Digital dividends

Recently I started reading the World Bank report “Digital Dividends”. One of the key points of the report was that digital technologies have spread rapidly all over the world, but benefits are not yet visible. Reading that, I experienced deja vu …

Back in 1994 I joined the office of Estonian National Tax Board as a Deputy Director General. There were almost no computers in the tax administration, government had just recently introduced VAT, almost everybody was stealing. Tax compliance was less than zero at that time.

But I was a fresh Computer Science graduate and full of energy to bring my country, that had just recently regained its independence, up to speed with the rest of the world. I believed that automation of technical and routine activities will free up time for more sensible work.

Me and my team started working on bringing the use of IT to the Tax administration. I explained to my bosses that we have to invest. We bought some servers and computers for officers, which was unfathomably expensive at the time. I had a feeling of acting like criminal, spending so much money on things, which most people didn’t even find useful.

Servers, which I bought and on which I introduced nation-wide tax filling e-services in 2000, had CPUs far less powerful than the ones that are currently in iPhones. At the time my country was just too poor to afford anything good, even most of the software was written by me and some of my friends. Few hundred thousand dollars seemed huge to me, although neighbour “western” countries were spending thousands times more than Estonia but bringing far less value to their people.

Right now the world is in a similar situation: some think that the ICT is cool and useful, but majority of the worlds population is not really convinced. And here is my point: even if you are scared today and think that all of this IT boom doesn’t bring any real value, you should take a breath and look at the long term goals, look at those few nations, who have already achieved something. Benefits will come and in a great volume. This advice is especially going to all of my colleagues, who are in charge to allocating money for IT reforms.