Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Modern workforce requirements....at home

There has been a lot of talk about the skills shift in the labour market in Europe and USA. A big part of the simpler jobs are moving to robots, low-cost countries and are being exterminated by more excessive use of materials, standardization, computerization and better processes. There is a very interesting TED talk (Are droids taking our jobs) about how this trend will get more and more powerful.

But have you noticed that the same thing is happening at home? I mean can you even get all the stuff at home working if one of the parents is not a highly educated and experienced technician? For example when I was young the technical problem to solve was sharpening pens. Maybe you needed to sharpen a knife for that, but it was more about hands and less about brains. Now one must struggle with problems like Gmail is not working in a tablet because WiFi gets disconnected. Or reinstalling a telephone, because it cannot connect to the PC maintenance software anymore.
 Try to remember how many things we had 20 years ago at home that ran on batteries. Maybe five? Can you even count how many you have today? I think the battery manufacturers have even changed the packages from a pair of AA batteries to a 16 battery box.
 As I understand from the Christmas campaigns then the next job at home that will be taken over by robots is hoovering. This is of course good and one must embrace technology! Buy a robot, it is really cool and useful! However when doing so you must recognize that instead of 1h of hoovering a week you will be cleaning, maintaining, re-programming or solving technical problems of the robot-vacuum-cleaner for approximately 1h a month. So like always you save time but you must shift the skills to the next level.
 What this also means is that we will face a huge youth-unemployment problem at home as vacuum cleaning is something you can start from the age of 10, but figuring out why the robot is not cleaning is something only a parent with technical education can handle.

But this is not all. Besides technical maintenance and complexity a modern family needs also make sense of all the financial services, insurances, fonds etc. A question like "will I ever get a pension?" is something that you can only answer after thorough economical analysis that do need at minimum an MBA, but more preferably a masters degree of economics.

So happy studying! :-)

Monday, November 19, 2012

What is the problem with open data initiatives?

Many countries, including Sweden and Estonia, have started open data initiatives in the last couple of years. The goal of these initiatives is to open up publicly owned data for enterpreneurs who can develop services on them and well... make money. However, the success of these initiatives has been only moderate until now. I think the highest success has been with services offering public transport route planning and similar, but mostly the services are more or less only interesting toys. So why is the success moderate? I see several reasons for that:
- The data being opened (for free) is usually commercially un-interesting. It is not the citizen or business registrys that you get access to for free.
- Consumers in general are not willing to pay anything for e-services. It is the businesses that make money with e-services and who are also willing to pay for them.
- The institutions themself, like for example Stockholms Lokaltrafik and also Google, provide very good services on the original data and it is virtually impossible to compete with them.

So what to do? How to give life into the overall idea of open data?
 I think the answer is to change the overall notion into providing valuable data, for a fee, to organizations who have legal rights for that. This idea gets also much better if you put it into EU context. I am sure that:

- The Finnish State would be happy to pay much more than the IT integration costs if the Finnish police would get through the X-Road platorm access to the Estonian car registry. And it would also be a win-win situation for the citizens of both countries. (Well if we don't count in Estonian car owners who don't follow parking rules in Finland)

- if you move to another country and want to buy a broadband connection, cable-TV or maybe take a bank-loan then the telco's and banks would be happy to pay for a query to your previous homelands income tax database to check if you are economically viable. You would also be happy to give them that access.

- businesses would be happy to pay for data like addresses, infrastructure maps, people and business data.

So there is lot to win in the open data area. But to make it happen we should focus on more valuable data and the legal and security questions to make it available for the right and only the right parties.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

How to avoid development?

All office workers and especially managers know that development and change are very uncomfortable. Changes like new products, new processes, new structures demand extra effort and work. There are usually many loose ends and many new things you need to think of. Perhaps a change would mean cleaning up the mess you currently have in the IT systems, technological architecture or processes. You probably might also need to talk to people that you do not know previously or maybe even don't like. All this is very stressful. So how you as a manager can silence that (annoying) guy with the new bright idea. How to kill the enthusiasm of creating new ways of working? Here are some ways how one can accomplish that:

It all starts by creating a process for incoming development ideas. The process must definitely not start with an e-mail or a phone call to you. No, no, no - that would have the opposite effect. Instead consider the following methods:
- Create a mailinglist for the incoming ideas and accept only e-mails that you receive there. You might be the only person in that list, but accept only e-mails that are sent to the correct mailinglist address not your personal one.

- Create a formular for new ideas. The less changes you want the longer the formular. With this you can also put the task of solving many issues from your shoulders to the "guy with the idea". Ask questions like: Do you have acceptance from that, that and that person/department? or What resources do you need? or Do you have a budget for this? Nevermind, that you have the most experience and information to answer these questions. Put them in the form and if they are not filled then - sorry.

- As a mailinglist is still a pretty easy way for sending ideas you might rather set up a un-userfriendly IT system for that. Go wild and use SAP! Note also that using a complicated process for getting a username and password for that IT system provides another fine way of filtering out those annoying ideas of change. Consider for example outsourcing that to the Helpdesk in India.

- Maybe demanding the idea to be faxed to you would be going a bit too far, but do demand a lot of decision material in the form of a business plan, cost analysis and detailed project plan. Why not throw in a risk analysis, customer and market analysis or a demand for reporting. Here can you a lot of ideas from government agencies that are dealing with subsidies for businesses and organizations.

- Finally, set up a board that decides whether the idea is good or not. Meet no more than once a month. Do limit the time of the meeting and the amount of ideas that get an OK. You could even agree with the neighbouring department that if they say no to an idea then you say no to it and vice versa. So you can always ask: "Have they accepted the idea?"...

Do you know any better methods for fighting corporate progress?

Ehh....if it only wasn't the customers, technical progress and competition.

Monday, September 3, 2012

About saving costs

Saving costs is something every organization needs to do now and then. Usually the focus is on training, travelling, personell, office costs and vendors. However, there are a few areas that usually are overlooked when cutting costs. As these are very important and big costs they definitely demand more attention from the managers.

