SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Securities & Investment
2. Project Details
Company or Institution
Estonian Investment Agency (Invest Estonia)
Automation of investment promotion at the Estonian Investment Agency
General description of the AI solution
Invest Estonia has implemented a set of non-human agents aimed at better, faster and more accurately executed investment promotion activities. We are happy to use tech in a smart way and live the ‘e-Estonia’ dream that is a part of our core marketing message.
Invest Estonia is using technology to help potential foreign investors get to know about business opportunities in Estonia. Better informing potential investors, we are overcoming one of the market failures that FDI across the globe faces, the problem of asymmetric information among business decision makers, which is especially acute in case of emerging markets where there are limited resources for investment promotion.
As (e)-Estonia has created a welcoming and accommodating business environment for foreign businesses (and made life a lot easier for the local ones), our investment promotion agency’s job is to deal with providing accurate and up to date answers to the two questions that every business planning expansion abroad is facing: why and how.
Invest Estonia’s set of integrated, yet separate non-human agents, most of them in the form of web services, combines various technologies and concepts, such as natural language processing and process automation (including sales force automation) with the single goal of providing potential investors with the information they need, when they need it.
During the period of 2019 – 2023, the Investment Agency’s goal is to facilitate 1.3 billion euros of foreign investment and the creation of 5,000 new high added-value jobs across the regions Estonia. Researchers have found positive correlations between the amount of resources an investment promotion agency can use, and the results it can achieve. However, it is also possible to use technology to make the investment promotion processes more effective and thus achieve more with less.
Estonian Investment Agency
Excellence and Scientific Quality: Please detail the improvements made by the nominee or the nominees’ team or yourself if your applying for the award, and why they have been a success.
What makes us different from all the other investment promotion agencies – more extensive use of digital, slowly becoming a trend across the globe – is that our agency is seeing smart digitalization, including the use of AI, as a part of its core strategy since 2017. Not being so much about the technology itself – modularity enables the replacement of its components or addition of new ones at any point of time – our concept revolves around adding value to investor communication and using the agency’s limited resources in a way as effective as possible.
At the current point of time, we use a chatbot with multi-website, multi-lingual language processing capabilities to handle the primary information needs of potential investors (Suve), automation solutions to handle customer enquiries (Eia) and create value propositions, a sales force automation system to help the investment advisors make better decisions and remind them of needed sales actions, an agent aimed at better internal communications and hadling social media (Emma).
According to a recent study conducted at Tallinn University (https://www.etera.ee/s/D4d2xFnEe6), the use of artificial agents has brought along positive changes in both, productivity and proactiveness within Estonia’s investment promotion organization. In addition, the artificial agents in use create additional value in areas, such as marketing. The direct positive effect on the state budget in 2019 modelled via time and budget savings was around 2.5 million euros and has since been growing.
The solutions have received a lot of international attention. In 2020, Invest Estonia received the United Nations Investment Promotion Award for Excellence in the Response to COVID-19 crisis, it has received Site Selection Magazine’s Best Investment Promotion Agency award several years in a row and Emerging Europe’s Investment Promotion Report’s top ranking twice in a row. Invest Estonia’s chatbot Suve has been featured in Forbes, the Financial Times, Computer Weekly, Sifted, etc.
Scaling of impact to SDGs: Please detail how many citizens/communities and/or researchers/businesses this has had or can have a positive impact on, including particular groups where applicable and to what extent.
Though it must be said that more research into the effects and prerequisites, possibilities and limitations of the set of artificial agents currently in use is needed (and planned), relying on the fairly limited research on the use of tech at Estonian Investment Agency, it can be said that we have been hugely successful, saving thousands of hours of working time yearly. This, in turn, can be seen as contributing towards increased effectiveness and better results for the organization; more investments and more taxes to the state budget.
The latter effect on the state budget in 2019 modelled via time and organizational budget savings was modelled to be around 2.5 million euros (https://www.etera.ee/s/D4d2xFnEe6). However, it was argued that the actual effects may be still higher as process automation, artificial intelligence and sales force automation can achieve a lot more than just saving time.
The effects of automation perceived by Invest Estonia’s employees in 2020 included time saving, the possibility for increased proactiveness, increased ease of achieving results, increased standardization of documents, offers, propositions, etc.
The possibility of transfer of ideas and technologies to other parts of Enterprise Estonia (since Jan 1, 2022 Enterprise and Innovation Foundation), the parent organization of Invest Estonia and beyond was also seen as one of the possible effects. Proof that the transfer of ideas (and technology coming back) is possible and may be hugely beneficial was seen in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused Estonia’s government to declare an emergency situation, covered extensively by the media (see https://investinestonia.com/estonia-created-suve-an-automated-chatbot-to-provide-trustworthy-information-during-the-covid-19-situation/). We can see the technology tested in the toughest of crisis environments now finding its ‘peace-time’ use as an integral part of the investor advising process.
Scaling of AI solution: Please detail what proof of concept or implementations can you show now in terms of its efficacy and how the solution can be scaled to provide a global impact ad how realistic that scaling is.
The COVID-19 related emergency situation in 2020 showed that the ideas and technological solutions behind Invest Estonia’s tools can quickly – and with limited effort – be scaled into nation-wide solutions when needed. Due to the flexibility and willingness to adopt digital in Estonia’s public sector, there are ever-expanding possibilities for inter-organization cooperation, some of them already realized (e.g Estonia’s diplomats have the possibility to create value propositions, using Invest Estonia’s automation tools).
Scaling the solutions abroad is possible but currently limited by the highly competitive nature of the FDI market. However, talks have been held for technological cooperation with investment promotion agencies not directly competing with Invest Estonia to find new ways for cooperation.
Ethical aspect: Please detail the way the solution addresses any of the main ethical aspects, including trustworthiness, bias, gender issues, etc.
One of the core principles applied is providing up to date and accurate information at any point of time. This means extensive everyday work on keeping the data in use up to date.
Another principle applied is that when automatic decisions on a potential investor are made, they are always based on data provided by the investors, themselves and not any other data collected. If any additional information is collected (strictly following external and internal regulations and a process thoroughly audited by the parent organization’s internal auditors), the information may be provided to human decision-makers to improve the quality of their responses, but to avoid the possibility of algorithmic discrimination, no automatic decisions based on it are made.
An important aspect of the solutions is the ability to provide equal regional opportunities for less-developed areas of Estonia. All regions are treated equal and information provided in propositions and offers is based on the input from Invest Estonia’s regional advisors who are in close relations with the respective municipalities and their businesses.
The final principle is more culture than technology related and involves the members of the organization being ready to put their skills and ideas to use to help the society when needed, Suve’s implementation as a crisis communication tool during the COVID-19 related emergency situation being a good example here.