the boundaries on how we think about digital nations, for example, through the e-Residency program, which Sikkut is one of the founders of. The program has seen more people become e-residents in a week than babies born.  

From a government perspective, we see foundations of these approaches being a fully embedded approach to digital identity, a data exchange platform called X-Road, which allows data to be exchanged and reused. 

Sikkut and his colleagues use their reputation as leaders around the world, not just to move Estonia forward, but to support all countries and learn lessons together. 

Areas of focus for systemic change  

Sikkut highlights different areas of focus in his role as CIO: on the technology side, on the architecture, on user centricity, and embedding a culture of continuous iteration and improvement, in addition to bringing in innovation and experimentation.   

He shares the need to keep improving what has been built while building the next thing at the same time. 

“A lot of my focus has been on how do we change the innovation game, right? So, basically, how do we bring in experimentation culture more, so that agencies keep trying new ways of doing things, and not just even in tech, but also in service approach,” Sikkut said. 

Themes behind Sikkut’s proudest accomplishments as CIO

  • Experimentation – Pick a new area of technology that you think can benefit from and get use cases out there, get it tested and piloted, get people bought in and push that forward.
  • Governance of a cohesive approach – Rebuild a common ground and rule set for everyone across the public sector, not only for technology, for example in terms of interoperability and security, but also for the way we think good services look like.
  • Evangelism of creating a public service that comes with you  – Create a movement in terms of how to make things happen proactively in the backend. “The rhetoric now is the best service is something that happens invisibly for the user,” Sikkut said.

Diving into the fundamental focus – User centricity   

“The fundamental thing is to say that, how do we bring user centricity? How do we really bring in that behind every service, there’s somebody that wakes up in the morning thinking, how can I make my service now better for the people on the street,” Sikkut shares.  

Sikkut discusses how the data exchange platform X-Road is, in a way, forcing user centricity as it helps enforce that they should allow this to connect all the data together.

“What I believe very strongly is that once-only is one of the components of ultimate best user experience. I’m not being troubled again and again with stuff that somebody already knows about me. Interactions become faster, simpler, more seamless,” Sikkut said. 

Building trust with citizens 

Sikkut highlights how Estonia avoids privacy concerns. 

  • Transparency – Citizens have an overview of what happens to their data.  

Through a national portal, citizens have access to an overview of all the data the government holds about them and who has access to this data. For example, a citizen can go into their medical health records and see how a doctor looked at their files or see what is being built out with a government wide data tracker. 

  • Control – Citizens have the right to block access to their data.  

In turn, they might then let go of some of the perks of having shared data, like they won’t be able to get a proactive service, or if they block part of their health record, the next doctor might have to run some tests.      

  • Data protection framework – Citizens can inquire why someone looked into their data. 

There are repercussions in place for those who violate privacy concerns. Government officials can be fined or fired if they access data they shouldn’t have.   

“This theoretical notion of me owning my data is there, but we have built it into a feature level. And that gives people quite a lot of ultimate trust into trusting us with the data,” Sikkut said. 

Advice for public servants looking at where to start 

“Start with whatever is the biggest pain for your citizens,” Sikkut said. 

Don’t worry about fixing the pain points with perfect platforms immediately, the important factor is to start the journey to fix them.  

Then create a strategy on the side for building up sustainable platforms and infrastructure, including the whole design approach.  

Looking to the future for Estonia 

“We have this very clear vision that interface for the future will be virtual assistants that we use for voice,” Sikkut said.

“It’s whatever is right in our devices that we use daily. And we are trying to build out that all of our government information and services would be available through these virtual assistants,” Sikkut shared.  

To find out more:

Learn more about e-Estonia

Follow Siim Sikkut on Twitter

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Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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