The digital transformation of Serbia is heading in the right direction, with positive developments in various sectors and great efforts exerted among both foreign and domestic players. However, there are still challenges needing to be addressed. With continued efforts and forward thinking, Serbia can further strengthen its digital economy and create a society that’s more inclusive, vibrant and prosperous
A few years ago, the phrase “everything is heading in the right direction” was commonplace and expected in many areas of life. However, in today’s world of global and local turmoil, it’s refreshing to see that at least one important process – digital transformation – is still progressing well. This is particularly true for countries in which digital transformation and the development of Economy 4.0 represent crucial areas of their overall effort to create a more inclusive, vibrant and wealthier society. The fact that this is even true for countries starting from a modest position, like Serbia, is good news and something extraordinary.
This special edition provides us with the chance to learn a lot in this regard. Despite the global turmoil hindering the ICT sector, the Serbian government believes that this industry will continue to grow, with more people, businesses and exports set to break records in the coming years. This is indeed good news, but is also a result of joint efforts among foreign and domestic companies investing in Serbia.
The national innovation system in Serbia is expanding, becoming more complex and spreading more evenly across the country. This is tremendously important when we consider that the knowledge, finance and knowhow were concentrated in Novi Sad and Belgrade for many years, leaving other regions lagging behind. While Serbia is still awaiting its first unicorn, it is expected that there will soon be 1,000 Serbian-born start-ups, which would be a significant achievement given that this number was estimated at be between 200 and 300 for several years. According to our interview with Information and Telecommunications Minister Mihailo Jovanović, we are indeed heading in the right direction when it comes to reaching more start-ups.
There is a need for more digitalisation and automation in traditional sectors of the economy, as well ethical considerations around the use of AI in public services and across the economy
However, one area where progress remains fragile is in the process of digitalising and automating traditional sectors of the economy. While some large companies are moving swiftly in this direction, many SMEs are either failing to grasp this complex process or lack the strength to traverse it successfully. Workforce shortages are the main driving force for the introduction of digital solutions in almost all sectors, including logistics, administration and production. These processes will be particularly crucial in the trade sector, where – according to our interlocutor Zorana Milidrag, President of the E-Commerce Association of Serbia, digitalisation and automation will soon become a question of survival.
The Ministry of Information and Telecommunications is leading two other processes that underpin this crucial transformation. The first relates to the successful development of e-government services, which help both citizens and businesses receive better, faster and more accurate services. The second relates to the introduction of high-speed internet connections to Serbia’s rural areas, making these places more liveable, attractive for business and closer to all government services.
Of course, each of these processes is complex and requires a lot of forward thinking. One such issue is the ethical use of AI in public services and across sectors and industries. The government has taken considerable effort to address this concern, but more discussion of the consequences of this change is required.