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Along the lines of GITEX 2021, Telecom Review secured an interview with executive members working under the office of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia. Marta Arsovska Tomovska, director of the public administration reform team and Nenad Paunović, director of the IT and entrepreneurship team, shed a light on Serbia’s digital transformation journey and the key ICT growth areas within the country.

To highlight, Marta said that cooperation with international organizations has been an excellent platform to implement their strategic projects while Nenad affirms that Serbia is in the midst of transitioning into an economy where growth is driven by knowledge, creativity and innovation.

Digital transformation is touching every aspect of life, how is Serbia collaborating with other governments, organizations and corporations to create innovative digital ecosystems?

Marta: Collaboration is the key word for Serbia, particularly in the form of exchange of knowledge. We have proven repeatedly that knowledge is increased most when it is shared. Serbia has established great “digital” collaboration within the region and with other digital leaders from East to West.

Cooperation with international organizations such as ITU, OECD and UNDP has been an excellent platform to implement strategic projects that enable connectivity, widespread access to e-services and make sure that nobody is left behind.

We also nurture our partnerships with key global corporations such as Microsoft, Huawei, Oracle and others in order to understand the future trends and embed the latest state-of-the art technologies into our system.

How is eGovernance helping to improve the lives of the general public?

Marta: At the beginning of her mandate, Prime Minister of Serbia H.E. Ana Brnabić promised citizens they will not be couriers of the state anymore. Indeed, the institutions now communicate between themselves, so citizens spend more time doing the things that are important to them – work, study, relax, have fun and spend time with their loved ones.

Today, majority of public services related to life events such as registering a newborn, education, healthcare, starting a business, construction permits, etc. are available online. We have gone one step further by sharing our eGovernment infrastructure with the private sector. For example, with citizens’ consent, info from state databases can be retrieved and sent to banks so citizens can apply for loans completely paperless. This service alone is saving people more than 20 million visits to physical counters, yearly.

Finally, using the emerging technologies, besides the provided convenience for the citizens and boosting the government productivity (savings in time and money), we managed to reduce our footprint and married the “green” and “digital”. In Serbia, digital services resulted in massive drop in paper use – so far saving 23.000 trees (entire forest), 97 million liters of water and 8000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

How is Serbia evolving as a knowledge-based economy?

Nenad: Serbia is in the midst of transition from the economy whose growth was based on the labour intensive investments, to the one where growth is driven by the knowledge, creativity and innovation. Many foreigners who follow this transformation say that Serbia did in five years more than many other countries did in twenty, and we are very excited about our progress. Serbia is also probably the most open country in the world in terms of entering the country without the visa, and we are seeing that global, multicultural ecosystem is on the rise, especially within the startup segment.

What are the key ICT growth areas that are drawing the attention of investors in Serbia and globally?

Nenad: There are several areas where we are seeing increased investors' interest. The first and foremost, especially because of the huge potential that lies ahead, is biotechnology, with special focus on biomedicine and bioinformatics. Serbia has significant expertise and plans for big investments in those areas. We believe that convergence of life sciences and ICT may be the next big technological revolution. 
The second area to be emphasized is blockchain, since some of the globally most prominent DeFi and infrastructure projects are made and being run from Serbia. We are also seeing some significant investments in those areas lately.
The third area of increased interest is definitely gaming, with several investments in Serbian companies worth more than half a billion dollars. For a small country like Serbia, this is really a huge success.
We are strong in SaaS solutions as well, and recently opened a government-owned Tier 4 state-of-the-art data center, that is also open for commercial users.

What are your offerings at the GITEX event and what do you hope to take from here?

Marta: Serbia has a huge presence at GITEX this year which includes the state data center, AI institute, Biosense institute for agritech and eight top companies (ZESIUM MOBILE, SAGA, CodeIT, DEVTECH, BRAINEERING IT SOLUTIONS, QUANTOX, TELEGROUP, EGZAKTA ADVISORY). We are also present at GITEX Future Stars with selected six startups, out of which three are in the semi-finals for the Supernova challenge.

Our five top speakers will be addressing the global audience, by presenting Serbia’s achievements in AI, blockchain and development of startup ecosystem, while the Loop foundation will educate some of the best UAE students in Python/Pygame.

Our initial reaction has been superb. Serbian startups have had more leads in the first couple of days than in the entire year so far. Our companies have met with many potential clients and future partners. Serbia is presented to the world as a country where global corporations open R&D centers, local companies create globally successful solutions, AI is taught in elementary schools and even eight-graders are trained for programming. We are sharing to the world our biggest and most sophisticated data center in our part of the world, which further reaffirms that digitalization of the public administration, is a matter of national pride.

How do you envision the future of digital economy in Serbia?

Nenad: We envision Serbia as a global hub for development of cutting-edge solutions in terms of creativity and innovation, with globally competitive Serbian and multinational companies operating from Serbia the same as they would from any other place on the planet. 
Serbia is also a bridge between East and West, a place that is friendly to all and culturally compatible with many others. Just a few days ago, Serbia hosted the 60th anniversary of the non-aligned movement with more than 100 delegations from all over the world.  
Serbian engineering excellence is already globally renowned, and we are very excited about the creativity and innovation that we are seeing every day. 

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