Source: eKapija | Friday, 24.06.2022.| 12:04
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D Days 2022: How to Be Like Estonia – Digitization Mustn’t Be a Goal, But a Means of Progress of the Society and Attracting Investments

Velibor Boskovic, Tarik Zaimovic, Valentina Tasova, Nebojsa Bjelotomic, Damir Maglajlic, Milan Solaja
Velibor Boskovic, Tarik Zaimovic, Valentina Tasova, Nebojsa Bjelotomic, Damir Maglajlic, Milan Solaja (Photo: eKapija)
Digitization should not be a goal in and of itself, but a means through which we want to realize the progress of the society, which should make the market more competitive and attract new investments. It is only when we realize this that we will be able to reach the level of a country like Estonia, which is used as a positive example of digital transformation throughout Europe.

This is a conclusion from the panel “The State and Perspectives of Digitization in SEE Countries”, held yesterday within the D Days conference.

All the countries of the region are facing similar problems – the lack of workforce, a small market, the education system, the slowness of the public administration… said the CEO of the Montenegrin cluster ICT Cortex, Tarik Zaimovic. According to him, the cluster is a very important organization, not just for IT, but in any industry.

– In the past 15 years that the IT industry has been developing in Montenegro, all of us who are operating in the market have been in severe competition with each other. However, with the arrival of the cluster, we have changed a lot. We came to the conclusion that, in fact, we were not competing against each other. We were at war because we were focused on the local market only, which is very small. It is only when we changed the way we thought and started working for the global market, which is in a way infinite, that we realized that there was room for all of us, times hundred, maybe even more – Zaimovic said.

By joining forces within the cluster, he said, companies achieved a lot after only a year and a half. Big players in the market helped the smaller ones, companies are getting jobs for each other, and through joint forces, they can reach any decision-maker. Also, projects worth around EUR 22.5 million were launched.

– Another important thing was the possibility of doing large infrastructure projects of great importance for Montenegro, which, as individual companies, we couldn’t take on ourselves. Montenegro is a small market, IT companies have up to 100 employees, so as individuals we couldn’t take on those projects. Instead, we had to practically export that most important substance of the development and building of the IT industry. A huge number of foreign and regional companies was taking capital projects out of the state. However, now, with the arrival of the cluster, we are able to work together on projects worth up to EUR 20 million and more and, that way, build the industry through local money and capacities – Zaimovic said.

It is precisely the joining of forces, he believes, that is one of the most important ingredients of the digitization process. Another, maybe crucial, ingredient is a change in the way of thinking.

– That is precisely where the success of Estonia lies. Their decision-makers don’t think like traditional politicians, but how to solve a problem that citizens have. And all their focus is on how to create value for citizens. I believe that this is the key ingredient for true digitization – problem solving. Automation and process simplification, that is what’s crucial in fact – he said.

At the region, we reach that level, Zaimovic believes, but not overnight. Also, he added, we need digital transformers in decision-making positions for a successful process of digital transformation.

– These are people who are digitally educated on one hand, that is, they are digital experts, whereas, on the other, they are transformers. The ideal situation is when you have all these things, but such people are rare in our areas. If those people multiplied both quantitatively and qualitatively, I could believe the story that, in a fairly short amount of time, we will reach the level of Estonia when it comes to the digitization process – Zaimovic concluded.

Although we all see digitization only as the implementation of new technologies and introduction of new services, it is in fact a deep transformation of society that primarily rests on people, said the moderator of the panel, Velibor Boskovic, the managing director of the Science-Technology Park of Montenegro. The technology is there, it is developing at a great speed. However, as he said, people are the problem, that is, their digital skills. How to solve that problem?

Valentina Taseva, the CEO of Semos Education, believes that digitization is the puzzle that the region has to solve together.

– At one panel, I heard the director of the World Bank say that we needed to import knowledge to the Balkans. I then wondered why we would have to do so, when we could turn the situation around and be the ones who would export knowledge, because we certainly have the capacities. In order to succeed in it, we need to have some standards and show that we do have the knowledge. That is why we started the partnerships with some of the biggest world companies in IT and to bring their curricula over here to the region, and then also export knowledge – Taseva said.

The key to a successful process of digital transformation lies in mutual trust and respect.

What does that mean? It means that, since we are pragmatic in business, we have some joint interest. When the employer, for example, invests in the training of an employee, the employer has to make a return on that investment somehow, and they will do so if they start exporting that knowledge, that is, what their employees have already learned – she said.

