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Vladislav Cvetković, President Of The NALED Managing Board And Advisory Services Director At PricewaterhouseCoopers

Enthusiasm For Digital Mustn’t Wane

The most important thing is for us to work continuously to raise awareness of the importance of digital transformation and to remind citizens and businesses, through various initiatives, of the life benefits it brings them. And plenty of work still awaits us in that regard

Digital transformation had a high position on the NALEDA agenda even before the pandemic, and this private-public association will continue supporting the development and use of digital services in the coming period.

“It is very important to encourage businesses to increase their competitiveness and become part of innovative world business practices through the development and application of new technologies,” says NALED Managing Board President and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services Director Vladislav Cvetković.

The StarTech project was launched by NALED, together with company Philip Morris International and with the support of the Government of Serbia, at the end of 2020. Representing the backbone of this project is the awarding of grants to small local businesses wishing to transform their operations and introduce new and innovative products and services. “We this year awarded the first 29 grants, with a total value of a million dollars, while another two funding contests await us over the next two years. This is a new way of supporting the development of entrepreneurship that sees one private company secure funds, and we would also like it to be an example to others to get involved in a similar way and encourage the digital transformation of our business,” says Cvetković.

“The other important project I would highlight is the Small Business Informant, through which we also want to help small businesses create new opportunities for development through the accepting of cashless payments, introducing the option of selling their products online and Google mapping.”

How can you now keep this system alive and accelerate it?

It is important for the state to monitor the process of transformation through the digitalisation of its own work and procedures. It has succeeded in doing so over recent years, because – in addition to the digitalisation of tax procedures and the introduction of new services on the eGovernment portal – an electronic public procurement procedure has been established over the last year, and during the course of this year more than 88,000 procedures were announced and 36,000 launched. Fast-track preparations are now underway to start implementing eFiscalization and the eInvoice system, in which NALED is helping businesses and the public sector through a series of training courses that we are organising, as well as through the newly launched National Initiative for Cashless Payments, where we want to support up to 25,000 small businesses to also receive POS terminals when they procure cash registers, i.e., in the procurement of modern “2-in-1” devices. The most important thing is for us to work continuously to raise awareness of the importance of digital transformation and to remind citizens and businesses, through various initiatives, of the life benefits it brings them. And plenty of work still awaits us in that regard. The results of research conducted by NALED show that citizens from rural areas find it harder to give up counters – as many as 40% stated that they have no intention of using eGovernment services.

There are those who suggest that we don’t need the very expensive efiscalization process at this juncture. What is your opinion?

E-fiscalization is a matter of whether we want to keep pace with trends in the development of technology and build an efficient oversight system, while at the same time considering the great benefits it brings to citizens. The existing fiscalization system was introduced more than 15 years ago and is technologically obsolete. E-fiscalization also includes the initial cost of replacing equipment, and it’s good that the state has secured subsidies, but actually, over the long run, it brings multimillion savings to businesses, because the average cost of maintaining and using old fiscal cash registers is around 120 euros annually, not counting the costs of storing and archiving receipts and documentation. Once the new system starts operating, there will be no more annual payments for servicing cash registers, and business owners will be able to use their mobile phones, computers and tablets as fiscal devices. Moreover, applying the new fiscalization model will ensure significant savings in terms of time, but will also drastically reduce the use of paper, which is an important step towards preserving the environment.

With the support of the European Union, we launched a project to establish a Local e-Government Index that will enable us to analyse the level of development of local administrations and assess their ability to provide e-services

How prepared are we institutionally to continue digital transformation at this accelerated pace? In your opinion, what is the next area requiring a radical shift?

The research we conducted among representatives of local administrations showed that older officials find it more difficult to adapt to changes and have no desire to advance. Although this isn’t the case with the younger ones, they easily lose their enthusiasm due to being overburdened with work. Additionally, the digitalisation process is also slowed further by the lack of informed citizens, especially among the elderly population. This is an extra reason to devote ourselves even more strongly to popularising e-services among the local population, because we can only expect concrete results if digitalisation comes to life in all spheres of society.

Several studies conducted prior to the COVID-19 outbreak showed that SMEs don’t intend to enter into this process. And then COVID ensured that – judging by some new studies – those who were late in starting have been all but wiped from the market. What are the prevailing attitudes among companies today?

