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Addressing the Salto Growth Camp EMERGEncy online accelerator

06.04.2020

Previously, except for example the Estonians or Portuguese, many governments in the developed world did not want to migrate into digital services. Online based economy was generally not seen as something else than nuisance from the taxation viewpoint. Or as something inherently risky.

Today the turnaround is 180 degrees. Chancellor Merkel noted at the beginning of the crisis that „Germans must learn to use Skype“.

There is now a readiness to change because old, paper-based administration and service provision is not safe. We, digital people, have known it for a long time, but now others are understanding it for completely different reasons. Therefore, there is a sudden uptick in demand.

It is important to offer ideas that will be sustainable in the long term but at the same time able to prove their concept right now, during this crisis. I understand it is a challenge, but this is the way forward.

The obvious risk is that the current rapid digital transformation – up to the highest levels of public management, even supranational levels like EU Council meetings - will be temporary.

The obvious way to manage that risk is to make sure that all services provided and developed during this crisis follow GDPR and share a wider understanding of the protection of people`s privacy and data.

Also, we have to be extremely aware that already current security loopholes are potentially being used to snoop on online meetings.

This means that all developments, including beta-versions, must be deeply aware of these risks. Otherwise, they might create, rather than dissolve, distrust in digital transformation.

It seems now that governments, even in Europe and even those previously most sceptical about, for example using mobile positioning data, are in the current mood ready to set aside their previous standards for privacy – which were overactive and limiting for technology development as a whole.

Or missing at all, making use of technology impossible. It seems tempting to develop things using this window of opportunity where these limitations are gone.

But I think it will not be generally a good idea to develop services which will not fit the previous, quite cautious understanding of privacy.

The backlash may be huge. The old industry, which is more used to checking against the legal background and generally known risks of an ecosystem, can help start-ups here the way only they are used to thinking and provide synergy between the old and new industries.

It is important to demand reasonable regulation, not limiting tech, but creating a legally permissive environment for developments. Like, for example, setting rules on objectives of the safety of data and mining, but not trying to regulate technological pathways for achieving this.

I am trying to use this example for mainly paper-based economies: in the old times when we regulated health-based privacy then we told doctors that it is your job to keep it safe, but we did not check the pathways of how they kept it safe. Nowadays for some reason, maybe because we do not understand technology, we also try to regulate the pathways. Which is nonsense because these days the legal cycle is longer than the technological cycle. We should demand regulation, which is focused on objectives and leave the tech people to take care of the rest in a transparent way. Because non-tech people have to also be able to understand how it works.

Hence another great opportunity for co-operation between old and new industry should be used. It should be used and it should be benefitting the tech sector in providing for a permissive legal environment for the future. The private sector in a traditional industry, for example in Germany, is fully digital but not linked to state services. Creating a common ecosystem based on secure, state-provided digital ID-s or digital passports can make this happen very quickly. The nordic model of x-road could serve in this not only as an example but as a common platform.

This way the digital transformation of all societies can overcome the problem so far only the Estonian digital transformation has fully managed to do – to bring the public and private sector on the common digital platform.

At the moment good ideas have a chance to move like wildfire through all co-operation chains in Europe and wider. Right now, the unnecessary artificial administrative borders are down.

In addition, the big industry cannot drive today as much of the digital transformation, so public sector co-operation at the supranational level has a role of replacement here. The “not invented here”, which has very often been a big problem for public sector service development, might not be such a great problem today. Use this chance the best you can!

And a final word, a message stemming from my experience in global climate change discussion. Because the label climate change was – and I hope again will be – popular, each and everyone was trying to fit the slogan to their previous objectives to continue their business as usual. Do not fall into this trap while proposing and selecting the ideas to fight the current crisis.

And yet another remark on the green – the climate issues can very well be tackled by going global with digital services, at the same time going regional on physical goods. Small providers for local markets could hugely benefit from digital systems of flexible supply and demand which we so much think about in seeking to balance energy demand and supply. It can similarly help small producers to reach markets which have been hard through mass delivery chains like supermarkets. E-platforms combined with a huge rise in delivery capacity, point to point or through central warehousing – if supermarket chains want to be also part of this new world - might deliver a better regional food production and delivery models healthier for the planet and ourselves during this crisis, which will be sustainable thereafter.

Telemedicine certainly can be another area where people are ready to transform their expectations to overcome common capacity issues made extremely visible by the current crisis.

Also, the fact that contagious people, for example with the flue or RS viruses, need not go close to other sick people and wait in doctor`s offices, but get a video consultation, is probably painfully clear and obvious today.

But I sense I am going dangerously close to the content of this event, and I should not. I am only the president of the world`s most digitally transformed nation. And I wish everybody in Salto the success in trying to challenge us here in Estonia if you can! But be aware, we are also quick followers, so all new ideas will be also welcome to further develop our own digital ecosystem – still the easiest test ground for public-private digital co-operation.

Wish you all the success today!