First - "Projects that get 90% done.... but are not launched". A project that is almost launched is like an "almost goal" in football. The effort has been made - work done and money spent - but there is no use of it.  If you look around in your organization I am sure you can find numerous such things. For example:
- Strategies that were worked out by a team and left then laying in the shelf
- New products that were developed, but never introduced to the market
- Process development that was designed, decided on, but not implemented
In many cases the reasons for not doing the last bit are subjective. A person leaving or a change of mind of someone. However the waste created by such efforts should be carefully monitored by the managers and projects that are not going anywhere should be stopped immediately.

Second - "Fighting between people, organization units - us and them". In general grown-ups and children are not that much different. For some years now I have had the possibility to compare relationship issues at work to the issues my two groundschool age daughters have with each other. It is amazing how alike these issues are. Usually they are:
- I want to do this, they want to do that.
- I have done my part and it is a lot more than they have done
- They are stupid and don't know how things really are
At home these fights result in very long "dressing up to go for a walk" time and mostly a higher authority in the form of a mother or a father is needed to get the process going. But imagine how big is the time and money wasted if two specialists or even organizational units substitute co-operation with arguing. Tens of people might spend months on working out information flow, strategy implementation or similar processes to start co-operation whereas the real problem is relationships.
 A challenge with the fights between adults is that they are not so visible as the fights of children. People are polite and hide their feelings. So as a manager you really need to look for these fights in order to solve them.

Third - "Non-organizing". Modern organizations are globalized and this means being big and having a complex structure. In this complexity however one easily looses the total end-to-end picture of a process or a product. Things might get also very complicated. The (legacy) IT systems create their own unefficiency-s.
 Solving the organizing issues is difficult. It means change, it means learning how things work thoroughly and deciding on the 20% of cases that will not be solved by the new process, but will be handled manually.

All these three areas of costs are difficult to solve and provide results in the long run. However getting them solved provides huge value for the organization and ... these are the most important tasks of the managers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to be successful by using self-generating phenomenons

I have written before about self-generating phenomenons in estonian, but it is an important topic that could be discussed more. Self-generating phenomenons are really important development paths in business, technology, society and environment. Detecting or creating one might easily you a millionare.

First, what is a self-generating phenomenon. It is a process, technology or anything such that creates output that increase the process itself and that in turn increases the output. Let's look at some examples to explain:
 Training and sports. The more people are into sports, the more sports shops there are in town. The sport shops want to increase their business, so they do advertising and sponsor sports events. The more advertising and events, the more people are into training and sports. The loop goes around until a logical maximum is reached and all the possible people who can be won over to sports are there.
 Tourism. Apparently Stockholm is earning the most from tourism among the Scandinavian city's. This means that it makes a lot of sense for companies, museums and restaurants to offer services for tourists. The more tourists the more flight, boat, train and buslinks there can be profitable. The more there is to do in a city and the easier to get there, the more tourists are tempted to go there. Tallinn provides a wonderful example of such a self-generating loop and the growth of the number of tourists visiting Tallinn has been growing for 20 years.
 Money. The more money one has, the more it is possible to invest and earn with it. If invested wisely the more you will get, which in turn makes it possible to earn on investments more. This self-generating loop has the unfortunate downside on the individual or corporation level of rich becoming richer and poor poorer and therefore outside parties (like the gevernment) need to controll this process. But this process works also for countries. If you have a lot of debt you get poorer and if you have a lot of investments you get richer.

....and there are many self-generating loops in IT and technology also.
Smartphones and Apps. Would you have developed an app. for a mobilephone in 2005? Probably not....there were not exactly many potential customers around. Nowadays, tens of millions of smartphones means there is much sense in developing apps, TV on mobile, location services, e-books, games and so on. This in turn means that there is much more to do with your smartphone so you buy one. And if one buys a smartphone then it again makes more sense to develop for smartphones.
Authentication, the ID-card. When ID card was introduced in Estonia there were no services where you could use it. There were no services in turn, because people did not have ID-cards, or card readers and lacked the interest. In due time this vicious circle was turned into a positive self-generating phenomenon and now all services have ID-card authentication because everybody uses and demands it.

Understanding these processes is very important because if you manage to jump onto one in the beginning it will be like cycling with tailwind. You are finally at the right place at the right time and the process of positive feedback increases your success. A good example here are the first real-estate, used things, discussion and news portals like City24, Auto24 in Estonia or Hemnet, Blocket in Sweden or Suomi24 in Finland. Announcements were put up there, because the customers were there and customers were there, because the announcements were there. By now they have became phenomenons themselves and it is almost impossible to build a competing portal now.

It is usually possible, but time consuming and expensive to start a self-generating phenomenon. You usually have the egg-and-chicken problem and need to invest heavily into "the egg" before the chicken comes along and the process starts to get positive feedback. Here timing is also really important - if the prerequisites are not there you might have to wait for too long. Some examples:

 Amazon is currently planning a major shift in online sales and building warehouses so that they could deliver on the same day to everywhere in USA. If they are successful in setting that up then online shopping could become a self-generating phenomenon, because getting the goods on the same day means that more people will shop online. That in turn kills offline shoping, making shops go bankrupt and their selection worse and therefore again making online shoping more popular. But imagine the costs and risks of setting up warehouses all around USA (or the world) so that delivery can be made the same day.

 A social network is a self-generating phenomenon in itself because the more people there are online the more new members they attrack. Some months ago I believed that Google+ could get this positive feedback loop going, but I think they are still not there and might fail. Again the investments have been huge.

Fighting a self-generating phenomenon is extremely hard and expensive. Sometimes though very necessary. For example city districts becoming a ghetto is something a municipality and the society should fight with all they got. We should also fight seriously the positive feedback loop of polar ice melting->ice reflecting less heat back to space->earth becoming warmer->polar ice melting. (So take the bike instead of the car and spend the money on theather instead of buying useless things transported from the other side of the world. :-))

 One should avoid fighting the phenomenons when it is useless. For example try to avoid making another "daily deals" portal.

