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Milan Latinović, Acting Director Of The Office For IT And Egovernment Of The Republic Of Serbia

Serbia’s Digital Transformation Path Is Already Mapped

We are continuing the journey that we embarked upon in 2017, and that means creating a Serbia based on knowledge and innovation; a Serbia without counters and paper. It is very important that we have the total support of Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Information and Telecommunications Minister Mihailo Jovanović ~ Milan Latinović

Im very glad to be giving my first interview since being appointed to head the Office for IT and eGovernment to a special publication that’s dedicated to digitalisation, and which we are publishing together with CorD Magazine for the fourth time. I would like to note at the very outset that Serbia’s road to digital transformation has already been mapped out. Serbia has positioned itself as a leader of digital transformation in the region and we have clear targets that we want to meet. As the Office, we will continue along the path we previously followed. We have a large number of projects ahead of us, as well as numerous services for citizens and businesses.

It is very important for us to continue with public administration reforms, the modernisation of procedures in the state and for us to continue providing citizens and businesses with services that ease their work with the public administration and save both time and money. It is very important that we continue to have the total support Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, but also Information and Telecommunications Minister Mihailo Jovanović, whose assistant I served as when he was heading the Office for IT and eGovernment, and that’s precisely why we’re continuing the journey we embarked upon in 2017, and that means creating a Serbia based on knowledge and innovation; a Serbia without counters and paper.

The Office for IT and eGovernment of the Republic of Serbia recently began implementation of the third phase of the State Data Centre in Kragujevac, which should enable its expansion and transformation into an Innovation District. What does this mean in practical terms for the part of our economy that’s oriented towards innovation?

We recently opened the State Data Centre, Facility 2, in Kragujevac, which is intended for the security services. Naturally, with the construction of two significant facilities, the arrival of global companies that have entrusted their data to our State Data Centre for safekeeping, as well as the opening of the Oracle Regional Centre, the need arose to construct another building that will serve the community that comes to the Data Centre on a daily basis and needs workspace, after which we turned to planning the construction of the Innovation District. It will be located on plots along Sava Kovačević Street in Kragujevac, immediately alongside the two buildings already constructed, encompassing a total area of 4.46 hectares, with a construction capacity of approximately 60,000 m2, which it is possible to implement in phases. The purpose of the Innovation District will be harmonised with the needs of the Data Centre or in its function, such as business and commercial spaces for users of the Data Centre and eGovernment, training centres, innovation centres etc.

The Office for IT and eGovernment (ITE) has signed agreements on use of the first National Platform for Artificial Intelligence with science and technology parks in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Čačak and Niš, with the aim of supporting the work of these parks on the implementation, improvement and dissemination of artificial intelligence in the Republic Serbia, supporting scientific and research work in the field of artificial intelligence, as well as ensuring the application of artificial intelligence in the industry of the Republic of Serbia. We will soon see the expiring of the first six-month period in which start-ups could use these resources. From the ITE’s point of view, could you share with us the first experiences of using the National Platform?

In accordance with the goals and measures of the Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Serbia for the 2020-2025 period, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has provided the National Platform for the Development of Artificial Intelligence (AI Platform). On the basis of the agreement that we signed with faculties, universities, institutes and science and technology parks, the Office for IT and eGovernment secures and allocates AI Platform resources to science and technology parks, with the possibility of those science and technology parks sharing the resources with start-ups.

Serbia has positioned itself as a digital transformation leader of the region and we have clear targets that we want to achieve

Through public calls that we announced together with all four science and technology parks, we reached 18 start-up companies that received an opportunity to develop their ideas and products on the National Platform. That’s of great help to innovative start-up companies, because in order to develop their ideas they previously had to pay thousands, and even tens of thousands of euros to rent such resources, while they now receive them for free to use, thanks to the supercomputer that’s provided. Given that this technology is quite new to our country, especially this kind of powerful tech, the majority of teams are working to learn how to make the maximum use of graphics processors and the speed of the supercomputer for their needs. Tests and experiments are conducted on a special platform for working with data; they are familiarised with programmes that ease the entire process of modelling and machine learning, while six or seven start-ups have launched projects and are well underway with work to develop solutions based on artificial intelligence. These projects deal with topics like virtual assistants, language processing, models for optimising the use of energy resources, detecting email-based fraud and many other topics.

Turning to eGovernment services used by a large number of users, you have announced both the creation of new services and the improvement of existing ones. Could you share with our readers more details about the services that could be made available in 2023?

We are planning to introduce a large number of services during the coming year, but what will certainly be useful to everyone is the service of submitting personal documents via the electronic mailboxes on the eGovernment Portal, which all of our users have. The same documents can be sent further in electronic form, or made available to view without the additional printing of paper.

