Serbia has demonstrated that it’s ready for digital integration within the framework of the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans and that it is working intensively on the building of ICT infrastructure that forms the basis of accelerated digital transformation in the country. Enabling the use of digital solutions and services already contributes to improving people’s quality of life, which is also the main purpose of digital transformation
The continuation of systemic digitalisation is the priority of this ministry – says Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications Tatjana Matić. In the previous period, the Ministry’s strategic approach in this area was shown to be of huge importance for the development of e-commerce, raising levels of digital literacy and connecting actors in both the business sector and in education.
The kind of test that followed with the outbreak of the pandemic showed that both the telecommunications sector and the institutional framework that enabled the complex development of all aspects of the Digital Agenda had been well set up and enabled the Serbian economy and society to more easily handle the burden of the crisis. Simultaneously, the foundations were laid for the continuation of these trends in both the area of expanding the coverage of Serbia’s broadband network, which has far-reaching significance for the balanced development of the Serbian economy and in the field of education, where digitalisation can bring significant benefits.
One of the most important stages on that road – the construction of 5G networks – will enable the automation of production processes and the introduction of innovative services. Considering the new trends in Serbian industry, which is moving towards the production of ever-more technologically complex products and services, creating preconditions for the adoption of the Industry 4.0 concept, which will enable the accelerating existing processes and create preconditions for potentially leapfrogging competitors, or achieving a technological leap forward in the Serbian economy.
During the previous period, we witnessed the rise of e-commerce. How ready were we, institutionally and organisationally, for such a leap and what do we now need to maintain that momentum?
We didn’t not only anticipate, but also encouraged the development of this sector, considering the global trends and the clear benefits brought by this type of trade for the development of the digital economy, but also overall economic and social development. The leap in e-commerce was preceded by the adoption of development programmes for e-commerce and the implementation of an entire set of activities, which – in addition to establishing a solid legal framework with new laws on commerce and e-commerce – also include analyses that were conducted by the Ministry in cooperation with USAID and the E-Commerce Serbia Association, then the publishing of guides for e-traders and e-consumers, which are also available on the website of the Ministry, as well as the conducting of a campaign in the national media.
The Office for IT and eGovernment is working on the development of both new services and innovative solutions in the field of smart cities and we can expect significant progress in this regard
Although internet quality and speed are recognised in the business sector as being very good, not all parts of Serbia are equally covered by high-speed internet connections, which is now showing itself to represent the backbone of accelerated economic growth. What awaits us on this front in the period ahead?
Last September saw the launch of the Project to jointly construct broadband infrastructure in rural areas for which there is no commercial interest among operators.
It implies the conducting public tenders and the signing of contracts with operators and, after the drafting of projects and obtaining of construction permits, the construction of mid-mile routes, which will be carried out by the state, and last-mile parts of the network, for which operators will be responsible.
The project encompasses more than 500 settlements with about 80,000 households and is planned for completion by year’s end 2022. The programme is continuing with the goal of practically all households in Serbia having fast internet access, and thus access to digital services, by 2025. With this, we will significantly reduce the digital divide and economic gap between urban and rural areas, creating the basis for the balanced development of all parts of the country, together with a platform for introducing new digital services and modern ways of doing business and conducting education.
In your opinion, how much will the implementation of the Digital Agenda in the coming period help when it comes to economic growth and economic connection?
There is no progress without the digital agenda. In the domain of electronic communications, goals have been set at the strategic level in the Republic of Serbia that are harmonised with the goals of the European Digital Agenda. The strategic documents emphasise the importance of using high-capacity broadband access, recognising that future access networks will use fibre optic connections as a key part of the network infrastructure, in order to meet the ever-growing need for flow, and stress the importance of investing in modern infrastructure, which represent preconditions for comprehensive further development in the fields of the economy, production, the economy and education.
In which ways do you collaborate with the private sector when it comes to sharing knowledge and industry experience regarding these topics?
The competent Ministry, but also other government institutions, are in close communication with the private sector. The result of that cooperation is an entire series of advanced regulations and incentive measures for the development of innovative ideas, which have been developed in cooperation with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, E-Commerce Serbia, NALED, within the scope of the Serbia Creates platform etc.
Electronic communications operators were under great pressure at the beginning of the epidemic, but they simultaneously showed a great degree of stamina, which confirms the excellent situation in Serbian telecommunications
You’ve announced that the possibility exists to conduct an auction for the 5G network in Serbia by the end of this year. What does that depend on?
The call for expressions of interest was announced and ran until 1st September 2021. Further steps regarding the auction will depend on the response among both electronic communications operators and other companies that may be interested in using, but also building, 5G networks with the objective of automating production processes and introducing innovative services.
How many of those companies for which the 5G network is important and which have entered into several phases of digital transformation does Serbia have?
A significant number of innovative companies, both developed ones and small start-ups, are operating in Serbia. 5G technology creates the opportunity to develop new innovative products and services, and to generally automate many processes, which is a chance for each of these companies.
The greatest applications of the 5G network are expected, among other areas, in medicine and utilities services, but also in the construction of smart cities. What can we expect in that domain here in Serbia?
The Office for IT and eGovernment is working on the development of both new services and innovative solutions in the field of smart cities and we can expect significant progress in this regard.
In parallel with growth in the use of e-services, we’ve seen that the digital divide is also growing, because it isn’t easy for part of the population and even smaller companies to join these trends, while on the other side we’ve seen that there are also some existing bureaucratic bottlenecks or operations where it is necessary for businesses to physically visit the place where a service is processed or to submit paper documentation. What further steps do you have to take in removing these bottlenecks?
The Office for IT is introducing ever more electronic services that ease the lives of citizens. In parallel with the process of simplifying administrative procedures, processes are also being implemented through the “ePaper” programme, which the Office is implementing together with the Public Policy Secretariat of the Republic of Serbia.
You have also been included to a great extent in the organising of online teaching. What are the key messages in this domain that will also be important to us when will the pandemic ends?
Electronic communications operators were under great pressure at the beginning of the epidemic, but they simultaneously showed a great degree of stamina, which confirms the excellent situation in Serbian telecommunications. The priority of this Ministry is certainly to continue systemic digitalisation, which – in addition to building networks in rural areas – includes the continuation of the “Connected Schools” project, i.e., the building of a computer network in primary and secondary schools, which has to date been completed in more than 900 school facilities, or half of schools in Serbia. This project will enable the complete digitalisation of the education system.
A priority of this Ministry is the building of a computer network in primary and secondary schools that will enable the complete digitalisation of the education system
Strategic goals in the domain of electronic communications in the Republic of Serbia are fully harmonised with the goals of the European Digital Agenda
In close communication with the private sector, an entire series of advanced regulations have been improved and incentive measures have been adopted for the development of innovative ideas