 So to conclude with. if you have a business idea you want to develop then look if it can have a positive feedback process making the need for it stronger and adjust the idea for that. And if you decide to go for it then check that you have the necessary time and resources to get the positive feedback process working.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slim state, IT systems and the Internet

In Estonia the idea of "slim state" has long been a praised one. Relatively low taxes, minimal government and regulations are considered to be ideal. Until now this strategy has worked rather well .... in the sense of economical development. Estonian economy has been developing best among the post-Soviet republics.

 I would like to make the point that in the 2012 world a neoliberal governance might not be the most successful one and looking on other models could prove useful. As I am residing in Sweden now I have an opportunity to observe the differences between the relatively neoliberal Estonian and the relatively social-democratic Swedish society. I also suggest that modern IT technology, social networking, datamining, mobility and other technical+sociological developments provide many new opportunities for governing a society better than ever.

 Firstly I will define the problem.
 If one pursues a slim neoliberal government then the ideal is the absolut minimum of public services. In the most extreme cases the public services could be limited to law and order, foreign policy, defence, governance and some infrastructure. The taxes can therefore be very low and most of the affairs in the state would be taken care of by the private sector. In a way such a public sector could be described as an effective automation. Little (taxes) goes in and minimal (services) comes out. This is indeed (economically) efficient ... but only in short term.
 The problem with such a model is that a slim public sector is not able to deal with long term development and any new problems that turn out in the society. This is because by definition creating an effective public sector means getting rid of all the specialists and budget that are unnecessary for dealing with the upmost current and burning issues.
 Here are some examples from Estonia. In Estonia there is unfortunately no public office, department or specialists who are currently developing plans to deal with the approaching demographic slump - it is nobodys problem. For many years the fighting with HIV and drug abuse has been voluntary, project based endeavour and not an issue dealt with a budget and a dedicated office. The development of infrastructure and public transport is rather hectic both on municipal and state level. The whole national energy policy of Estonia was for many years more or less handled by one man - Einari Kisel. In February 2012 he left for World Energy Council and I am not sure if anyone is looking on the issue after that.
 Of course things are not so bad as it may seem from the few previous examples - they are just illustrations of the issue. Estonian government is fortunately not a slim neoliberal automate, many occurring problems are dealt with and especially thanks to EU funds long term development of infrastructure is also going on.

 In Sweden the government is not slim. This is not only a tax issue, but also an issue on how people look at their society. Public sector in Sweden is trusted by the citizens and it holds an important role. Many problems are expected to be handled by the public sector and they also are. This means that long term development is (well) handled in many areas. There really are not many problems that do not "belong" to some public office and if a new one appears then the public opinion quickly demands that "somebody" must step up and take care of it. One might argue that sometimes the handling has not been the best possible one. For example the risks of the housing credit bubble are very big and the amount of processes handled on paper by public offices could be smaller.

 So in a nutshell: Having a slim government and not managing the society is better than bad management and waste, but good active management is much better than non-management.

 The good thing in modern times is that active management and handling long term development has never been so easy. Nowadays it is possible to measure and analyze all kinds of data. This gives much better input for number based management and policy decisions than guessing and using expert opinions.
 Thanks to social media and Internet it is much easier to measure public opinion and to discuss things. Should we have more bike-roads or should we build one km of high-way? Should we increase the salaries of teachers, nurses or pensions?
 Thanks to the Internet and the widespread of the english language it is now much easier to learn from experiences of other countries. There are many fields where copying policies or programs is a valid option. Why not copy the whole school program of Finland or Sweden - what could go wrong with that?


Thursday, June 28, 2012

The strange case of real estate and banks

I must apologize from jumping out of the topic of IT and IT services with this post, but maybe there is something to learn from it for everybody. Including IT people. The topic I want to write about is the real estate market and ... how bubbled up it is. Especially the Swedish one.

To start up some facts, links and numbers:

- You can see the average apartment square meter price of different parts of Sweden at www.maklarstatistik.se. For Stor-Stockholm the average price is currently 34 826 kr/m2. That is approx. 3870 euros. The average means that it is something between 22 000 kr/m2 in the outer parts of Stockholm to 61 900 kr/m2 in Östermalm.
- The average netto salary in Sweden was 27 900 kr/m in 2010. It is a bit higher in Stockholm 31 700 kr/m. (But the SCB did not state if this is neto or bruto)
- The price of real estate in Sweden before the financial crisis (january 2008) was on average 18% lower than today. So there was just a slight glitch in the prices and then they continued to rise again.
- Every year about 30 000 new people move to Stockholm, but only about 5000 new apartments are built so there is a rather big gap between demand and supply.
- You can get a home loan in Sweden covering 80% of the real estate price. The strange case is that it is possible to get a loan that you do not pay back. Yes, you can get a loan where you pay only the interests or that has a 60 year amortization period (as paying back is called in Sweden). And 60 years in this case is infinity.
- ...and you can of course get a loan for the 20% down payment. With a higher interest-rate and this you actually have to pay back...in 15 years.

How the market model actually works is:
- People who buy a home look at the monthly price they have to pay. It is not the price of the home, but the monthly payments that determine what a family can afford and will buy.
- The price of real estate is not something solid. For example you can produce an infinite number of luxury cars and therefore the price of the cars is tightly connected to the production and sales costs, but the number of apartments in Östermalm is fixed. Therefore the price has nothing to do with the production costs, but is an agreement between the players in the market. If the conditions change then the agreement changes. It is really mostly air. As we see in the case of Spain (2010-2012) and Estonia (2007-2009) the agreement between the market players can change also downwards ... a lot and fast.
- So the price of a square meter depends on two factors: buyers capability of monthly payments and the banks policy and ability on converting that monthly payment into a (virtual) value. Let me explain:
 Lets say that the average family is ready to pay about half of the average salary (13 161 kr/m) as a payment to the bank. Then if the interest rate would be 4% and the maximum payback time would be 10 years then the family would buy a home for 1,3 million crowns.
 If the maximum payback time however is closer to infinity (40 years for example) then the family would buy an apartment for 3,2 million crowns.
 The point is that it would be the same families buying and living in the same apartments, but in the latter case they would pay 40 years instead of 10 and the amount of air in the price would be bigger.

