The Estonian Single Point of Contact for entrepreneurs is the dedicate service for entrepreneurs on the State Portal. The project is the result of an analysis which identified the following problems:
1. Interactions between business and state are excessively costly and time-consuming, and put considerable pressure on entrepreneurs. Whenever an entrepreneur needed a permit, he would have to contact multiple agencies. Furthermore, the agencies had no incentive to coordinate amongst each other to reduce administrative burden on entrepreneurs.
2. Information was scattered and out-dated. Entrepreneurs would have to spend considerable time to find all the necessary permits, by searching legislation and contacting many different agencies. Furthermore, general information about doing business was also of poor quality, and existing portals were of low usability and accuracy. This was therefore a clear case of administrative weakness that had not been addressed.
3. The situation was especially difficult for foreign entrepreneurs. They were forced to bring most of the necessary documents physically, since foreign e-documents and e-signatures were not accepted. This is still an obstacle, although the situation has substantially improved.
4. The lack of a central Classification of Economic Activities was a stumbling block. Entrepreneurs would have to find out for themselves, where to register and how to choose their field of activity correctly. Since 2008, EMTAK - the Classification of Economic Activities, has been set up, which is also fully accessible through the portal.
The portal was thus set-up to ensure that all business-related proceedings can be done online, by accessing a single portal.
The Estonian Point of Single Contact was established under the EU Services Directive that gave Member States the responsibility to build an online point of single contact for entrepreneurs. Prior to that, there was a single e-services website for citizens (State Portal www.eesti.ee/eng) and a number of different websites for entrepreneurs. Thus, information for entrepreneurs was scattered, sometimes out-dated or even contradictory. Most of the bureaucratic pressure was on the entrepreneurs. The adoption of the EU Services Directive was used as a chance to renew the entire concept of easy access to e-services for citizens, entrepreneurs, and public servants. For that reason, analysis about the state of play started in 2008, and a state and EU-funded project to launch a new and better version of the State Portal was started in 2009. The project took about 18 months to develop, and resulted in the concurrent portal, which became operational in late 2011.
Description of target users and groups
The size of the target group - entrepreneurs - has substantially increased throughout the lifecycle of the project. Prior to the start of the project (2008), the number of entries in the Estonian business register was about 114 000. This has risen to 140 000 entries in 2010, around 160 000 in 2012, and there are currently (January 2014) around 178 000 entries. These numbers also include inactive businesses, but do not include bankruptcies or otherwise closed businesses or not-for-profit organisations.
The benefit of the entrepreneurs' service on state portal has also constantly increased, as reflected in the increase of real usage. Although in 2009, there were hardly any enterprises using the secure @eesti.ee e-mail system provided by the portal for paperless interaction with the state and other businesses, there are currently more than 32 000 enterprises, or nearly a fifth of all enterprises have registered, which make use their @eesti.ee account.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
The project itself was conducted as a usual IT project. The first step was analysis, followed by a description of necessary IT developments, and acquiring the necessary funds. The contractor (and a subcontractor) was chosen via a public procurement procedure and most of the development was done in a "waterfall" method with more agile approaches at the end of the development phase.
Key components and success factors include:
- a very thorough analysis of businesses' needs;
- an existing backbone for the e-society on which the project could be built;
- prior experience in building and running a citizen portal.
For user-friendliness, inclusion of stakeholders was the key factor. Technically, the X-Road (see e.g. http://www.x-road.eu/) as an enabling and secure data exchange layer is crucial for the success of the entrepreneurs' view (and all of the e-governance system). Thanks to prior experience, the agency had practical knowledge on how to manage such a project. Last but not least, political support and target group expectations have been among key enablers.
Since becoming operational, the new portal has been managed by the Estonian Information System Agency. The management includes a department for the state portal (currently 8 people and a manager), a help desk (3 people) and technical assistance (4 people). Note that this also includes the citizen and public servant view and all other duties of the state portal.
The portal was (re-)arranged in a modular way, so that each application could be maintained and upgraded separately. Only intra-state standards were used (concerning our X-Road, our PKI solution etc) and interoperability was provided vis-a-vis the concurrent e-government architecture at the time. Interoperability was (is) not full, but covers most requirements.Technology choice: Proprietary technology
Main results, benefits and impacts
The main benefit of the portal is that all business-related proceedings can be done online (including starting a business). There are currently about 80 e-services for businesses (more than 400 e-services at the State Portal in total) and a variety of topics (including entrepreneurship and citizen issues, updated once a year).
User satisfaction with the e-services offered on the State Portal is of 75%, according to the latest data available. Consequently, the percentage of citizens that know the State Portal has more than doubled in 4 years (27% in 2008, 67% in 2012). Currently, about 32 000 enterprises have registered their official @eesti.ee e-mail address (can be used to receive notifications from the state, to use the paperless document exchange centre etc). This is a substantial increase given that there were no such registrations in 2009.
The Estonian State Portal is a best-practice case in the EU, and was notably identified as the best by a large margin in a study carried out in 2011 by Deloitte and the European Commission on the ‘Functioning and usability of the Points of Single Contact’ (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/services/services-dir/study_on_points_of_single_contact_en.htm). More recent studies have also placed Estonia among top performers.
Return on Investment
Statistics from 2013 show that a single visit to the Estonian State Portal cost less than 0,19 EUR, an authenticated visit cost less than 0,37 EUR. A single use of an e-service (e.g. viewing data or sending information to state agency or filling an official form in the portal) costs less than 2 EUR. Unfortunately, there is no good comparable data about physical services.
Return on investmentReturn on investment: Not applicable / Not available
Track record of sharing
Whether the replication of the State Portal itself is a good idea, depends whether a country/government decides that a State Portal should carry very similar roles as those in Estonia. Most of the practices that lead to a well-functioning business view portal are universal: listen to the target group, user friendliness, maintain data and services up-to-date. Estonia has experience in these fields and has shared this approach in numerous bilateral meetings as well as broader testing days among all EU business portals.
Transferring the Estonian experience in e-Governance depends considerably upon the ability to adopt the X-Road solution (see www.x-road.eu). So far, Finland has decided to fully adopt the Estonian solution (in 2013) and work is underway to build such a system. Pilots for using the X-Road are also underway in the UK and Sweden, and the system has also been exported outside the EU.
1. Pressure from above (the adoption of the EU Services Directive) can be used well to meet demands from below (lessening bureaucracy for businesses).
2. In so doing, one must confront technical (e.g. legacy IT solutions), organisational (e.g. low motivation to change) and legal obstacles, but when the political will and target group demand are strong enough, the project will succeed. Allow time, sufficient funds and build political and popular support, include visionaries in explaining the potential outcomes and begin by getting the most important stakeholders on your side.
3. A strong IT architecture (X-Road) is a vital precondition for a truly well-functioning e-governance system.Scope: Local (city or municipality), National, Regional (sub-national)