Estonians are happy to be in a position where many public services that would otherwise consume a lot of time, energy and paper are available electronically â€” as e-services. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the ICT Demo Center sought to study the impact of e-services. The study concluded that e-services have made public services faster than conventional services and improved their quality.
Studies so far have focused on the service user statistics and user satisfaction. However, the aspects behind satisfaction or dissatisfaction, as well as the broader impact of e-solutions on different groups, had not really been analyzed thoroughly.
Are e-services the way to go?
Estonian officials in charge of public services as well as the developers of the e-services have become more and more interested in finding out whether introducing e-services has produced the desired result. The answer to this question could only be acquired by executing an objective study.
The fact that this information had so far been unavailable suggested that collecting data would not be an easy task. Estonian experts from the Institute of Baltic Studies and the Praxis Center for Policy Studies took on the challenge.
Measuring the impact of e-services
How do you measure the impact of a service change? According to Marek Tiits from the Institute of Baltic Studies, the simplified idea of an impact assessment is taking the initially planned impact and comparing it to the actual impact.
“We expected our findings to help us answer the question whether the intended result or impact was achieved or not. The study also included an efficiency analysis of the e-service provider organizations â€” meaning their savings in time and money,â€ he explained.
Setting the objectives
The objective of the whole study was to identify and prove the positive social and economic impact achieved by developing public services and implementing e-services in Estonia. The study set out to develop the numerical indicators that could be used to plan the further development of e-services, as well as to improve the marketing of Estonian e-government solutions.
“We also identified the technological, legal and organizational prerequisites that have to be fulfilled for the successful implementation of e-services, and any obstacles to achieving greater impact. Since the study was the first of its kind, we also had to develop a methodology that could also be used in the future,â€ Tiits added.
Discovering the baseline
Putting the new methodology into use helped to uncover an issue: with many e-services, no real goals were set upon implementation.
“From the beginning two obstacles had to be tackled in parallel â€” we could not just develop the methodology, but a huge part of original data had to be collected, all the while keeping in mind the relatively short time-frame of the project,â€ explained Tarmo Kalvet from Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology.
What were the results?
Fifteen e-services with different levels of maturity and export potential were selected for the study. The impact of Estoniaâ€™s e-services was measured on three target groups:
1) users (citizens and enterprises),
2) service providers,
3) ICT companies developing the e-services (especially in relation to export).
The users of e-services stated that the examined services have had a positive impact on them: the services helped them to save a lot of time and made government more accessible. For 12 of the 15 services studied, over 80% of users confirmed that they consider using the online version of the public service much easier.
The top three e-services that displayed the biggest savings in time compared to regular offline services were
1) establishing a company,
2) submitting tax reports (VAT, income or social tax),
The savings were derived from no longer having to visit various government agencies physically or having to obtain information from several separate information systems.
The overall opinion of users is that all of the 15 services have become more accessible and easier to use. The online submission of tax returns to the Estonian Tax and Customs Board and the e-service of the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board stand out as having the biggest impact on accessibility compared to offline services.
Real cost savings
The aforementioned savings can with some effort be translated into saved working hours.
- In the case of i-voting, the cumulative time savings in the Estonian parliamentary elections of 2011 were 11,000 working days, which would amount to around 504,000 euros in average wages.
- Another example comes from the Estonian Road Administration â€“ the estimated savings from using paperless services in 2011 were 1,922,656 euros.
- The e-tax saves Estonian companies 7 euros on average per income and social tax declaration, around 726,000 euros in total.
The savings depend on the average income of the country. In the case of Estonia with its small population of 1,300,000 inhabitants, the savings per capita are rather significant. The economies of scale could potentially be even larger in bigger countries and wealthier economies.
Lessons to learn for service developers
The study highlights several key lessons for future development projects.
One of the main suggestions that the authors put forward is that funding decisions for e-society development projects should be based on a holistic view of the benefits of e-services, including a total cost of ownership analysis. Large-scale projects would need to describe the expected impact as well as set up the procedures for gathering usage data.
Large-scale e-society development projects should be setting concrete goals and conducting thorough cost-benefit analyses.
A good standard has been set by the Tax and Customs Board, which has based the priorities of making public services available online on the actual usage of the services. e-Tax is also a good example of integration and utilization of available data â€” pre-filled forms have made the tedious task of filing taxes very simple for Estonian inhabitants.
Towards better e-services
The study has provided a valuable baseline and a methodological standard for future developers of e-services. The established principles for the successful implementation of e-services should be of interest to everyone in the public sector planning to take services online, but also for the developers of IT solutions looking to cooperate with the state.
The citizens of Estonian e-society have something to look forward to from the application of the study, as improvements to the process of creating and developing e-services will make their lives even easier.
The full report is available in Estonian:
Tarmo Kalvet, Marek Tiits, Hille Hinsberg (toimetajad) (2013). E-teenuste kasutamise tulemuslikkus ja mõju. Tallinn: Balti Uuringute Instituut ja Poliitikauuringute Keskus Praxis. Source: e-estonia.com