The interesting consequences and suggestions:
- In Sweden with the infinite payback times, it is almost like the banks own most of the real estate and rent it out to people. The only difference is that the people also carry the risk of price fall. Well at least that is what the banks assume, but in reality as we see in the Irish, Spanish and US case, if prices fall enough then it is the government and EU who have the risk.
- So as it is the tax payer who actually (and without its knowing) carries the risk of these 60 years to infinity loans, then it should also be the tax payer who creates the rules for risk management. So in essence the government should say what is the limit of the maximum loan period, the risk margin and minimum down payment.
- All tax levies on real estate are useless if the price is bigger than building costs. If through tax incentives a family can afford a bigger monthly payment then this will just increase the (virtual) price of real estate. It would be still the same families living in the same apartments, but the virtual value of the real estate would just be bigger. The tax bonuses would go straight away to banks and real estate owners.

So my suggestion to Swedish and Estonian governments is that introducing a maximum limit of maximum loan time would be an idea to consider. Perhaps 15 years would be appropriate. This should be introduced very calmly maybe in 10 to 20 years, but it would be sensible. It would minimize the unnecessary risks that the real estate bubble now holds for the economy and more importantly it would free people from lifelong debts.
 This would not bring horrible economical consequences and turn the world around would be ...well something like 2002. :-)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why teleconferencing is not de-concentrating the population?

In my last post I wrote how you can use different conferencing tools for multi-location collaboration. It is true that modern telecommunication tools have made it possible to work at home, to work with teams in different countries and different parts of the world. So the location of jobs should become less and less relevant. This should mean that the pressure to move to the nearest growth-city would weaken in time and we should see a trend of people moving to places where nature is closer and housing cheaper. But this is not happening! Why?
We still see jobs and people moving to growth centers - to Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn, rather than Paide and Kärdla.

One explanation for this is that telecommunications and IT enables not only working from distance, but also ruling from distance. You no longer need a local office or locally adjusted services. So paradoxically the better the communications get the more economical it gets to concentrate the jobs in the capital. Or what do you think?

Friday, May 18, 2012

How to use (video)communication tools in international projects

This list of hopefully practical and useful advice is based on my personal experience of running and participating in Nordic and Baltic projects. For five months now I have been working in Sweden and have been involved in projects involving Estonian, Finnish, Polish and Swedish team-members, people who are not only in different countries, but also in different cities, offices and cultures. By now I can state from my experience that it is possible to minimize travelling and run international projects with modern telecommunication tools. It is difficult, but possible. Here are a few subjective hints. I would greatly appreciate any advice and hints for myself and other "teleworkers" in the comments!

The tools.
One should use all the communication tools there are available. For example I use the following:
- Telephone
- E-mail
- Skype (calls, videocalls, desktop sharing)
- MS Live Communicator (calls, desktop sharing)
- Cisco/Tandberg videomeeting
- Telia Telemöte phone-conferencing

Currently there is no one solution that dominates the rest so for different situations and different meetings you should use different tools. In my experience:
- Telephone and Telemöte have the best quality and reliability and should be used if video or desktop sharing is not needed and it is very important that the discussion is not blurred by breaking communication. (Critical timeframe, Information sharing for a team)
- Skype (video)conferencing is very useful for talking to someone whom you know well and want to have a longer conversation. (Face-to-face meetings, longer not nervous discussions, "How are things going" meetings.)
- Cisco/Tandberg has great quality and they are the best option for telemeetings. The downside is that the devices are expensive and there might be difficulties in booking the meetingroom where they are. You also need to be in the meetingroom to use them. (Introductions. Nervous topics. "Creating a solution" teamwork)
- Live Communicator and Skype chatting is good for operative work.

Getting it to work:
- Use a headset for your phone and never leave it at home. If you are afraid of looking weird while "talking to yourself" then visit Stockholm T-bana and see how the whole city is going around talking to themselves.
- Get a good headset for your computer. Indeed Logitech is 5 times more expensive than the cheapest option, but it is 10-100 times less expensive than travelling or getting a confusion in the project team.
- Spend time on reading the instructions, testing it and getting the calls to work.
- Getting the (video)conference to work takes time so agree with the other parties to set up the "call" 15 minutes before the planned meeting. My worst experience was a four-way videoconference that was 45 minutes setting-up and 15 minutes of meeting.
- Agree with your employer about the costs so you would not have to worry about the money. International calls are expensive, but again you should compare it to plane tickets or the project being screwed up because of mis-communication.
- Learn good english and do not be afraid to use it. If there is trouble understanding then do not give up, but change to a higher-quality tool. Like telephone or Cisco/Tandberg.
- ...and last but not least: Be firm on getting things to work without travelling and over telecommunications. It is a skill and therefore requires practice from all parties, but it is possible.

