Mike Bracken, executive director of Government Digital Service, recently visited Estonia with Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and other members of the government and believes the UK has much to learn from Estonia’s ‘digital by default’ public services.
There were five main points that impressed him most about Estonia’s delivery of e-services. Firstly, its engineer-led culture, where engineers are given free rein to design services for the web with no particular requirements to fulfil, working solely on the “principle of quick and cheap”.
Secondly, Estonians have accepted the use of ID cards which are used to access public services. The UK’s privacy lobby and its citizens in general are suspicious of such cards (and perhaps rightly so, he adds) making it harder to validate themselves.
Further, Bracken feels that he “can see an unnecessary, macho attitude from the system integrator culture” while Estonian developers do not “see themselves as tech leaders” and are, on the contrary, extremely humble.
The other thing that impressed Bracken was the many small companies who had a long-term investment in digital services. He believes that the UK should “ensure that those companies who have been excluded from the procurement process in the past are brought into the supplier network for the benefit of both government and our overall growth agenda in the UK.”
And finally, what he believes is holding the UK back and restricting progress is something common in Estonia: an open source culture; licensed software is “almost an alien concept” and used in core databases in the latter, but considered risky in the former.
Bracken does admit that Estonia has an advantage in that it is very small, “the size of Birmingham”, and has remarkable broadband and Wi-Fi infrastructure, but even so he thinks the UK should try to follow its example in achieving the government’s ‘digital by default’ agenda.
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