Estonia is famed for its digital society and has received praise for its innovative e-solutions by many international organisations such as UNESCO, Forbes or the CNBC. One of the key elements to its digital eminence has been its e-education IT solutions.
Finestmedia as one of the leading e-government IT solutions and digital transformation consulting firms in Estonia has been selected to lead the development and implementation of two important e-education solutions: ETIS and SAIS. This case study takes a look on the impact of these two projects.
Success in e-education is built one block at a time. Back in 1996, Estonia launched its first significant digital transformation campaign, called the Tiger Leap. This project helped to spur the country towards becoming one of the most digitally advanced societies in the world. Tiger Leap had a particular emphasis on education and innovative e-education services have been the cornerstone of Estonia’s digital rise ever since.
There were still areas of the Estonian education system that were falling behind and did not have the necessary digital infrastructure to enable growth. Particularly higher education and research foundations.
The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research set out to change this. They chose Finestmedia to take over the IT development of ETIS in 2012 and launched the “Knowledge-based Estonia” strategy campaign in 2014. In the same year, HITSA or the Information Technology Foundation for Education chose Finestmedia to lead the SAIS project.
Strategy and Solution
ETIS and SAIS can be summarised in the following way:
- ETIS is an information channel and a tool for researchers as well as R&D institutions. Researchers can use the Estonian Research Information System as a place to submit applications for grant competitions and find a designated forum and news section. R&D institutions can submit new research and expand the visibility of their research results.
Several R&D institutions use ETIS also as their internal research information system. Research funding organisations use ETIS for evaluating and processing applications and giving feedback. Put simply, it is the Estonian research hub.
- SAIS has been created for the electronic management of the process of submitting applications to educational institutions. Students can submit required documentation through the system and educational institutions can manage the information and data of candidates in a systemic way. The information system functions over the solid safe Internet-based and ID card-based information technology environment. Data collection will be initiated by the reception staff and the candidate and the system will regularly update semantic assets via the secure data exchange system X-road.
Finestmedia implemented an agile development process for these projects. Both ETIS and SAIS had already been rolled out to the public, but were lacking behind in usability and popularity. Agile development processes helped to carry out the necessary reforms in a timely and cost-efficient manner.
Finestmedia took over the development of ETIS in the second stage of the project in 2012. The goal in large was to improve the existing information system and increase system flexibility. Administrators on the client-side to were not able to make changes to the application templates and project reports without the need of further development and extra lines of code.
Finestmedia enabled to lower the operations costs of maintaining the system and simplified the addition of new improvements by creating a more dynamic system – streamlined IT architecture, updated database structure and new modules.
Changes were made to create a better user experience to the end-users as well. There’s an improved payments workflow / contract management system, extra safety measures, an analytics module to pull statistics and an added a section for news about research in its customer portal.
ETIS already securely holds over 1.6 million documents and has over 50 000 users. On average, it processes over 1000 applications, 300 project reports and 1400 contracts each calendar year.
“When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.”George Westerman, MIT Sloan Initiative
For SAIS, improving its system flexibility was a key part of the project as well. Finestmedia launched the new SAIS2 that enabled universities to accommodate their special needs and set-up their own criteria for admittance contests.
Importantly, SAIS is now also connected to the other educational databases in the country through the X-road, so it is not necessary to provide evidence of previous educational achievements, examination grades, or higher education qualifications if that data is already recorded elsewhere. This automation has significantly simplified life of potential students and has helped standardise information for the admissions board – leading to better efficiency.
An independent article by the European Commission confirmed this by stating that SAIS “has accelerated administrative tasks, saving time and human resources and freeing up university workers for other activities.” They added: “furthermore, student candidates no longer need to submit individual applications or travel to each university and they receive much faster decisions, which causes higher satisfaction of service for students.”
An education system is transformed one element at a time and Finestmedia is proud to have been given the opportunity to work in this sector and have a positive impact for Estonia’s education system with both the ETIS and SAIS projects
The Ministry of Education and Research is responsible for the planning of education, research, youth and language related national policies and, in conjunction thereof, managing the fields of pre-primary, basic, general upper secondary, vocational secondary, higher, hobby and adult education, organising research and development activities, youth work and special youth work, and compiling drafts of corresponding legal acts. In the area of government of the Ministry of Education and Research there are several state agencies, foundations and institutions which are managed by the Ministry strategically through definition of their goals and analysis of their results, also determining their budget, exercising supervision, etc.
Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA) is a foundation established by the Republic of Estonia, the University of Tartu, Tallinn University of Technology, Eesti Telekom and the Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications. The role of the HITSA is to ensure that the graduates at all levels of education have obtained digital skills necessary for the development of economy and society and the possibilities offered by ICT are skilfully used in teaching and learning, which helps improve the quality of learning and teaching at all levels of education.