Can Croatia Go Digital?

Lauren Simmonds

Can Croatia follow the shining examples of Denmark and Estonia and move forward in digitisation?

As Marta Duic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 20th of October, 2018, the challenges and opportunities of the digital age and emphasis on the benefits of the digitalisation of business are the theme of the 22nd National Economy and Entrepreneurship Consultation.

The host is the town of Rabac, and owing to the the AKD company, which made an application especially for this, the audience can actively participate in panels and lectures at this paperless conference.

The concept of digitisation is appealing to a great many, and has been agreed upon by the organiser of the conference, Minister Darko Horvat. He states that he is currently working on the networking of six different state institutions which will initiate and facilitate more ease for conducting such business in Croatia. By the end of the year, the introduction of the obligation to issue and receive e-invoices is also expected, and work on the opening of the very first artificial intelligence centre in the Republic of Croatia has begun.

Horvat also noted that Croatia is increasingly attracting foreign investors and that the government’s goal is to reach the two billion mark in terms of foreign investment by the end of the year, he also stressed that Croatia provides the most incentive measures in the entire territory of the European Union.

“Only verified and viable solutions will help us get closer to those already at the top of the ladder. We’re working on studies and strategies to build all of our projects with funds from structural funds through our common European treasury. We want something that isn’t happening in Croatia, but we need to want it in order to make it happen,” concluded Minister Horvat.

The first day of the conference was focused mainly on the possibilities of blue growth in the digitised, sustainable energy economy and the demystifying of the concept of the digital economy. During the first lecture on the second day, Kalle Palling, a member of the Estonian Parliament explained that digitisation in state administration saves both time and money during his lecture on Estonia’s digitisation experience.

“E-solutions make it easier and more positive for citizens. Many wonder how we achieved this, but the first solutions we implemented came from the private sector of entrepreneurs themselves. Thanks to digitalisation, our police are fifty times more effective, and hospital waiting lines have dropped by one third, more than 85 percent of schools use e-systems, and we have robotic programs for kindergartens,” explained Palling.

Davor Runje, the founder and director of the digital DRAP agency spoke about artificial intelligence and examples of it in successful business applications.

“Neural networks are good if you have a lot of data. For example, one of the solutions developed in Croatia helps cardiologists with 94 percent accuracy and makes it easier for doctors. Soon, with our solution as one of the 25 startups, we’ll go to India,” Runje stated.

The first panel, entitled Ask The Government (Pitajte Vladu) presented the latest such measures and activities.

“We’re calling for help now because we’re very late and the train is passing us by. Artificial intelligence actually makes up the cubes of a large mosaic and when we compare what the Estonians are doing, what is clear to us is that they’re well-rounded and integrated, and we’re missing out on it. Croatian startups do receive rewards, our young doctors of science are leading major processes in international companies, our young minds are being sought by experts from across the world, but we’re still lagging behind and we have to leave the old-fashioned type of thinking behind us,” said Darko Horvat.

Dražen Bošnjaković, Croatia’s current justice minister, pointed out that only technology can enable further progress and prosperity in the justice sector, stressing that there has now been a link established with Estonia and Croatia is continuing to learn from their examples.

“They live this digital life differently and develop ideas, as opposed to us, as we don’t even use it enough. For a number of years, we’ve been creating opportunities, and now we have focused on e-mails, which means that we want all commercial courts in Croatia to be networked and make communication easier. Electronic claims, electronic submissions, and electronic verdicts – We have [the right] conditions, but this will only work in its full form when we make the order for it to do so. We’re changing the law on court fees, and those who pay by electronic fee will have their fees reduced by 50 percent,” Bošnjaković explained.

Tomislav Čorić, Minister of Environmental Protection and Energy, warned that an enormous workload awaits Croatia, and that individuals have already stepped sharply into the fourth industrial revolution, and although the state has not yet actually done so, it has to adapt.

“We’re in a position to lose many jobs through robotisation and the development of new technologies. We have resources from the social fund, and through the education system, we have to make sure we’ve got staff capable of tracking (keep up with) the development of that technology,” noted Marko Pavić, Minister of Labour.

As Pavić revealed, the transformation of the employment service will soon be next, which will focus on lifelong learning, and a complete pension system reform will make pensions bigger, but more sustainable for public finances. As he pointed out, the average Croatian pensioner has worked for around 30 years and the goal is to extend that.

“Digitisation cannot be the goal, it’s a means and gives us the preconditions for development. If we technologically lag behind the rest of the world, when it comes to people, we don’t lag behind. A systematic approach to people is wrong and our mindsets need to alter,” added Goran Marić, State Property Minister.

Tomislav Mihotić, State Secretary at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, pointed out that there can be no sort of digitisation without a good communication network, adding that they have secured funds for the development of the access and aggregation network, and by 2020 and 2023, they will be realised in areas for which there is no commercial interest from operators.

“We’ll rapidly change our system in terms of the process of public procurement over the next three months, we’ll have verified what is hindering the real sector, and we will give the opportunity to all ministers to put their problems down on paper. In the transformation we’re talking about, we need to change our vocational competencies,” stated Horvat.

Bernard Gršić, State Secretary at the Central State Office for Digital Society Development, spoke on the digital transformation of Croatia, in which he pointed out that by the end of the year, a further twenty e-services are expected across the country. The ICT sector employs 36,000 people and has 5,878 companies with 63 billion kuna of revenue, and exports amounting to about seven billion kuna. We will enable the private sector to use national electronic identification systems,” said Gršić.

Evangelos Chrysafidis talked about the digital transformation of public administration in Central and Eastern Europe and outlined examples of the best practices such as those in New Zealand and Denmark. Leo Lokas, Director of the business development sector spoke about improving digital business and the current projects going on in the Ministry of the Economy.

In the second panel, experiences of digitisation were about in regard to the situation within the real sector. Today, the e-citizens service gains another 100,000 people each year, as citizens have realised how practical and useful it is. The wish of the ministry is for every procedure that the state is engaged in to go digital.

“Entrepreneurs are those most at odds with state-level changes that go too slowly, structural reforms don’t happen, but mere cosmetic changes do,” said Milka Kosanović from the Croatian Employers’ Association.

As Davor Pleško pointed out, digitisation is the right path, but Croatia’s business owners aren’t all in the same boat.

“We’ve found that we can do business without paper. It means big business savings and for that very reason, our business owners have to be provided with workshops and additional training on digitisation,” noted Pleško.

“If you want to make a change, you must be the one carrying it out. The digital chamber is intended for our members, and for local units and citizens,” said Sanja Šimić, the director of the centre for digital transformation and strategic development at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK).

The two-day conference ended with the interaction of entrepreneurs, members of the state administration, and partners.


Click here for the original article by Marta Duic for Poslovni Dnevnik


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