Serbia, the sleeping Digital Transformation Giant

Published on June 24, 2021

The fast pace of technological change poses a new set of challenges for countries worldwide. It is no longer sufficient to send computers to schools or manage data exchange between institutions. Government must consider broader trends influenced by the global technological shifts such as the changes in communication, the emergence of new payment services, the transition of services into the cloud, advances in big data, etc. Moreover, it’s essential to ensure adequate capacities that can effectively leverage new technologies for digital transformation. Serbia is one of those countries that has digital transformation high on its government’s agenda. 

Creating momentum

For the past ten years, Serbia has made excellent progress in modernising its strategic and regulatory framework to support the development of the information society. Since 2017, its government, led by President Aleksandar Vučić, in addition to the role of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, has been focusing on helping the country develop faster. Their objectives include attracting foreign investment, fueling economic growth, building stronger overseas relationships and developing digital transformation of the national economy and public administration. 

Prime Minister Ana Brnabić has continually stressed that digitalisation and education are the most important catalysts of Serbia’s innovation, growth and competitiveness. She aims to future-proof the administration’s capabilities for rapid deployment of cost-effective and citizen-focused e-services while coordinating the implementation of ICT policies. This political support was materialised in August 2017, when the Office for Information Technologies and Electronic Government (ITE) was established. During this time, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić was appointed as head of the Council for Innovative Entrepreneurship and Information Technologies (IT Council).

So, basically, the ITE, previously managed by the Ministry of Public Administration and Local-Self Government, was now raised to the Cabinet-level body. As a result, it received all necessary competencies consolidating the government’s ICT resources and was well-positioned to provide policy advice and influence the adoption of legal acts.

What are some key objectives of the government toward digitalisation

  • Effective coordination and implementation of its digital strategy by strengthening the ITE and e-Government; 
  • Established ICT platforms that are user-focused, accessible and inclusive 
  • Improved e-services based on people’s feedback, including the engagement with key stakeholders; 
  • Supported growth of the IT and other innovative and creative industries inline 
  • Improved ICT infrastructure to support the digital transformation of the public administration

The rapid digital transformation is changing the economy fast.

Speaking about the development of digitalisation, Serbia’s Prime Minister Brnabić has pointed out that the country has a stable digital society and that she is committed to supporting the development of the Serbian people. She specified that “The ICT sector contributes with 5.3% to the country’s GDP, and we have witnessed steady growth each year. At the same time, we are the largest exporters of ICT in the region, and this sector is growing by at least 20% annually.”

When it comes to the development of telecommunication, according to Brnabić, Serbia’s market is highly competitive, resulting in a high rate of coverage with 4G technology, which now stands at 99.5% of households with at least one mobile provider. The government believes that the development of the broadband network has a positive impact on economic growth. In addition, top global technology companies have established research and development centres in Serbia, turning the country into an attractive place for investors. 

Serbia – a “break out economy”

According to A global study of “digital progress in 2020”, which assessed over 90 economies across 160 indicators, Serbia is a “break out” economy. What does this mean? It means that despite having limited digital infrastructure, it is a country that is rapidly digitalising. 

Based on this analysis, successful Break Out economies prioritise:

  1. Improving internet access, affordability, and quality to foster more widespread adoption
  2. Strengthening their institutional environments and developing digital regulations
  3. Generating investment and funding digital R&D and training digital talent
  4. Taking steps to reduce inequalities in access to digital tools across different groups

Indeed Serbia has shown high levels of existing digitalisation and strong momentum in continuing efforts toward digital capabilities. It has achieved fantastic results in setting up legal frameworks for e-commerce and eGovernment and transforming public administration and its employees in a way that serves the citizens and the entire economy. That’s why when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Serbia was able to continue to offer most services in ways that have been impossible just before.



About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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FRIDAY, 30 JUNE 2022