The digital transformation in the age of Covid 19 was for many both a leap forward and a necessity for survival. For Serbia, this meant enabling a great step forward and laying the foundations for rapid innovation and establishing leadership in this part of Europe
If we look back today, we can say that Serbia reacted quickly, had the knowledge and strength to respond to Covid 19, and take care of its people’s health. This would not have been possible without a well-laid foundation.
“For digitalization, it is very important that in the previous four years we had established the necessary infrastructure and developed several electronic services to transform the public administration into an efficient service for the public and for business,” says Dr Mihailo Jovanović, director of the Office for IT and e-Government.
“Thanks to this there were key moments when we implemented new platforms and electronic services practically overnight, enabling the public to access many state services online even during the pandemic.
“By establishing innovative solutions and electronic services we aimed for the best coordination of health care, education and other key systems in a pandemic, timely and accurate information for all and continuous provision of services to business and the public. “Serbia has positioned itself as one of the 5 countries in the world with the largest number of innovations during the Covid 19 crisis.
“Aware of the need to respond quickly and efficiently to provide emergency immunization of the population from 11 January 2021, we enabled Serbians to express interest in vaccination against Covid 19 by filling out a simple questionnaire on the e-Government Portal www.euprava.gov.rs or through a contact centre on 0800 222 334”, says Jovanović.
To avoid unnecessary crowds in laboratories and exposing people to the virus, the e-Schedule appointment service for PCR testing on personal request was launched. Anyone waiting for the result of a Covid 19 PCR test can receive it by e-mail or on the e-Health Portal www.e-zdravlje.gov.rs.
“When we realized that citizens need a documented certificate showing vaccination, PCR test result, confirmation of the presence of Covid antibodies and recovery from the disease, we developed the Digital Green Certificate with all the information from the Covid system in one place. A few days ago, the EUcompatible Digital Green Certificate electronic service was launched, with which people can freely enter all indoor places throughout the European Union and 22 non-EU countries in this system”, concludes Jovanović.
Serbia is a good and reliable partner for foreign investment in the latest technologies, and is a regional IT leader for the entire region in the era of the fourth industrial revolution
What are the most important directions for continuing the digital transformation in the Serbian Government’s view today?
State Data Centre in Kragujevac. The Office for IT and e-Government established this Centre in record time as one of the most modern in the region in technical and security standards. It houses the key information and communication infrastructure of the Republic of Serbia. The centre meets the highest standard of reliability, and data centre services are provided in accordance with the security standard ISO 27001, the quality standard ISO 9001 and the service quality standard ISO 20000.
Besides storing the equipment of state bodies, the State Data Centre also provides the Government Cloud service. Data and equipment are stored here for various state institutions, including the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government, the Central Register of Compulsory Social Insurance, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Finance, local tax administrations, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices and many others. The centre also contains equipment and data of the Office for IT and e-Government and the state Oracle cloud infrastructure. We are slowly starting to implement electronic services used by local governments, so the plan is to launch an electronic office, but also a system for communication between people and their local governments.
The Data Center also has commercial users. What does this mean for Serbia?
The fact that the State Data Centre in Kragujevac also has commercial users is another strong impetus for further development of the IT sector and innovation, for technological revival and for Serbia’s leadership in this part of Europe. The American IBM and Vmware, the Chinese Huawei and many domestic IT companies that have already signed commercial contracts, keep their data in the State Data Centre in Kragujevac. We recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s IT leaders, as a potential commercial user. This is another confirmation of the government’s results in digitalization, investment in the most modern data centre infrastructure, and human and technical capacities in Serbia.
Cloud infrastructure is the basis for developing innovations in healthcare, retail, banking and other industries. How ready are the public administration and businesses to use these opportunities?
Cloud is a practical reality of the public administration. There is no longer a need to procure independent hardware systems such as servers and storage. The Office for IT and e-Government has provided a variety of cloud systems based on Oracle, Vmware or IBM technology, which enables a fast response, agile implementation of new electronic services and savings in the purchase of equipment and licenses.
The development of artificial intelligence also raises a number of ethical issues. Do you think that they have been answered in an exemplary way in the Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence, or do we need other regulations?