Social aspects:
 Working in multi-office and multi-country teams requires some thought on the social aspects. This is true for both separate meetings and the general relation development. Here are a few thoughts:
- When choosing the tools you should think about the dynamics of communication. For example if you have a 1-1 meeting then it is OK to do it over Skype. 4-1 is a quite different situation and for that 1 person to be included in the discussion it is important that the communication line is of the highest quality. So use professional videoconferencing and suitable rooms. For 1-1-1-1 it is again OK to use Skype, because everyone is on equal terms.
- Working in different locations means that the "coffee corner" information does not spread automatically. So you need to put an effort into that. Just call/e-mail/chat people up and ask how are things going. It is OK to do that on company time.
- Cultural, personal and organizational differences and language skills are things to consider. Swedes prefer calling, estonians and finns e-mailing. Learn and practice languages. :-)

For the employer/manager:
- Build "telephone booth" rooms in the office where people can talk over the phone without interfering with others. Rooms where you can walk during calling are especially good, because then an hour long phone-meeting is also an exercise.
- Make sure that money will not become a problem for people when using telecommunications. Your employees travelling or failure due to mis-communications is much more expensive than headsets, international calls, video-conference devices, Skype Professional etc.
- Promote the use of (video)conferencing.
- Involve the distant workers in all the conversations.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

How to move to Estonia Guide (for ICT consultants, specialists....but for others also)

The information in this post and the links were updated on 18th of July 2014.

In my opinion Estonia is a good place for IT specialists to find a job and work in! Especially in the situation when the (youth) unemployment is rising and in many European countries there is no sign of it easing. I promoted the idea to the Estonian IT companies in one of my recent posts. With this post I want to give my contribution to the exchange of talent inside EU. I hope this helps at least a few people.
 This post is definitely not an official guide, but more of a friendly advice. If you have any questions regarding moving or any important information that could help others then please comment this post!

 This post focuses on moving to Tallinn. Tartu, as the second biggest town in Estonia, is also an alternative with Playtech and Webmedia as the biggest IT sector employers there.

The first thing you need is a job.
 If you are an IT specialist with a university degree there is a good chance you can find a job in Estonia. (Even if you don't speak Estonian). Finding a job is never easy, but if you have a concrete skill - like Java developing for example - Estonia would be one of the first places where to look for work. Estonian economy is picking up a bit now and the unemployment rate is decreasing. The salary levels in IT sector are decent in European standards I would say.
 To find an IT job look at CV-online - the biggest job portal in Estonia. You can also look directly at the pages of the biggest IT employers in Estonia. These include Skype, Kühne and Nagel development center, Nortal, Helmes, Playtech, the telecoms: Elion, EMT, the banks: Swedbank, SEB, Danske Bank, LHV and others.
 You can also search for a job in an IT Startup. Estonia (the infamous #Estonianmafia) has a really active startup community with accelerators like Garage48, Wise Guys, Tehnopol and companies like GrabCad, PipeDrive, Erply, Fortumo and many, many others. Contacting someone from the accelerators or visiting a Garage48 event would be a wise thing to do if you are in need of a job and like the action oriented startup environment.
 There are also human resource companies who focus on finding the best talents for companies. These include Fontes, Manpower and Arista.

Finding work as a consultant.
 Probably easier than finding a job would be finding a project where you can work in. This would also be less risky for you and an easier decision. The projects might last 3-6 months or a year. The good thing about Tallinn and Estonia is that it is relatively easy to find and rent a place to live (read more in the Housing part underneath) and doing the paperwork (read Founding a company and Paperwork underneath). The biggest need on the market is for (Java) developers, IT architects, but also many other specialities.
 The Economy of consulting work: The ICT sector consultants now work for 30-65 euros/h. That naturally depends a lot on the experience, contacts and job. So for the first projects you should calculate to be on the lower end of that price range. If you calculate that you work 140 billable hours a month (out of the 168 workhours) then you could earn 4200 euros as a company. On the cost side you have accounting, tools, perhaps you want to rent an office space if the employer does not provide that for you and taxes. The biggest cost for consultants naturally is the fact that you might not have work all the time and you need time for sales. However, if you can agree on a multi-month job beforehand then this is a good approach. For matching consultants and jobs I have started a LinkedIN group. Go and become a member there and start connecting with people, it is free and riskfree.
 If you have found a consulting job, but do not have a company, an appartment or lack something else then you can also contact me and I can help you.

Founding a company
IT startups and consultanting firms are a big thing in Europe and USA today so why not found your own. Founding and running a company in Estonia is cheap and easy compared to other EU countries. To register a company go to the Company registration portal of the Justice Department. You don't need to be an Estonian resident to start a company and can do it even over the Internet with electronic authentication from some countries. You need to pay 140,6 euros registration tax (185,34 if you do it electronically)  and pay in 2500 euros as the startup capital. The latter will be your companies money so you get it back in a couple of days to your companies bank account that you have to open at one of the banks. (The main banks are SEB, Swedbank, LHV, Nordea, Danske) There is more information on founding a company at the Eesti.ee portal.
 After founding your company it is wise to hire an accountant. For example from IMG or a freelance accountant. Search "raamatupidaja" on the internet. A good accountant will cost you approximately 50-100 euros a month and will take care of the daily accounting, the monthly reporting of taxes if necessary and the yearly report.

Paperwork
 The national portal www.eesti.ee is the place where you can find most of the official information about paperwork etc. However logging in there is possible only after you have got the personal code and ID-card. I strongly suggest though that even without the ID card you go through the public webpages there.
 The bureaucracy will become even easier when Estonia launches the e-residency possibility that is planned for autumn 2014.
 Firstly, it must be noted that paperwork is easy if you are an EU citizen and a little more time consuming if you are not. All the initial paperwork: residency permit, working permit (not necessary for EU citizens), personal code, ID-documents are handled by the Police and Bordercontrol authorities. So start out by going to their webpages here. There you can also find the contact information where to write an E-mail or call and explain your situation and ask for instructions. Probably you can get service also in English and certainly in Russian - don't be scared just call them and see what happens. :-)
 I strongly suggest getting yourself also an ID-card and an ID-card reader for your computer. This will help you a lot with all the business - starting from online banking, tax declaration to buying a prescription medicine. The ID-card and other documents are also handled by the police.
 Health insurance in Estonia is public and is handled by the Health Insurance Fund (Haigekassa). If you get a job then it is your employers task to insure you and you don't need to do much for that.
 If you move to Tallinn then it is wise to register yourself also as a resident of Tallinn. This will give you some benefits like cheaper public transport. This is also a prerequisite if you want to put your children to kindergarten or school in Tallinn.