She also pointed out that, when we talked about digital transformation, we only talked about IT skills and IT experts.

– Those are IT skills, but not just for IT experts. We need three types of skills – skills for IT professionals, IT skills for those who are not IT experts, but use the technology in business, and the third are IT skills for our children, where we need to make progress together – from families, through schools, institutions, the state – Taseva concluded.

We are all mistaken when we talk about digitization, because we see it as a goal, and not as a means, which it is supposed to be, said Nebojsa Bjelotomic, the director of the Digital Serbia Initiative.

– In Estonia, people did not do digitization for the purpose of digitization, but as a means for making their market more competitive and attracting investments, which would enable their businesses to grow and go beyond the small market, move on. Digitization is a means that enables the whole society to advance – he said.

The big flaw of our societies does not have to do with digitization, but education and where our education is.

– Everywhere in the world, the academic environment is where ideas, innovations and fast-growing innovative companies are disseminated. Here, unfortunately, that’s not the case. If we’re talking about the digitization of the state and the public administration, we are not even that much behind Europe. However, the problem is that, here, digitization is not set as a means of better organizing the society, but as a goal – Bjelotomic said.

He pointed out that the essence was not whether we knew or not how to do something and that the proximity of a large market was also important for the development of digitization and society.

– We don’t have that kind of a market nearby that we can lean on, but I believe that the essence is in mutual cooperation. I visited Finland relatively recently, where they’re constantly saying – “the market is not here”. It’s so logical for small markets such as ours – we are going to countries that are bigger than ours. We need to do a “proof of concept” in our own market, and then see whether the model is working by switching to a neighboring market and then going to EU states and beyond. Which means – making our market global and having digitization be the means by which we will enable a foreign company to incorporate itself more easily in the market, for foreign capital to enter more easily here… – said the director of Digital Serbia.

Talking about digitization in the region, Damir Maglajlic, the executive director of Bit Alliance, said that he saw the biggest problem in the lack of a vision, a strategy and a goal.

We need to know what it is that we are striving for and what it is that we want to achieve with the process of digitization. If we know that, we will carry out the whole process easily. There’s the example of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where IT companies had offered to fully digitize the public administration for free. Can you guess what the answer was? – Maglajlic said.

Talking about the process of digitization in B&H, he said that they were behind the region quite a lot, and, among other things, he sees the reason in the complicated state structure.

– As Bit Alliance, we are trying to cooperate with all levels of authorities, which is creating great problems for us. The best thing would be to have a state strategy in the digitization process and for the development to be top-down. However, due to said state structure, there are situations where we have to work on the level of a canton, or an entity, and to a lesser extent, on the state level. So that highest level, the state level, from which digitization would descend to the lower ones, does not exist here. What we have managed to do lately is to literally push in IT as a strategic industry and digitization as a strategy on the federal level – he said.

That strategy, he said, has only just been adopted due to a range of complications, but there’s a set of measures that is supposed to be carried out by 2027.

For Milan Solaja, the director of the Vojvodina ICT Cluster, digitization means digital transformation plus digital education for the future.

– One of the main reasons why Estonia is successful is that their prime minister was 31 when they started dealing with that issue and they made the joint decision to deal with it and persevered in it. When we’re talking about Serbia, we are not so much behind in the digitization process. That is a result of the enormous, incredible growth of the IT industry in the country, its strengthening, organizing in clusters and associations. On the state level as well, digitization is set as a priority, because the question could no longer be ignored – Solaja said.

As he said, we need to change the way we think in the region.

– If you want to change the culture of any organization, it has to come from the top, it can’t be any other way. It’s very difficult to enact changes from the bottom up – he said.

According to him, in order for digitization to make sense, it is important for the education system to support the trends, for digitization not to be its own goal, but a means for improving the society and its development.

– A lot needs to be done, the question is only to what extent we will have the strength to foster, through education, generations that will be aware of it in the right way and that will carry those processes. I often start my presentations citing Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Just look at how we’ve been destroying our education systems for decades, and the consequences are all around us. Take a look at who runs the states and who holds important positions and makes decisions. Whose fault is that? I don’t believe we have to look past the mirror – Solaja concluded.

This year’s D Days Conference was held on June 16-17 in Becici, organized by the Banjaluka-based company BAM Consult, and is dedicated to the current trends in the digital sphere, implementing innovations and technologies in the financial sector, as well as digitization processes in the whole society.

The eKapija portal is the media sponsor of the conference.

D. Obradovic

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