Estonia News: From Smart IDs on Apple Watch to the greenest digital government

Published on January 11, 2024

Estonia, also known as E-stonia, has been making headlines again with its cutting-edge tech advancements. Back in 1996, the Tiger Leap Foundation (supported by the government) kickstarted Estonia’s tech journey.

This small nation, lacking natural resources, saw the online economy and tech innovation as its ticket to progress, especially after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

So, what’s the latest from this tech-savvy country? Well, they’ve made it possible to use Smart IDs on Apple Watches, a nifty move that makes digital identification more convenient. Plus, Estonia is trying to turn into the world’s greenest digital government (focusing on eco-friendly practices while maintaining its advanced tech status.)

Using AI for a green digital government

While going digital might seem like a solution to environmental issues, it’s not entirely free from negative effects. Despite Estonia’s tech leadership, the country’s ICT has led to increased environmental impact.

That’s why, recently, Estonia’s public sector has taken a strong interest in making its tech more eco-friendly across different areas – agriculture, manufacturing, and services etc.

This focus actually began in 2022, when the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications commissioned an analysis by Ernst & Young to assess the environmental impact of various ICT aspects in the public sector.

E&Y’s study revealed that Estonia’s state agencies’ equipment (so mainly laptops, desktop PCs, and monitors) contribute around 26,000 tonnes of CO2 over their lifespan.

However, as the analysis states, the biggest impact on the environment comes from servers and data centres. The issue is that many public institutions still have their own small server rooms that aren’t designed to be eco-friendly.

They often don’t use renewable energy or recycle the heat produced by servers. As such an issue arises, Estonia is working on combining data centres and finding ways for them to use energy-efficient buildings and renewable energy sources.

They’re also focusing on moving services to a state cloud and prioritizing using the cloud whenever possible. This shift will significantly reduce the harmful effects of tech.

New energy-demanding technologies like big data, blockchain, and cryptocurrency may require large amounts of energy very quickly. They may not have a big footprint today, but that may all change soon, and the government is looking into that, too.

In these conditions, Estonia’s ambitious aspiration, outlined in the national Digital Agenda for 2030, is to establish itself as the world’s leading green digital government. Considering that many countries have yet to strategically tackle these environmental challenges, Estonia’s progress will serve as a benchmark for such initiatives on a global scale. But this is not new, as Estonia has been serving as a benchmark on several fronts when it comes to digital government initiatives.

Smart-ID on Apple Watch

This is another great initiative that’s worth mentioning. Citizens demand, and the government provides.

Now, Smart-ID, the electronic identity solution, can be used to sign and confirm things on your Apple Watch in Estonia. This shows how a digital government should focus on what people need—making things easier and more accessible for them.

This big step forward means citizens can now use Smart-ID to sign and confirm things directly using their Apple Watch. And I think it’s worth mentioning how impressive it is to see Smart-ID gaining popularity, with 5 million users in the Baltics and a whopping 85 million transactions in just one month in 2023.

The Apple Watch feature works just as smoothly and securely as it does on the iPhone with Smart-ID. Introducing this feature to the Apple Watch will likely make Smart-ID even more popular and easy to use. This means people can easily and securely confirm their identity and sign documents across a wide range of services, including banks.

Personally, I think this advancement is fantastic—it’s all about making things more convenient for users while maintaining high-security standards. It’s great to see technology evolving to meet people’s needs in such a user-friendly way. And it will also increase the adoption of smart ID which is a problem in many other countries as well.

Final thoughts

From Smart-ID on Apple Watches to sustainability efforts in ICT, Estonia sets an example for balancing tech advancement with environmental responsibility. The focus on user convenience and security reflects a thoughtful approach to technology. It’s doing a great job harnessing its potential while considering the broader impact on both citizens and the environment.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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