Vacation, work legislation and social security.
 The standard vacation in Estonia is 28 days a year. It is more than US, but less than in most of European countries. Estonia has less free days than most European countries. You can find a calendar public holidays here.
 The unions do not have much power in Estonia. Therefore most of the rules of your work-relation are governed by the laws and by your work-contract. This means that the work-contract is an important document and you should read it carefully. It is also relatively easy to lay off people in Estonia so the job market is dynamic. Thanks to that companies are also not afraid to hire people and permanent contracts are much more common than temporary ones. Usually there is a 4 months trial period in the beginning of a job relation. Overall the Estonian jobmarket is open and straightforward. The laws protect the employee and in the IT sector the companies are fare. You don't need to be scared and especially careful, but do ask the employer to explain you all the terms.
 One problem I personally would note here is that if you get sick then usually you don't get compensated for the first 3 days of sickleave. This means 3/21 of your monthly salary. This is a topic that you should discuss with your employer. For example many IT companies allow you to work from home so if you get a flu you don't need to go bankrupt. I personally have also kept a few vacation days just in case to be used when I get sick.


Income and social benefits
The salaries for IT specialists in Estonia range quite a bit. The bruto salaries range from a little under 1300 euros for technicians to over 4000 a month for experienced specialist-architect-managers. The income tax rate is 21% for everybody with some small additional taxes for pension-fund and unemployment fund. You can calculate the exact net-salary (the money you actually get) here: www.kalkulaator.ee.
 The social benefits of Estonia are OK. They include child birth support paid by the local municipalities, the child benefit for 19 euros/m per child (from 2015 it will be 45 eur/m for the first two kids and 100 for third and more) and help for unemployed and some social benefits. You can read more about them at the following pages:
- Social insurance board
- Health insurance fund
- Tallinn city social support

Housing
 Although the salary level in Estonia is less than in Scandinavia, Germany or UK then so are the costs. You might economically be even better off in Tallinn than in Stockholm or Helsinki.
 You can for example rent a 2 room appartment in the centre of Tallinn for 450 euros/month. Try Põhja-Tallinn, Mustamäe, Õismäe or Lasnamäe for cheaper options. All the rental and on sale appartments and houses can be found here at City24. (Press ENG for english there) City24 is the best portal for real estate offers in Estonia. The rent and real estate market is open and straightforward. There are practically no government appartment programs or any type of limits on rents. You pay to the owner and get the appartment. The more you are ready to pay the better appartment you can get. Bank loans for buying an appartment are relatively easy to get, although after the financial bubble banks again do look at your income and demand probably 20-30% of the value of the real estate to be paid by you. (This is a good thing!)

Car
 There is no car tax in Estonia. So if you bring your car or want to buy one then you only need to pay the registration fee.You can find the information about registering your car or bringing it in here at Maanteeamet (Transportation authorities). Unfortunately they have translated only a part of their webpages so you need to use Google translate to get to the relevant information. Petrol costs ... well they are rising all the time. Look how much for example Neste charges today.

  Public transport is an OK option in Tallinn also. It is free for the residents of Tallinn. You can find information about the ticket prices here and the travel planners and maps here. Google Maps planner also works for Tallinn.

 Food is about 1,5-2 times cheaper in Estonia than in Finland or Sweden. To get an overview of the prices check the offers on the biggest grocery store chains: Selver, Säästumarket, Rimi, Prisma. 0,5l beer costs about 1 euro.
 Tallinn is an important tourist town so there are numerous restaurants especially in the old city. Most of them are oriented on tourists and have therefore premium pricing - a glass of beer can cost 4-5 euros and a meal 20-30 euros. For everyday eating it is possible to find decent places where a meal costs 7 or less euros.

People and habitsRoughly 2/3 of the inhabitants of Estonia are estonian and the rest are mostly russian. The immigration to Estonia since 1990 has been smallish so the ethnic diversity is not that big compared to other European capitals. Sushi and kebab in Tallinn's restaurants are made by Estonians or Russians. :-) Here are some random facts about culture and habits. As always these things are very relative and do not take them very seriously:
- In official situations you should approach people by using the multiple form. Like Sie in German not Du.
- Using titles like mister, miss etc. is not common.
- Equality between genders is a work in progress in Estonia. This also means that as a gentlemen you must open the door and let the lady's in first.
- drinking is not a tabu. Like all the northen nations Estonians drink as much as the French, but focus it all on one day in a week :-)
- E-mail is an important communication method. Estonians do not like to call, they e-mail and use the e-service. This means also that "not answering" to e-mails (in a couple of days) is considered unpolite. You should read your e-mail and can also trust that other Estonians read the mail you sent.
...please feel free to add important habits a foreigner must know to the comments. As a native Estonian it is a bit hard for me to detect them.

Kindergartens and schools
This might be a tricky part when moving so you should put some effort into it. Things might work out fine easily or they might take some time. First you must decide what language your children should study in.

...if it is English
- The international kindergarten is one of the options, but ask them how much does it cost and if they have vacancies.
- Tallinn European School has both a kindergarten and a school. They are currently the most affordable option (though not exactly cheap, approx. 4000-4500 eur/year)
- The International School of Estonia is an IB School and provides education in English for all ages. It is a private school and therefore has tuition fees. See their pages for more information.
- Audentes private school has an IB diploma program in English. You can find out more about it and other Audentes's programs here. Audentes is a private school so studying there costs, see their webpage for exact prices.
- Tallinn English Colledge will open classes teaching in english in the year 2012/2013. Ask them about possibilities to send your kid there. This is also not free and it might be a challenge to find a place there.
- High-school/grammar school equivalent at EBS.

...if anyone knows any other alternatives for English education then please write in comments.

