Spotlight Serbia: ICT export champion needs local economy to digitize

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4 min read

Serbia might be one of the countries that are easily to dismiss on a global scale but don't be fooled. In recent years, the country has sped up its digital transformation, created outstanding public services, and is a highly attractive market for ICT software as well as skilled resources.

Content: 

  1. Strengths: Digital education, public services & innovation
  2. Weaknesses: Low digital adoption
  3. Next steps: The local economy needs to grow strong

Strengths: Digital education, public services & innovation

As of 2022, 84% of all Serbians are using the internet, with an increase of 4,5% from 2021 to 2022. According to The American International Trade Administration (ITA), the use of internet services in Serbia is "well above the EU average."

Serbia's education goes digital

In his summary of Serbia's digital status quo at the Smart Country Convention, Nenad Paunovic, Co-founder Belgrade Venture Forum, explained that coding has become a mandatory subject from 5th to 8th grade in Serbian schools. On top of that, the country supports and invests in ICT education and its ICT experts are highly sought after by international companies.

 

According to the Digital Futures Index by Microsoft, Serbia has 40% more female ICT experts than other CEE countries on average which is promising given the overall lack of ICT personnel worldwide.

The Serbian school system has been heavily digitized during the pandemic. Schools offered digital learning materials and other resources to make a swift switch from school benches to remote teaching.

Public services are digital & innovative

Even more so, during the pandemic, public services have been digitized in a way that functions as a best practice globally. Serbia has digitized its citizen's data to offer online services. Its covid strategy was based on an Immunization Management System which was a standout worldwide for effective vaccination and reporting. Serbian citizens can even register newborns without any printout paperwork.

All this has led to a high reduction of paper waste and therefore supports the sustainability strategy of the country.

The ICT sector is growing and innovating

10% of the Serbian GDP are generated from the ICT sector which makes it one of the top 4 sectors within the country (next to Steel, Automotive & Agriculture). Serbia is also an attractive location for US companies and their affiliates, which likely stems from the general attractive costs as well as high numbers if ICT experts in the country.

To expand local digital strategies, Serbia has also set up its own data centers which are being used by big tech companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and Co.

The ITA quotes the U.S. Startup Genome Report which ranks Serbia in the top 5 worldwide when it comes to blockchain development. Additionally, the gaming industry in Serbia is named as a sector that's quickly growing.

Weaknesses: Low digital adoption

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The American International Trade Administration states in their report that Serbia has planned to make internet connections over 100Mbps available till the end of 2021. However, despite an incredible increase in average connection speed, as of 2022, the average mobile internet connection is 41Mbps and the fixed internet connection speed is 49mbps, both of which have increased 10 - 20% since 2021 (source: datareportal.com).

Local companies don't invest enough in their digital transformation

The Digital Futures Index puts Serbia 18% below the average of other CEE countries when it comes to digital business. This aligns with results of the ITA stating that only 40% of all Serbian companies with more than 250 employees are using cloud technologies.


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Microsoft even states that few Serbian companies are actually hiring ICT talents with numbers 13% below CEE average. Given that the existing talents are highly sought after by international companies, Serbian businesses might self-sabotage their own digital potential by not prioritizing the recruitment (or training) of skilled personnel.

Given how strong Serbia is in general when it comes to ICT exports, local companies need to invest in digital technologies and employees to be able to compete on the global (and even local) markets. Especially the use of and investment in eCommerce needs to grow to become a European and eventually global contender.

Serbian citizens are hesitant to adopt the internet

A slightly concerning challenge is also the digital adoption by Serbian citizens. Serbian's use both smartphones and the internet in lower numbers than the average CEE citizen even if they have mobile internet that's faster than in most other CEE countries. However, given the new focus on teaching ICT skills in school and at universities, this might change with younger generations automatically adopting newer technologies.

Next steps: The local economy needs to grow strong

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Reading the reports and seeing the numbers, one could come to the conclusion that the global markets already see and invest in Serbia's digital potential whereas Serbian companies and citizens don't.

The government provides enough incentives to push digital education, tax support, and public services to strengthen their digital agenda. However, as long as mainly international companies make use of these advantages, and as long as skilled ICT personnel is not being supported by local businesses, the country misses out on the opportunity to make a global mark.

Serbia already has shown that it has the ICT experts, the products, as well as the willingness to grow and evolve - but it needs the support of its local economy and public to truly grow into an innovative competitor.


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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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