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Estonian government opens its digital heart to tech testers

Tech startups are being invited to build and test their products and services on the Estonian government’s IT estate for free, in return for use of the software developed

The Estonian government is giving tech companies access to its public sector technology and experience to enable them to build and test their digital services. In return, it wants free use of the services that result.

The Digital Testbed Framework, as the initiative is known, is inviting tech startups and government technology firms to test digital prototypes, products and services.

“Users can produce government-level IT solutions safely and quickly, via live-market testing and approval in a nation-wide digital government testbed, without having to navigate any red tape or lengthy sales or approval processes,” said the Estonian government.

Estonia is seen as one of the world’s most digitally advanced countries in terms of government services, with 99% of its public services online, and it was the first country in the world to introduce online voting. In 2002, Estonia launched a national ID system, pairing physical identity cards with digital signatures that citizens use to pay taxes, vote, perform online banking and access their health records

The country also boasts a strong startup ecosystem, with tech firms such as Skype and ride-hailing app Bolt originating in the Baltic state.

The Digital Testbed Framework has already been used by the Estonian parliament and the Ministry of Education and Research to collaborate on reusable artificial intelligence (AI) components, and by the Estonian Health Board to create the country’s official Covid-19 exposure notification app.

Andres Sutt, Estonia’s minister of entrepreneurship and IT, said the government values cooperation with the private sector, adding: “That’s why the Digital Testbed Framework was born. It is yet further proof of how Estonia is not waiting for the future, but actively building it. We’re ready to be a pathfinder in digital government.”

Part of the advantage Estonia has is its modern technology stack, according to Siim Sikkut, Estonia’s CIO. “The problem many startups face today is that the environment for cooperation with the public sector is outdated and inflexible and this makes integration and collaboration difficult,” he said.

“As the saying goes, ‘there’s no need to reinvent the wheel’, and that’s why we’re inviting anyone and everyone to use the same tech stack we use to run and build our own digital government, for free.

“We want to partner with innovative people from all over the world and in a variety of sectors. Whether you’re a coder wanting to help improve the digital services of Estonia, or an entrepreneur looking to test your solution with one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world – we’d love to connect with you.”  

In 1991, the Soviet Union officially recognised Estonia as an independent nation, ending more than half a century of rule. But when it withdrew, Estonia had nothing in place to support a new government.

However, a combination of the scientific legacy from its former occupiers and the determination of Estonians has seen the nation emerge as a global technology power.

Tech companies interested in taking part in the Digital Testbed Framework have until 10 October 2021 to apply.

Read more about IT in Estonia

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