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Foresight About ICT: From Visions to Solutions 2008

Lembi Ruubel, project manager, Summit LLC, Estonia

The From Visions to Solutions forum took place for the 10th time in September 2008. This year the forum concentrated on the current economic situation in Estonia, as well as on lessons learned from Singapores ICT model. ICT services are a key area for the success of the private and public sector. Delegates heard about the best methods, tools and processes for designing and developing services.

The telecommunications and information technology forum From Visions to Solutions was held for the 10th time in September at the Estonian summer capital city of Prnu.  During the past decade, this has been the leading event for many ICT executives and specialists, both in Estonia and in neighbouring countries.
As is usual during anniversary events, delegates recalled some of the top events from the forums history.  Many participants remembered the first forum in 1999, when the then president of Estonia, Lennart Meri, unexpectedly turned up at the conference hall to discuss his vision about the development of Estonia and its telecommunications sector.  Some of the developments which followed this address were also recalled establishment of the IT College, forceful development of E-governance projects, including the Tiger Leap programme, the widespread use of telecommunications and other ICT tools, the rapid distribution of the Internet, the export of Estonian ICT experience to Kosovo, Georgia, Armenia and Albania, Internet banking, Skype, M-parking, etc.
During this years From Visions to Solutions forum, the main turning points in the sectors recent history were summarised, topics which are currently of the greatest importance were discussed, and opportunities for successful projects in the near future were considered.
As is the tradition, the first day of the forum was dedicated to visions about the future.

The first speaker at the session about visions was Heido Vitsur, an economic analyst at the Estonian Development Fund.  Vitsur described the current state of the Estonian economy, possible future scenarios, and the main global economic trends which have an effect on the Estonian economy now and will have an effect on it in the near future.  He also stressed how critical it is to stimulate a structural transformation of the Estonian economy so as to focus on external markets, particularly in terms of the knowledge economy and high-level productivity services.
Urmas Klli, president of the Estonian Information Technology and Telecommunications Association, presented the so-called ICT Master Plan, which speaks to the role of ICT in Estonias economic model and in various sectors of the economy.  Among other speakers was Jaan Pillesaar from Helmes AS, who suggested that Estonia will be built by smart employees.
In a lecture on technological vision, venture capitalist Allan Martison conducted a reality check of the potential for Estonian IT companies in the global market.  He explained why the next decade will be more exciting than previous decades, offering ideas and trends which should be borne in mind.

Pek Yew Chai, president and chairman of the Singapore Information Technology Federation, was invited to the event to talk about the role of ICT in Singapores economic model and various parts thereof.  Some 120,000 people work in the Singaporean ICT sector, and there is plenty to learn from their economic model and their developmental programmes.  Pek Yew Chai explained that ICT is the strategic enabler for economic development in Singapore, arguing that the use of ICT is absolutely necessary in terms of enabling the countrys economic competitiveness.
The Singaporean government plays a leading and catalytic role in this process, providing support and leadership in the planning and delivery of key initiatives and also performing a supportive role in developing the industry.  Strong partnerships between the public and the private sector are an important ingredient for success, said the speaker.
The Singapore Information Technology Federation represents 400 ICT companies and plays a key role in galvanising the various agencies so as to ensure that the ICT world thrives.  It works with various business organisations and government agencies with the industrys interests always in mind.  Also very important is integration with the public so as to ensure that the take-up of ICT is easy.  This covers media, education and incentives to lower the barrier between Singaporeans and ICT.

New ICT services are a key area for private and public sector success.  Here are some of the topics and ideas that were presented at the forum:
Patrick W. Jordan, a design, marketing and branding strategist from the UK, talked about trends in client attitudes, behaviours and circumstances.  He described trends which characterise the way in which we live, also looking at how these trends impact E-services now and in the near future.
Bill Hollins, a service design expert from the UK, presented his ideas about what service designs mean and what they include.  He spoke about how a good design can solve problems, also looking at new methods for the development of services.  A good design means solving problems, and good designers can create normalcy out of chaos, said Hollins.  Service design is a multidisciplinary and iterative process which takes an idea and/or a market need and develops it into a product or service.  The design process ends with disposal.  Service design can keep customers and save a company.  E-services often lead companies to become locked into the relevant technology while forgetting about the user, stressed Hollins, and if the E-service is difficult to use, that is not the users fault.