In the period ahead, the Office for IT and eGovernment will certainly continue working at an accelerated tempo to improve the user experience, improve quality and develop new electronic services.

How open are state bodies to the digitalisation of their procedures?

Digitalisation is already so deeply imbedded in all segments of society that there’s virtually nothing that isn’t achieved today without its use. Everyone is aware of that, and particularly the state bodies that work intensively on the digitalisation of procedures, and those of us that work on their further connectivity. I would remind you that all institutions in Serbia today use the eZup system, that citizens no longer carry documents, but rather civil servants acquire everything for them in digital form within a few seconds. And that’s the main effect of genuine eGovernment, and the more procedures we digitise and place on the service roadmap of state bodies, the less we’ll need to print and collect documents in person.

We have been long awaiting a qualified electronic certificate in the cloud. How widely used is it today, first and foremost among smaller enterprises that are usually a lot slower in adopting advanced solutions? On the flip side, which sectors are the most open to accepting this option for signing official documents?

By commissioning signatures in the cloud, we took an important step for the long-term development of digital society in Serbia. Thanks to electronic signatures in the cloud, citizens need no longer concern themselves with installing software for the use of signatures on cards or tokens, while it has also been made possible for them to access the most complex eGovernment services from a mobile device. More than 17,000 signatures in the cloud have been issued to date. The remote electronic signing of documents is available to all citizens who have the ConsentID mobile app, which provides a high level of trustworthiness for electronic identification. I would like to take this opportunity to invite other state institutions – primarily the Business Registers Agency, the Central Register of Compulsory Social Security, the National Employment Service and the Tax Administration of Serbia – to enable the use of electronic signatures in the cloud and on their portals as soon as possible.

The Office for IT and eGovernment secures and allocates AI Platform resources to science and technology parks, with the possibility of those science and technology parks sharing the resources with start-ups. That’s of great help to innovative start-up companies, because in order to develop their ideas they previously had to pay thousands, and even tens of thousands of euros to rent such resources

I would remind all citizens that the parameters to activate the ConsentID mobile application are issued over the counter at 1,069 post offices, local government units, local tax administration offices and commercial banks (Mobi Bank and Sberbank). Parameters for activating the ConsentID mobile application can also be obtained online, via the eGovernment Portal, by all citizens who have a qualified electronic certificate on a smart card or USB token. Applying to sign electronically in the cloud through the eGovernment Portal allows the user to select a pdf or xml document with which they want to sign an electronic certificate in the cloud, to review added documents, select a document for signature, start signing, position the graphical representation of their electronic signature and sign the document.

It wasn’t that long ago, during the pandemic, that Serbia positioned itself as one of the countries with the largest number of innovations. How successfully has this momentum been maintained?

Digitalisation is an unavoidable process for every healthy, strong and modern country, and Serbia is absolutely one of them. I will remind you that this year’s edition of the UN’s unique global report known as United Nations eGovernment Development Survey 2022, which contains a review of the current state of affairs and conducts comparative monitoring of the development of eGovernment in 193 UN member states, Serbia found itself in the group of world countries with the highest index of eGovernment development for the first time ever. The Republic of Serbia’s eGovernment development index was rated “very high”, which is the highest rating. Serbia’s ranking has improved 18 places compared to the 2020 report, marking the eighth biggest rankings leap. According to the value of this index, Serbia’s eGovernment is currently 40th worldwide and the best in the region. Compared to the previous report, Serbia has advanced so much that it is now ahead of certain EU member states – Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechia and Slovakia.

Thanks to the fact that the Government of the Republic of Serbia set digitalisation as one of its priorities back in 2017, at the initiative of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, but thanks also to former Office for IT and eGovernment director Mihailo Jovanović, significant results have been achieved that are now also evident in this year’s UN report. We succeeded, in a short period, in contributing to the intensive development of eGovernment services and infrastructure, the digital transformation of public administration, the advancement of the digital economy, but also citizens’ recognition of, and trust and faith in, eGovernment. With the construction of the State Data Centre in Kragujevac, as well as the implementation of the electronic services Bebo, dobro došla na svet [Baby, welcome to the world], eVrtić [eNursery[, eUpis [eEnrolment], Moja srednja škola [My High School], eSanduče [ePostbox], the electronic signature in the cloud and many others, we have provided excellent foundations for the further accelerated development of the digitalisation of Serbia’s public administration.

PROGRESS

Serbia’s eGovernment is currently 40th worldwide and the best in the region. We are now ahead of certain EU member states – Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechia and Slovakia

APPEAL

I would like to take this opportunity to invite other state institutions to enable the use of electronic signatures in the cloud and on their portals as soon as possible

GOAL

We will soon gain the Innovation District in Kragujevac, which will serve the community that accesses the Data Centre on a daily basis by providing them with a suitable workspace