Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis had a huge impact in forcing governments and businesses worldwide to hasten towards the implementation of various digital solutions. According to the McKinsey Global Survey of executives published in October 2020, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of new technologies by three to four years. The term digital transformation has become a buzzword, as digital technologies continuously place new demands and challenges on societies.
Numerous experts mention the issue of misunderstanding that rather than in technology, the root of the digital transformation is in the people’s mindset and behavioral shifts. The general public will indubitably have to embrace the culture built around data and the utilization of new tools and solutions provided by technological advancement. It requires a change of the way of thinking, working, and leveraging the data. Contrarily, digital transformation provides many benefits, such as spending less time, money, and other resources. These are just some of the premises of the accelerated digital advancement that is no longer avoidable.
When it comes to the countries of the Western Balkans, digital transformation is still lagging in many aspects. According to the Baseline research of the state of e-government development & digital literacy in the targeted Western Balkan countries 2020, the countries are late with the harmonization of legal acts, but are even more behind with the implementation of innovations. Contrarily, improving the conditions for implementing the Digital Agenda (an initiative brought by the European Union in 2018) is a chance for the countries of the region to tackle various structural challenges while increasing transparency, openness, and cross-regional cooperation.
One of the issues arising from the misconception that merely introducing the latest trends in technology brings digital transformation is the gap between the readiness and skills to incorporate those technologies in both, public and business sectors. In addition, robust systems such as education are lacking in aiding these gaps. Providing the knowledge to use the technology and opportunities to create smart and innovative solutions is a way of engaging communities to create digitally transformed environments.
Successfully managing change
Transformation is a keyword of the process related to further digital advancement. Therefore, it is important to note that the precondition of any transformation is that the purpose is understood by everyone involved.
Learning how to manage the apparent changes during the transformation processes is one of the key skills to consider. The Digital Business Global Executive Study also highlights the importance of strategy. According to this research, a relevant strategy is what drives a successful digital transformation.
The first step is to have clear communication about the purpose, the goals, and the actions necessary to reach those goals. To be able to manage a change it is necessary to set an example and establish expectations. The role of the leader is essential in these cases. On one side, there are the technology and innovation that are improving by the day. On the other, there is a transformation of people’s mindsets, which is a much longer process and harder to achieve in the short run.
The role of the leader is to showcase that the culture of living is changing and technology is a part of it. It is often neglected that the change has to be led from the top and that first and foremost, the decision-makers have to have a clear understanding of this. That way, faster and more flexible opportunities are enabled. In parallel, the citizens have to be equipped with support and at least the basic digital skills to help them understand how to use the technology wisely and avoid potential risks. When it comes to the public administration, the Baseline research of the targeted WB countries states that the resistance to digitalization in one part comes from the establishment of public servants. The reform implies changing their long-term routine, upskilling, changing the procedures, and adapting to new technologies. However, currently, the public administrations of the region not only lack legislative but also technical capacities. This became even more evident during the pandemic, where the public administration was also forced to work remotely.
It is a fact that people are reluctant to change, and those working in the public administration are no exception. The idea of having new routines and constantly learning new things is not appealing to everyone, whether they are citizens or stakeholders. Both often lack either the skills or the will to learn, especially in the era where life-long learning is becoming increasingly relevant. Anticipating the reasons behind the resistance and fears, and finding ways to counter it is often an oversight.
Leading the implementation of the Digital Agenda doesn’t require experts in technology but rather talents that can articulate the importance and impact of the technology on people’s lives and businesses. The accent is on showcasing why digital transformation is needed and creating an environment where it is possible to live and work accordingly.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Government, Governance and Digital Transformation
”The only true societal digital transformation happens when government digitalizes its services, creates the necessary legal space, and necessary infrastructure for digital identification. Otherwise, you may have the best digitalized public service, as many developed nations do, but if the government doesn’t take the lead in offering inclusively, to all citizens, access to its services – it does not transform the societies.”
Mrs. Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia
The overwhelming advancement of the digital landscape is impacting many countries aspiring to join the European Union. The governments struggle to ensure equal availability of quality online services to the citizens. Consequently, the fear that the digital shift will leave many behind exists. But in parallel, there is a whole new terrain for innovation and improvements.
However, only the citizens who are aware of the benefits of such services and equipped with the knowledge to use them can be active participants. They can push the institutions to be proactive, and ensure transparency which is still one of the issues in many Western Balkan countries. The pandemic brought forth many pre-existing problems in the region. It has forced institutions to get out of the ”routine”, and made us all realize that the human factor influences digital progress far more than technology does. Nevertheless, the countries prioritize enabling the necessary infrastructure and services, as well as creating the legal, innovative, and educational framework for the overall, improvement of e-government as one of the major steps towards the digital transformation.
For example, The Government of North Macedonia is currently working on the new national ICT Strategy which tackles digital skills among other areas. They are currently also developing their first Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy. Serbia has already adopted its national AI Strategy for the period between 2020 and 2025. The Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2020-2025 is the first AI-related government strategic document in the Western Balkans. Albania, on the other side, already had the cross-cutting Strategy ‘’Digital Agenda of Albania’’, as well as Kosovo that created a Kosova Digital Agenda while Montenegro is currently developing a Digital Transformation Strategy, a Cyber Security Strategy, and a Strategy for Digitalization of the Educational System.
Digital transformation is a frequently used term when describing the processes related to the advancements in Chapter 10 of the European Union, and Europe’s digital compass with the targets to be achieved by 2030.
E-governance is not only about the state providing top-down services. It is also about providing an interactive space for communication with multiple stakeholders while highlighting the citizen-centered approach.
Technology changes faster than people do. That is why these changes are often impeded on multiple levels. The resistance can come from the decision-makers who are not interested or don’t understand why this change is needed. Or simply from the citizens who do not want to learn how to use new tools because ”the way they’ve always done it” works for them.
To transform the culture of living and empower the citizens to deal with the changes remains one of the biggest tasks in front of the countries, not only in the Western Balkans but worldwide. And as David Mounts stated in Forbes: we can invest millions of dollars in millions of tools, but if the right humans with the right expertise aren’t in place to use the tools, ask the right questions and make the right connections, the technology is, at best, not very helpful and, at worst, dangerous and can lead us in the wrong direction.
This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ICEDA partners, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.