The traditional module on scientific visions was mostly focused on two areas this year the role of ICT in producing and managing gene information, and on hot topics related to signal processing.
Learn to live with your genes, said Maido Remm from the Tartu Universitys Institute of Molecular Biology.  He presented an overview of the current state of gene research, as well as possible developments in this area in the near future.  Summarising what we can expect to see in terms of gene research, Remm emphasised the following circumstances:
Because of more affordable prices, access to individual gene information has grown;
Because of the increase in data which are interesting, but difficult to interpret, there are connections between the environment and the individual nature of people;
The possible paths of development in gene research focus on areas such as diagnosis of infections, medicine, veterinary science, the ecology, psychology, etc.
Tnu Trump from the Tallinn Technical University presented an overview of major aspects of signal processing.  He spoke about three areas which have been inspired by telecommunications Multiple Input/Multiple Output radio systems, the IP Multimedia Subsystem, and cognitive radio.

The second day of the forum was devoted to development projects in key sectors in which co-operation with ICT companies is needed.  These are the energy industry, agriculture, public services, telecommunications, retailing, logistics, engineering, banking, and health care.
The complicated situation in the Estonian economy means that it is important to focus on how IT can benefit the engineering industry, which is one of the countrys most important export sectors.  An overview of developments in this sector was presented by Jri Riives, chairman of the Estonian Federation of the Engineering Industry.  In his presentation, Riives introduced several upcoming projects aimed at increasing the productivity and competitiveness of Estonias engineering industry.  The main activities and projects of which he spoke included a human capital development project, INNOMET, E-production, cluster development, and a new innovation centre.
A speech about banking projects was delivered by Aivo Adamson, IT director for the Hansabank Group.  He talked about the main challenges and developmental issues which banking IT specialists are facing at the moment.  Some of these include the fact that IT systems are mixed, not modular, and that the level of interdependency among systems has limited external partnerships, which means that co-operation is based on the purchase of certain functions and services.  Adamson also said that there is a lack of partners who have knowhow both in banking and in IT. 
In the area of development, the main focus is on improving business processes, increasing efficiency and flexibility, determining and implementing new innovations, switching from a sales culture to customer relations, and developing more suitable local commercial solutions. Adamson also spoke to what the sector hopes to find in terms of future co-operation.  In the area of local support, it is seeking third-party companies to act as intermediaries in the provision and maintenance of solutions between the IT world and providers.  Banks are also seeking out ways of purchasing developmental services from local partners who can provide full solutions in the relevant areas.
Developments in the health care sector were described by Madis Tiik from the Estonian E-Health Foundation.  Tiik talked about events in the Estonian health care industry, about the work of his foundation, and the main projects in the area of medicine which will be moved to the virtual environment in the near future.  The main goal for the Estonian E-Health Foundation is to implement modern technologies in the health care system, to increase the quality of care that is provided by doctors, and to provide the state with a better overview of that which is happening in the area.  He also spoke about the main success factors and challenges in the Estonian health care system.  Tiik offered a detailed overview of projects such as electronic health records, digital prescriptions, digital registration, and digital imaging.  He also described things that have been done to pursue greater standardisation in the field.

A most interesting presentation about the area of space technologies was offered by Alar Kolk, who is an advisor to the chancellor of the Estonian Finance Ministry.  He introduced some of the projects of the European Space Agency, focusing on the Galileo positioning system, as well as a global environmental and security detection system known as GMES.  Which sectors can benefit from this system?  What services might become possible in future?  These are some of the questions which Kolk addressed.  He spoke about business in space an area which offers lots of new possibilities, customers, growing segments, services, business models, L-commerce, Earth observation, etc.  Because this is a new area, there are good financing possibilities from the European Unions 7th Framework Programme.  There is access to special incubators in the world, as well as to co-operation with the European Space Agency and Enterprise Estonia.  One new aspect in this is the establishment of the Estonian Space Corporation.

The excellent final presentation at the forum was called Sales on a Beermat, and it was presented by Mike Southon, who is one of the worlds top business speakers.  He is a leading technology commentator in the UK, and he reminded his audience of some of the simple truths of sales.  Everyone should be an evangelist for their company, he said in talking about what is needed to be very successful in sales and account management.
Lets hope that many new ideas and partnerships were formed during this years From Visions to Solutions forum.  At next years forum well be able to evaluate all of these new ideas, and we hope that there will be a few success stories which are based on the networking that is a key part of the event.

Lembi Ruubel, project manager, Summit LLT

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