How do you use technology to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

The Centre of Registers and Information Systems (RIK) is an Estonian ICT state agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice of Estonia, with the aim to establish an innovative environment providing integrated e-services for a more efficient implementation of state administration, legal and criminal policy.

RIK has developed and administers over 70 different systems and various registers important both for the state and the citizens. To name the most important systems and registers: central case management system e-File and its public view the Public e-File, Courts’ Information System, Criminal Records Database, e-Business Register, Company Registration Portal, e-Land Register.

Thanks to the registers and information systems developed and maintained by RIK, the citizen can: start a company in a 100% electronic way in a couple of hours; manage business and audit reports in a completely electronic way; view all laws and acts from one website; view final court decisions online; initiate a civil or administrative court case; get all the up-to-date information on any case that particular person is a party to or a legal representative; and consult one’s own or any other person’s criminal records electronically.

What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2017?

During the Estonian Presidency of the EU from July til December 2017, the Estonian Ministry of Justice organised a conference, futur-e-Justice. I had the honour of hosting the conference, but also moderating the five roundtables that included various stakeholders, such as high representatives from the European Commission, government CIOs and representatives.

The roundtables concentrated on digital by default and once-only principles, eIDAS, sustainability, interoperability and the future of e-Justice. I built up the roundtables in a way that they really engaged all the panellists to discuss and even to debate on the topics.

I aimed and am glad to say, also achieved, wrapping up each panel with concrete steps or actions that could be taken to move forward. In other words, the whole idea was to approach the panels in a somewhat more interactive manner than is usually done. The feedback was overwhelming, and panellists as well as the audience said that this was a bold decision to carry the panels in that way – but a huge success.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2018?

This would definitely be the digital embassy project. In 2017, Estonia’s government decided that a world’s first digital embassy, to even further secure Estonia’s data, will be opened in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. RIK will be responsible for ensuring the infrastructure side of the project.

It may be interesting to know why I did not choose blockchain as a new technique for 2018, while that has become an important concept in 2017. It should be noted that for us at RIK this is not at all a new concept. We have already implemented blockchain for a while in some of our information systems, and already have sound experience in secure data exchange thanks to encryption and the use of private blockchain, e.g. in the Official Journal website that contains all the laws and regulations.

If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2017, what would it be?

This might sound quite typical but I find year after year, the same advice coming back stronger and stronger: follow your (true) intuition. This does not mean that decisions should be taken impulsively. What I mean is that when having weighed the pros and cons and this one feeling or decision still prevails the others, this is the intuition. And usually, intuition is not mistaken.

What was the greatest challenge that you overcame in 2017?

In addition to the e-justice conference panels, the greatest challenge was the 20-minute presentation to the EU Ministers of Justice during their informal meeting in Tallinn in July 2017.

The challenge was to present to the ministers a possible future for e-Justice for the EU level. Fitting such a vision to such a timespan and at the same time, not keeping it too general, was a challenge. The solution was to present an imaginary or food-for-thought case study of how things could be in the EU for e-Justice in the future.

But the case was in fact built up on what is already today a reality in Estonia, and revealing only at the end that if this can be done in reality maybe this goal is not that far to be reached at the EU level either- that is, it is closer than we might at first think.

What book did you read in 2017 that most interested or inspired you?

Stories of people’s lives inspire. Hence, it is not a coincidence that the book that inspired me the most was a recently-published book on the life of an Estonian artist Konrad Mägi, who lived at the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century.

Like many Estonian artists of the time, he also spent some time in Nordic countries as well as Paris, “bringing” back home to Estonia impressionism and expressionism. Somewhat generalising, it could of course be said that Mägi had a “typical” artist life that was more often than not in dark colours.

But what inspired me was his determination to follow his path and to think big. This brought me to think that in many ways, Mägi mirrors any Estonian, and of Estonia as a country’s mind-set very well. If we put our mind to it, we get things done. In other words, it is always a question of mindset: how to do something, rather than focusing why something cannot be done.

Sidenote: Mägi is an artist whose work is unjustifiably little-known outside of Estonia. The book was published to celebrate Konrad Mägi’s works’ exhibition in the Galleria Nazionale d´Arte Moderna, in Rome, Italy.

Who inspired you in 2017, and why?

I would say that I am inspired by each individual and in awe for every person who is able to apply common sense. This means seeing things from different perspectives, from the angles that one might not personally agree with. If everyone truly tried putting themselves in the other person’s shoes, understanding would be a given for any situation. Understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing, but it does give a solid basis to find consensus, whatever the situation.

Image from the Ministry of Justice, Estonia