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Mihailo Jovanović, Serbian Minister of Information and Telecommunications

We’re Ready for the Future

Continuous investment in the ICT sector and advancing digital transformation have proven to be extremely successful and represent the foundations of Serbia’s further transition to a knowledge-based economy that relies on a network of infrastructure, investments in science and technology parks and education as the cornerstones of future economic growth

The ICT sector has become both Serbia’s fastest growing and largest export sector, despite a noticeable trend of falling employment at the global level. ICT exports for the first nine months of this year are up 32% compared to the same period of 2022 and have a total value of 2.5 billion euros. “We can state with pride that our country has proved resistant to global turmoil in this sector, and we estimate that exports will total around 3.8 billion euros by the end of this year,” says Serbian Information and Telecommunications Minister Mihailo Jovanović. “When it comes to employee numbers, they are also increasing despite the trend and currently stand at over 107,000 employees across the ICT sector as a whole.”

The Interior Ministry recently issued permits to test drive two autonomous vehicles in Serbia, with the idea of Serbia engaging in the process of developing driverless vehicles that are based on artificial intelligence. What are the required steps for that?

— We showed our readiness to keep pace with the future development and application of artificial intelligence as early as 2019, when we adopted our Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence, then soon afterwards established the Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research and Development and launched the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence. It is worth noting that the autonomous vehicle market and the development of these vehicles is worth in excess of 100 billion euros, while data suggests that it will be worth 20 times as much over the next 10 years. Today’s auto industry is increasingly heading in the direction of developing software and information systems, whether they are for vehicle mobility or checking for faults in vehicles, while it is linked ever less to the existence of factories that produce physical components or assemble actual vehicles. Providing for the testing of autonomous vehicles will secure the environment required for further development, the advancement of technology and additional investments in our country, and I believe that, provided we continue in this way, we will have the first autonomous vehicles at Expo 2027.

Investing in infrastructure is among the top priorities of the Government of Serbia. How effectively are innovative companies utilising these resources, and how do you envisage their further development?

— Thanks to capital investments of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, the Government Data Centre in Kragujevac began operating in 2019, in accordance with the highest international, technical and security standards. The Government Data Centre this year also received international EN50600 Certification confirming the highest levels of reliability and security, which helped us position ourselves as the first country in Eastern and Southeast Europe to have attained this standard. The Government Data Centre is also the location of the National Platform for AI, i.e., the country’s supercomputer that’s used by universities, scientists and various start-ups.

We can state with pride that our country has proved resistant to global turmoil in this sector, and we estimate that exports will total around 3.8 billion euros by the end of this year

We will soon see the expansion of the Government Data Centre to become the Innovation District, which has been conceived as a creative/innovative digital centre where employees will be able to work and socialise, and which will also be open to citizens and visitors. We also launched the renovation of the old railway ‘Ložionica’ [fuelling station] in Belgrade, which will become a hub and meeting point for innovators, talented individuals, creative workers and IT professionals. We are also continuing to invest in required infrastructure through digitalisation, in order to provide Serbian citizens with the best possible working and living conditions, but also to entice additional investments.

Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš are recognised as hubs of education and innovation, where domestic and international IT companies are concentrated. How much have other cities closed the gap on these three and what are you doing to ensure this development is regionally balanced?

— We have recognised the needs of the scientific and IT communities and are continuing to invest in the construction of science and technology parks. We didn’t have a single science and technology park until five years ago, while today we have four of them in Serbia – in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Čačak. The plan is to expand the existing science and technology parks in Niš, Čačak and Belgrade, construct a Kruševac Science and Technology Park and develop a 5th STP within the framework of the Innovation District in Kragujevac. With the building and improving of required infrastructure, these cities are becoming recognised as good centres of innovation where domestic and international IT companies will be concentrated, thereby also providing the potential for the further advancement of our national economy.

Which results in the implementation of the Action Plan for the Digital Skills Development Strategy for the 2023 to 2024 period would you single out as being the most important?

— We advocate in continuity and invest resources that are essential for developing awareness and continuously educating citizens with regard to digital skills. We have continued with the Digital Expedition, representing a caravan of digital skills, literacy and security, with the intention of touring all cities and municipalities in Serbia. Moreover, in addition to staging workshops for citizens, children and their parents, the expedition also offers workshops for our elderly citizens, which encompass basic skills for using computers and mobile devices. We also donate a ‘digital nook’ to the Association of Pensioners in each local government, where they can continue developing their knowhow, while they continue helping and educating our oldest citizens with the assistance of the Youth Office. We also aim to support employees in city or municipal administrations with workshops on the use of eGovernment.

The Connected Schools project culminated this year and a new project is now underway to construct communications infrastructure in rural areas of Serbia. How is the work progressing?

— Under the auspices of the Connected Schools project, we have enabled an equal education for all students in Serbia over the past five years, as well as introducing highspeed, reliable and secure internet access for more than 3,800 primary and secondary schools. When the Government of the Republic of Serbia prioritised digitalisation and education six years ago – based on the initiative of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić – one of our objectives was for Serbian children to start using their digital skills on a daily basis and for that to become a resource for their learning, advancement, research and entertainment, as well as for the digital society in Serbia to simultaneously be a secure digital environment. With the project that we launched late last year in our country’s rural areas, the Information and Telecommunications Ministry has to date provided the possibility of high-speed internet connections to about 50,000 citizens nationwide. Our plan is to introduce high-speed internet, with a bandwidth exceeding 100 Mbps, to more than 700 villages by year’s end 2025, connecting more than 120,000 households to the internet.

DEVELOPMENT

Providing for the testing of autonomous vehicles will secure the environment required for further development, the advancement of technology and additional investments in our country

CENTRE

We this year launched the renovation of the old railway ‘Ložionica’ in Belgrade, which will become a hub and meeting point for innovators, talented individuals, creative workers and IT professionals

SKILLS

One of our objectives was for Serbian children to start using their digital skills on a daily basis and for that to become a resource for their learning, advancement, research and entertainment