...if it is Estonian or Russian
Municipal (free) kindergartens and schools teach children in Estonian or Russian. The best advice here is to find a kindergarten or school closer to where you live. Contact the chosen establishment directly or ask advice from the Tallinn Education Department (Tallinna Haridusamet). Here is a list of Tallinn's educational establishments. There is a lack of kindergarten places in some areas of Tallinn - especially the center, Nõmme and Pirita. There should not be any problems in finding a place at a school if you don't want to go for the "elite schools". There are 4-6 schools in Tallinn where all the parents want to put their children. These are The English College, Reaalkool, French lyceum, Gustav Adolf College, Tallinn 21 school and Westholm Gymnasium. These schools are considered to be better than the others and in 2011 there were 21 (yes, twenty-one) children applying for one vacancy in the English College and others. The 6-7 year olds take tests that decide who are the lucky ones.

...if it is Finnish
Then there is a Finnish school in Tallinn that you can choose.

..other alternatives
If you and your children are used to a more personal approach and Scandinavian "free upbringing" then I suggest looking at Waldorf schools as an option. I myself and my children have experienced both Finnish/Swedish schools and Estonian education and I would say it is easy to go from Estonia to Scandinavia, but demands some discipline to go vice versa. It is nothing serious, but the habits are a bit different. Therefore you can consider Waldorf School as an option. It is not free, but also not that expensive and maybe your children might get help with language there also.

University degrees
There are many possibilities to learn higher education in English in Estonia. The main universities providing education both in Estonian and English are:
- University of Tartu (They also have a course for IT Product and Business development tought in Tallinn)
- Tallinn Technical University
- Tallinn University
- Estonian Business School
- ...and others

Language
You can manage in Estonia by using English. However if you plan to stay for a longer period it would be good to at least try to learn some Estonian. It is possible. :-) Although in the beginning might seem difficult. Estonian is only similar to Finnish and has very little similarities with anglic or slavic languages.
 Russian is spoken by 1/3 of the population so knowing or learning russian does help you to get along with many people. However in official and work situations russian is rarely used and unfortunately the young estonians do not often speak russian.
 Many Estonians speak....well understand at least... finnish. And in the Old Town of Tallinn you can pretty much get a meal in any language.

Help
 There are companies providing moving and Expat services. For example Expatrelocation Estonia.
 There is an expat Estonia forum and a Expat Estonia Community.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Estonian IT companies and immigration

I acknowledge that with this topic I might wander to an area of strong emotions. Nevertheless I think this is a topic that should be discussed and there is a lot win-win opportunities here. I will start by a few background facts:

In 2006 a population analysis of Estonia was made that you can read here According to the analysis by the time I will retire somewhere in the 2040's the Dependency rate will increase from the current 47% to 70% in Estonia. This means that 30% of the population will be working age and all the rest will be either children or retired. Instead of 614 000 persons working we will have approximately 300 000 people in the working age, but approximately the same number (700 000) people depending on them.

So if we would like to keep the current level of pensions (a pathetic 300 euros/m), social support, education, roads, military etc we would have to double the taxes. In 2045 you will pay 66% social tax, 40% VAT, 42% income tax. So if your employer would pay out 1000 euros, your bruto salary would be 340 euros, your net salary would be 204 euros and you could buy a thing worth 145+VAT. (I would appreciate if anyone could check the math and prove me wrong.)

When the topic of immigration is brought up people tend to think about the "Paris riots" type of problems. Unemployed, uneducated, unfortunate souls living in concrete buildings. But this is only a small part of the truth. Looking at the phenomenon historically then most of the current big nations have grown big thanks to letting others in. USA is the primary example here, but russians, chinese, hindus and many other big nations are mixes of people from various ethnic groups. Letting and getting others in is a good thing I think. And not the least economically. A person with a university degree (especially in medicin or engineering) is very valuable for the society and should be welcomed by every country. Especially by Estonia with the current demographics.

There is huge unemployment in South-Europe and there is no sign of that situation easing. So there are also many IT consultants looking for jobs. For example the number of IT specialists from Greece looking for a job in Sweden doubled this year and from Spain grew 30% according to Resurs Bemanning. Estonian IT companies forecast that they will lack about 6000 new IT specialists in 3 years.

Given this background it is obvious that Estonian IT companies and The Estonian State should encourage IT consultants, software developers and other IT specialists to move to Estonia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gmail down...

For an hour now it seems that Gmail has been down for many users according to the Twitter feed. You can also follow the status here.

All Telia, Sonera and Elion e-mail services are up and running.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The disaster of Google Picasa

I have been a fan of Google's products for many years and have been using Picasa as a wonderful web gallery service. I am a paying customer buying storage from Google. But well ... not anymore. I just did a radical change and deleted all my albums from Picasa because it turns out Google has done some nasty changes in the service. Done them without any respect to privacy and without giving any choice to the customers. Here is how the thing now works:
- If you tag a photo with a person in Picasa and the person is in your Google+ circles then the whole album is opened to that person automatically.
- The person tagged can then share the whole album to his circles. Maybe even make it public.
- According to the new Privacy terms Google gets to keep all the photos with name tags and location tags, essentially saving the information of millions of people's life's, their whereabouts, friends....
- Picasa web albums is probably soon to be end-of-life and Google+ photos (web gallery in a social network) is going to substitute it.

I did analyze what I should do about it and went through the following reasoning:
- After the surprise of finding my Picasa photos on a social network (Google+) I came to the scary conclusion that I don't have anymore control over the permissions of the galleries.
- Google can and has done changes in the permissions without clear warning and my acceptance.
- And most importantly the people on my photos that I have tagged have not given me the right to publish their photo and information publicly.

Therefore deleting all the data seemed like the only option. So can anyone suggest a good web-gallery service? :-)

The next thing Google should do is to implement the same policy on Gmail: wherever someone's name is found in an E-mail this should automatically be posted onto his Google+ account, publicly and with tags stating who, when, whom and where wrote this text about him. This would indeed lead to a totally transparent society. But if you think of it then this is exactly what happened to Picasa .... and how Facebook Photos work.