Although small and medium-sized enterprises viewed investments in digitalisation as an excessive cost prior to the outbreak of the crisis caused by the pandemic, this no longer seems to be the prevailing opinion. Judging by the NALED survey conducted recently among members of the business community, every other businessperson noted that they prefer to choose electronic services as a way of performing administrative tasks, while over 80% gave them a positive evaluation.

When it comes to e-commerce, the number of shops and companies selling their goods via online stores almost doubled over the course of the past year. Also testifying to the claim that small and micro enterprises and entrepreneurs are showing a desire to modernise their operations is the great interest in the Small Business Informant campaign, which we’ve launched in five cities. We planned to visit at least 500 small businesses, but we’re sure that there will be many more of them, due to the great interest in introducing cashless payment options and online sales.

Many public administrations also started offering a relatively wide range of e-services in a very short period of time. What are the drivers encouraging the further development of e-government at the local level today, and what are the challenges?

Since the establishment of the Office for IT and eGovernment, the state has invested a lot in the developing of e-services and the challenge lies in the readiness of local governments to adapt to innovations. In order for us to determine which regions need help the most and to map the needs and challenges of various cities and municipalities, we launched a project – with the support of the European Union – to establish a Local e-Government Index (LEI). Under the scope of this index, we will analyse the level of development of local administrations and assess their ability to provide e-services on the basis of their level of technical equipment, IT skills, training of civil servants, the capacity of service users and other criteria. We will then know precisely which challenges are confronting which local governments and will be able to help them overcome the difficulties.

Through the newly launched National Initiative for Cashless Payments, we want to support up to 25,000 small businesses to also receive POS terminals when they procure cash registers, i.e., in the procurement of modern “2-in-1” devices

To what extent have circumstances forced citizens to become digitally literate and where do you see the main “pockets” where it is necessary to improve digital skills?

The COVID-19 pandemic and work from home have certainly had a great influence on citizens changing some old habits and starting to complete most tasks online.

However, although our research shows that two-thirds of citizens are aware of the possibilities of e-government, only 14% of them complete administrative tasks online. In order for us to encourage people to become e-citizens, at the start of this year we launched a project of the same name [e-građani/e-citizens] and opened dedicated counters in almost 140 local governments, which citizens can turn to for support in creating accounts on the e-government portal.

One of the major topics you address is the digitalisation of healthcare. Where should one start in this process, and how do you ensure the security of personal data in this process?

One of the first and most crucial activities in the field of digitalising healthcare now is the adoption of the Programme and Action Plan for Digitalisation in the Healthcare System, the draft of which is now under public discussion, and after that we’ll know the direction in which digitalisation will head. The basic principles are for us to digitalise services and consolidate patient data within the framework of the eCard. NALED contributes to this process with its recommendations, and the issue of personal data security has also been identified as a priority in the objective of this programme. Apart from in the context of the digitalisation of healthcare, data security is also one of the topics that we approach with great attention in other areas. During 2019 and 2020, we analysed information security and personal data protection, which shows the state of affairs at the local level. Likewise, the protection of personal data is one of the basic objectives of the LEI project, and we will also include this topic in the curriculum of training that we will organise for local governments and NGOs.

Cloud-based digital signatures are another topic that you’ve added to your agenda. What sequence of steps is required in this area for us to reach the desired objective?

The 2017 Law on Electronic Business enabled the use of cloud-based digital signatures, which was previously only feasible through qualified e-certificates. Citizens can now register with a provider and use their signature, which has eased the use of e-government services drastically. When it comes to results in practise, a new development is the recent certifying of the Office for IT and eGovernment. We are awaited in the coming period by the start of all other public administration portals accepting cloud-based signatures and connecting to the eGovernment portal, in order for this service to be able to come to life to its full capacity. Thanks to this, in the near future it will no longer be necessary for us to have smart card readers and complicated procedures to be able to easily and quickly sign documents electronically or access the desired e-services.

EDUCATION

Interest in digitalisation is growing constantly, and we should continue working to improve IT literacy and promote e-services and an awareness of the benefits they bring to each individual

EFFICIENCY

The benefits of digital fiscalization are immeasurable when it comes to the efficiency of oversight. The amount and accuracy of data available to the tax authorities is incomparable, which will improve the efficiency of controls

SUPPORT

In order for us to encourage people to become e-citizens, at the beginning of this year we opened dedicated counters in almost 140 local governments, which citizens can turn to for support in creating accounts on the e-government portal

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