The future of government: Serbia’s growing bet on digital transformation pays off

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A person in winter clothes uses a public phone on a street at dusk
Using the telephone at dusk. Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: Flore de Préneuf © World Bank

This blog post is part of a series for the Future of Government Disruptive Debates, an initiative by the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice

 

Since 2017, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić of Serbia has prioritized digital transformation by providing human and financial resources to implement a far-reaching vision. She once said that her mission is to reform public administration, roll out e-government and make government services available to citizens 24/7.

The policy is paying off, bringing benefits to both Serbians and their government.

For citizens, e-government is about convenience; for governments, it is about increasing productivity and creating public value. In parts of the world where corruption is still a challenge, digital government improves transparency and limits the discretion of public servants.

Digital transformation is the greatest driver of productivity increases in the public sector, meaning effective and efficient, high-quality, and low-cost public services are widely accessed by citizens.  Automated decision-making systems, software robots, artificial intelligence or machine learning, data-driven policies, greater collaboration and integration can all create system-wide efficiencies.

The substantial financial resources and time required for digital transformation are a good investment. McKinsey estimates that capturing the full potential of government digitization could free up to $1 trillion annually in economic value worldwide, through improved cost and operational performance. Governments at the national, regional and local levels are facing increasing budgetary pressures, especially in the COVID-19 era, and cannot afford to ignore those potential savings.

Governments are increasingly experimenting with automated decision-making systems, including algorithms to improve the delivery of public services. In Serbia, we are introducing machine learning in courts to support judges in decision-making for common cases, such as traffic violations. The national power company is using machine learning to predict the consumption and prices of electricity.

Information technology automation also provides governments with an efficiency boost. Digitalization can unlock hidden revenues for governments by freeing up employees for more crucial tasks. For example, more time can be spent on interaction with the public, or public servants can pay more attention to tasks that require a greater degree of human judgment. In Serbia, we are testing the use of robots to publish the 180,000 annual court decisions online. Robots are able to complete this task more than 3 times faster than court administrations, which frees them up to do more complex tasks.

The Serbian Unified Education Management System is another good example of digital integration. It collects educational data for every student at every level of education, as well as data for all educational institutions including cost. The system has been connected with different government agencies, including the Employment Agency. The goal is to provide policy makers with tools for determining the quality of educational institutions in relation to the employability of their students. This data allows for the updating of educational curricula based on labor market needs, proposes areas for cost saving and encourages smarter and data-driven educational policies. We expect that over time, data-driven policy making will give the ability to adapt policies in real time, replacing current methodologies for policy planning.

The advantages of emerging technologies are even more visible in critical times such as the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of new technologies in the Serbian government. One example is the Immunization Management System, that was developed in record time as vaccines were in final trial phases.  The system supported the nationwide vaccination campaign with a threefold increase in the speed of each phase. Serbia administered 24 doses per 100 people as of mid-March 2021 — far outpacing the regional and global averages (World Bank). The system provided real-time monitoring and allowed for informed analytics on critical aspects of the operation, such as data on general population interest in immunization and actual consumption. It helped decision-makers determine if and where to boost public information campaigns and whether to procure additional doses. It also analyzed the number of vaccinated citizens according to age, profession, and location, and helped inform new epidemiological measures or revise the existing ones.


Emerging technologies are helping Serbia reduce its carbon footprint. By going digital, the country saved 180 million sheets of paper (almost 18 thousand trees, a whole forest) , 76 million liters of water, and 6,000 hours of electricity over the past four years. Serbia’s example shows that investing in technology can bring tangible results and make positive steps towards a green and resilient future.

 

You can find more information on the World Bank’s Future of Government Initiative here.

 

Blogs in the Future of Government series

Authors

Marta Arsovska Tomovska

DIRECTOR FOR PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION REFORM AND EGOVERNMENT, OFFICE OF THE PRIMER MINISTER OF SERBIA

Join the Conversation

Romain Guéléo NDOUBA
December 13, 2021

Yeah! It's true! The period of COVID-19 needs high technology which is adapted not for Serbia, but for all the world.