And give it a try: Go to http://plus.google.com/photos and choose "Photos from your Circles" and see how many personal galleries you can find. I did find a lot of "daughters birthday party" and "family reunion" type of galleries that should be private.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Should you invest in Facebook or Google

When Facebook was down today some addicts might have felt frustrated, but in fact they saved time for other things to do. No work stopped. Actually we might have even experienced a sudden surge in office work activity.

If Google's services like Gmail, Maps, Docs, Translate, Books, Youtube or mind you - The Google Search - would go down then working or running errands would be seriously affected for many, many people. Probably for almost all of the 2,26B Internet users.

What does this say about the possibility to charge their customers by Facebook or Google? Would you rather pay for a "time-sink" or a service saving you time and helping you? Or is it more probable to stop using a service that is just fashionable waste of time or a service that helps you navigate to the place you need to go?

...but on the other hand
Drinking is also bad, but you will be able to sell beer until the end of mankind and....
...wasting your time on Facebook and computer-gaming is environmentaly much friendlier than working effectively, running errands or navigating somewhere.

So thank you in advance for pressing "Like".

Friday, February 3, 2012

Making the world flatter


“The world is flat” was a book and an idea presented by Thomas Friedman in 2005. The concept of the flat world means that globalization has changed our world economics drastically by creating international and even intercontinental supply and support chains. Global competition between companies, teams and even people has made many things cheaper, ideas and innovation travel faster, but it has also caused jobs to move and the environment to suffer from consumption, logistics and travelling.

But how flat is the world really? Is it flatter in some parts of the world? How is the situation in the Nordics and Baltics? Here is my perspective to it and I hope to bring it some insight from my experience of moving on an international assignment from Tallinn to Stockholm.

Why a multi-national company should move people?
The reason is pretty obvious. This is the best way to get people to work together and share ideas and experiences. Videoconferences, telephone meetings and visits do help, but especially when starting successful co-operation you need to have the team in one room for some time. Othervise the problems of different goals, interests, language will not be solved and the co-operation just does not start.

How flat is the Nordic and Baltic area?
The world is much less flat in the Nordic and Baltic countries than it is in UK and in the USA. In the year 2009 2,2% of Americans moved from one US state to another. If we compare EU member states to US states then we can see that the number of people emigrating or immigrating to Sweden was 1,52% of the population. For Finland it was 0,73% and for Estonia only 0,64%. So we can say that the Nordic countries are in a world that is 30% to 70% "less flat" than the US.

And there are numerous reasons why the Nordic world is less flat
As a recent mover I can point out many things that make moving and communicating in the Nordics more difficult than it would be in USA.

The language – this is of course the most important difference between Europe and USA or the English speaking world in general. Although most of the communication can be done in English and many people in Sweden, are very good in English, then sooner or later you run into situations where the local language is of great importance. For example if you need to know detailed rules of registering your car or details of tax system or find a good local grocery shop on the internet or buy a ticket for the bus. This is the time when Google Translate becomes your best friend really fast. It usually are the difficult and crisis situations where you need the local language the most. Like an announcment of a traffic stop on Tunnelbana or the neighbours repairing the piping and shutting down your water.

The culture – Different nations have different pop-stars, sportsmen, history and it is only polite that you get to know them. But besides such fact knowledge you need to understand the subtle ways people interact. Does “Yes, but…” mean actually “No”? If a person is just sitting silent then is he “aggressively planning something” or is he just “a calm person”?

The school system – This is a real challenge if you move with your family. Are the lessons the same? Is the level of lessons different? Can you later move back or move forward and how much caching up needs to be done then? Here again the language as a challenge comes in.

The administrative stuff – The taxes are different, the socialcare systems are different. Thank God we have EU that makes cross-border moving much easier, but still there are many things you have to arrange and they cost and take time. My experience has been that you should plan at least 2+2 months for arranging everything. 2 months for closing and preparing in your previous home and 2 months opening and registering everything in your new home. Tax department, appartments, mobile phones, bank-accounts, hobbies, TV subscriptions, packing-unpacking....it really is something.

My final two thoughts would be, that although difficult, then moving from country to country is worthwhile. It is really interesting and you do learn a lot! The other eternal truth is that the less stuff you have the better! So if you are thinking of visiting a shopping centre this weekend...then try not to. :-)

Friday, January 6, 2012

3 Estonian IT innovations from December

E-services are among the most important sources of economical efficiency. In Estonia 3 small, but innovative e-steps were taken in December. Here is a small summary of them.

Firstly of course the population and housing census! The census will take place between 31.12.2011-31.03.2012 and hopefully all the inhabitants and housing of Estonia will be counted. During January it is possible to participate on the E-census and "count" your family and household through the Internet. This is of course much more efficient than having the interviewer visiting your home. By now over 190 000 people have been enumerated. That is approximately 13,5% of the population. The goal is to count more than half of the population over internet. One can follow the status of the census (and count yourself if you are an inhabitant of Estonia) here http://www.stat.ee/phc2011.
I participated on the e-census and it worked fine. Although there were a lot of questions, I was happy that I could answer them over the Internet and did not have to find a suitable time for the interviewer to visit us and spend over 30 minutes interviewing us.

The second interesting e-innovation whose pilot started in December was the installation of payment terminals to police vehicles. So now if you get cought braking the trafic rules you can pay the fine at the police car. Well I do hope that you or I will never have to use that service, but still it is better to suffer your punishment without too much hassle. (Just as a remark for foreign readers - you cannot pay in cash to the police and the Estonian police really don't take bribes. It is better not to offer.)

Thirdly, the Estonian Forestry sector took a major step towards bigger efficiency and the active use of e-waybill system started. We at Elion are operating the service and the last months have been really busy with the integrations and contracts. Now the system is in use and hopefully will bring efficiency to the transportation of wood by making information available for the transport and timber companies.