We are working continuously to implement the Information Society and Information Security Development Strategy, and to keep pace with technological development, and we’ve undoubtedly taken a big step forward on this front with our efforts to date ~ Mihailo Jovanović
It was at the end of August 2021 that the Government of the Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for the Development of the Information Society and Information Security for the 2021-2026 Period, as well as the accompanying Action Plan for its implementation, which tracks the construction of the information society in Serbia. Here we discuss the dynamics of implementing the targets set with Serbian Minister of Information and Telecommunications Mihailo Jovanović.
“We want to provide services to citizens and the economy efficiently and transparently. It is also extremely important for us to raise the level of digital skills among all citizens in Serbia, in order for them to be able to use ICT, both in their daily life and in their communications with the public administration,” says our interlocutor. “That’s precisely why we’re working to construct broadband communication infrastructure in rural areas of our country, in order for us to provide citizens in rural areas with the same opportunities as citizens in urban areas,” he continues.
This will enable modern access to services and innovations, improving quality of life for all citizens, but also the competitiveness of the economy, regardless of whether someone lives in a city or in the countryside. One of the Strategy’s targets is to increase awareness among the population of the importance of an environment where information is secure, in which there is a sufficient level of awareness of the risks, but also the advantages new technologies provide to citizens, the public administration and the economy.
The IT market and ICT use among citizens, businesses and households is constantly on the rise, which results in large part to a coordinated approach from the competent authorities. “We are working continuously to implement the Information Society and Information Security Development Strategy, and to keep pace with technological development, and we’ve undoubtedly taken a big step forward on this front with our efforts to date,” says Minister Jovanović.
We’ll firstly address the targets that relate to increasing the use of computers, the internet and cloud technologies in households and business operations. What kind of progress has been made in this area and where is Serbia compared to the EU average?
It is an impressive fact that all companies with headquarters in Serbia use the internet in their operations, while almost 85% of them have their own website. The development goals linked to internet and computer use among companies are primarily focused on raising awareness of the secure use of modern technologies. We are dedicated to increasing and further developing the public administration’s electronic services, with the aim of enabling enterprises to do business in an easier and more efficient way. An exceptional result has been achieved in promoting the use of computers in households over the last 10 years, and the percentage of households in our country that own a computer and have access to broadband internet has increased by almost 23% compared to 2013.
With the aim of ensuring the further grow of the IT sector, it is essential to work intensively, first and foremost on increasing the number of IT experts, but also other IT sector employees
According to the recently released United Nations E-Government Survey 2022, Serbia ranks 26th on the electronic services development index among 193 UN member states, which is a better ranking than even some highly developed countries like Canada, Switzerland and Norway, and is better than the majority of EU members. This is a clear indicator that we have significantly eased business operations and increased the transparency of work by digitising public administration services. Serbia is among the top 10 countries worldwide in terms of progress achieved in the field of electronic administration over the last two years, and has thereby become one of the leaders of this domain in the Western Balkans and further afield.
High-quality eGovernment implies two-way communication between the state and citizens, i.e., that citizens receive requested documents via eDelivery, but can also submit digital documents to state and local authorities in the same way. When will this become a possibility?
The electronic delivery system has been in use since 2020, as an integral part of the eGovernment Portal, and via the ePostbox on the eGovernment Portal, public administration bodies have to date – as previously noted – delivered over 1.5 million solutions, documents and notices to citizens and businesses. This enables the provision of a fast, simple, reliable and free service to all individuals who have a registered account on the eGovernment Portal. More than 1.5 million citizens and over 23,000 companies today have active accounts on the eGovernment Portal, and interest in this form of communication among public administration bodies and citizens is continuously on the rise.
We are striving to improve the electronic delivery system in order to make communication two-way, which essentially means making it possible for both citizens and enterprises to communicate electronically with public administration bodies. We aspire to be an administration that won’t ask its citizens to visit counters to submit documents, but rather enables citizens to communicate with it electronically. Our priority is to empower an efficient public administration that’s tailored to the needs of every citizen of our country. Likewise, from the middle of next year, having an ePostbox will be obligatory for all enterprises registered in the Republic of Serbia, which will have a significant impact on reducing bureaucracy and accelerating the pace of the work of the administration, as well as reducing the use of paper in daily operations.
The more data that exists in circulation, the greater the importance of information security for citizens, businesses and ICT systems. How much have we progressed in this area?