The National Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence for the period 2020-2025 was adopted at the end of 2019, and Serbia is the first country in the region of south-east Europe and only the 26th in the world to adopt a national Strategy of this type. Businesspeople and the academic community also participated in writing the strategy, and one of the key items that was highlighted in order to accelerate the development of AI in Serbia is infrastructure support. Another of the items was the establishment of the Research and Development Institute for Artificial Intelligence of Serbia and the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence, which is located in the State Data Centre in Belgrade. The goal of establishing this platform is to improve and expand the technology of artificial intelligence in Serbia, to support scientific research in the field of artificial intelligence, and to improve services and ensure the application of artificial intelligence in industry.
The experience of other countries in the fundamental digital transformation of the public administration means a lot to us, but in developing them ourselves we rely exclusively on local resources because they are absolutely competent and valued on the global labour market
A supercomputer was recently delivered to the state data centre. What does this mean in practice for the Serbian economy, for startups in Serbia and Serbia’s positioning in the field of artificial intelligence in general?
As one of the measures from the strategy envisages the establishment of the National Platform for Artificial Intelligence, we very quickly established the National Platform for the Development of Artificial Intelligence to fulfill it. The Nvidia super computer has arrived at the State Data Centre in Kragujevac. More precisely, this is the infrastructure that will enable our innovative startup companies and scientists to quickly develop new AI products because they will be able to test solutions faster with timely access to this infrastructure. It is important to point out that the access to the infrastructure is at a global quality level, so they will not have to pay for it abroad and wait for purchase processes to be able to use it. This will also allow the community to use data from Serbia in Serbia, without sending it abroad. In this way we provide additional services to our startups and researchers – so far we have had space, support through funding, support through consulting – legal and financial, and now we are adding IT infrastructure for the development of artificial intelligence – the infrastructure of the future. The first users of the National Platform are the Research and Development Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Institute for Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering, 7 technical faculties in Serbia: University of Belgrade (School of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Organizational Sciences, Faculty of Mathematics); University of Novi Sad (Faculty of Technical Sciences and Faculty of Sciences); and Electronic and Faculty of Sciences and Mathematics in Niš), the University of Kragujevac and 4 science and technology parks (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Čačak).
Any development of this type means a constant need for IT staff. How many people do we ideally need, and how fast are we getting there?
The IT market is very dynamic and changing daily. We must monitor and adapt to constant changes and challenges. Serbia has enough professional staff, but the need for staff will certainly be greater in future. That is why the government has done everything to improve the education of future staff. The key initiative is increasing the capacity of technical faculties, so the number of students has increased by about 630 places (about 20%) and the faculties have received approval to employ more teaching staff. The largest faculties have also received additional space. School of Electrical Engineering received a large amphitheater in the building of the Lola Institute, the Faculty of Mathematics received a 2,300 m2 building from a secondary construction school, and at Faculty of Organizational Sciences we are working on the adaptation of 1,000 m2 of space to expand teaching capacity.
Programming has been introduced as a compulsory subject in the older grades of primary school, and by the end of 2023, all schools will have broadband wireless Internet, digital textbooks, digital classrooms and computer rooms.
A Centre for Innovative Youth Entrepreneurship was opened at the Faculty of Electronics in Niš, where 6 young teams are already developing their ideas in robotics and advanced technologies. At Science and Technology Park Belgrade 56 companies employ over 420 engineers and have an annual turnover of more than 10 million euros, of which 60% is exports.
Science and technology parks have been opened in Niš, Novi Sad and Čačak, and the foundation has been laid for the construction of a new building for the BioSense Institute on the campus of the University of Novi Sad. The new building of the Faculty of Organizational Sciences in Belgrade will soon receive its first students.
By the end of 2023, all schools will have broadband wireless Internet, digital textbooks, digital classrooms and computer labs.
During the Covid 19 crisis, Serbia positioned itself as one of the 5 countries in the world with the largest number of innovations
The fact that the state data centre has commercial users is a strong impetus for further development of the IT sector and for innovation, technological revival and Serbia’s leadership in this part of Europe