Information security represents an integral part of digitalisation and is an obligatory element when it comes to planning, developing and implementing new technologies. The Government of the Republic of Serbia has set improving information security for citizens, the public administration and the economy as one of its general strategic goals in the field of information society. Appropriate regulations, strategies and action plans have been adopted in previous years, and significant work has also been undertaken on the building of secure and innovative infrastructure, as well as on raising awareness of the importance of information security. We didn’t have a single science and technology park just five years ago, while today there are currently four such science and technology parks in Serbia – in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Čačak. It is planned to open a science and technology park in Kruševac during the term of the new government, but also to expand the existing parks in Čačak, Niš and Belgrade. Two facilities of the State Data Centre, the most modern and efficient data storage centre in the region, have been constructed and made operational in Kragujevac.
The Government has set improving information security for citizens, the public administration and the economy as one of its general strategic goals in the field of information society
The first facility is intended for public administration, but it has also been entrusted with storing the data and applications of major global IT companies, under commercial conditions. A contract was signed with company Oracle, which is establishing its regional data centre within the scope of the State Centre in Kragujevac and will start operating in the first half of next year. We will also soon start implementing the third phase of the State Data Centre in Kragujevac, where a special place will belong to the National Centre for Information Security. Together with the World Economic Forum, we opened the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, representing the first such centre in the region and only the third in Europe. The WEF’s centre in Serbia is focused on two priorities: biotechnology and artificial intelligence applications in healthcare. Serbia’s efforts in the field of information security have been recognised by the International Telecommunication Union, as demonstrated by our country having advanced on the latest Global Cybersecurity Index by 19 places compared to the previous survey and that we are now in 39th place among a total of 182. Serbia is also ranked 19th among 161 countries in the National Cybersecurity Index, which is led by the Estonian e-Governance Academy.
The ICT sector is Serbia’s most successful branch when it comes to exports, with far and away the largest export surplus. What are the essential prerequisites to ensure this sector’s constant growth continues?
With the aim of ensuring the further grow of the IT sector, it is essential to work intensively, first and foremost on increasing the number of IT experts, but also other IT sector employees. We have increased enrolment quotas at technical faculties by 20%, while informatics and programming have become mandatory subjects in primary schools, specialised IT departments have been formed in secondary schools, and the state has already conducted several rounds of Retraining for the IT sector since 2017. It is necessary to additionally develop programmes at the secondary and higher level of education that are designed to prepare individuals to be competitive on the labour market, with special encouragement of the most talented students with the aim of maintaining the quality of the IT services that are provided by the Serbian market. Retraining programmes can contribute significantly to increasing the availability of available personnel, but also to resolving other issues that are important for the society as a whole.
As a state, we have recognised an opportunity for development and further progress in IT, and best testifying to that are ICT exports.
Most ICT sector experts work for, and/or cooperate, with foreign companies. How easy is it under such conditions to find expert personnel to be involved in the transformation of the state administration, the development of the data centre in Kragujevac and other major state projects?
The fact is that the ICT sector has become the generator of half of all new jobs on the labour market and practically every other job posting advertised last year was in the field of information and communications technologies. The main driver of the digital transformation of the state administration – the Office for IT and eGovernment –recognised the great potential and interest in work in this field among young people. This is why the National IT Competence Centre was established and a professional development programme intended for third- or fourth-year students, as well as master’s students of the technical faculties of the universities of Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad or Kragujevac. This Centre enables students to acquire experience and improve their knowledge and skills, as well as mastering the most modern software tools and technologies, through work on the state’s largest IT projects.
Significant investments have been made over the past five years in the development of infrastructure, data centres, science and technology parks, but also in the opening of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the procurement of a supercomputer, which is located at the State Data Centre in Kragujevac. The launch of works on the construction of the Ložionica Multifunctional Centre for Creativity and Innovation in Belgrade is planned for the start of 2023. Through the renovation and adaptation of the old railway Ložionica (boiler house), this Centre will become a place to meet, gather, connect, inform and exchange ideas for young people, creative people, students, start-ups, the IT community, researchers and interested members of the public.
Serbia is among the world’s top ten countries for progress in the field of eGovernance over the last two years, and has thereby become one of the leaders of this field in the Western Balkans
Significant investments have been made over the past five years in the development of infrastructure, data centres, science and technology parks, and in the opening of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
We aspire to be an administration that won’t ask its citizens to visit counters to submit documents, but rather enables citizens to communicate with it electronically