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MSc. Tamara Srzentić: Citizens at the center of all services and public policies

15/03/2021

ICT and the private sector are our most important partners, and the networking of all relevant stakeholders, along with a new organization of the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media is a prerequisite of full digital transformation, says Minister Tamara Srzentić in the interview for Glasnik.

A citizen should always be at the center of all services and the creation of public policies, participating actively in the development of the government programs by expressing his/her needs and stating what he/she finds useful in an everyday life, says the Minister of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media Tamara Srzentić for Glasnik, the magazine of the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro.
In the interview for our magazine, she emphasizes the desire for opening up the public administration towards the Montenegrin ICT community, which has so far shown great willingness, motivation and readiness to support the development of the state platforms.
- We all have the same goal, which is the development and digitalization of the Montenegrin society as a whole - says Srzentić.
Glasnik: Considering your significant practical experience in the public administration of California, what was your first impression of the public administration of Montenegro after taking over the position of the minister?
T. Srzentić: In the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, but also at all levels of public administration, I was welcomed by a large number of employees who showed willingness and commitment to work together in order to change the business culture and introduce the new standards in the government-citizens relations. Our goal is to introduce new ways of recognizing the needs of users of digital solutions, analyzing current challenges in the use of digital services and approaches in creating services having a citizen at the very center. The new organization of the Ministry should respond to these goals by introducing agile practices into our system as well. We want to dedicate ourselves, according to the principle of other more experienced governments, to establishing a "delivery unit" in the form of the Office for Innovation and Digital Services, within which we will conduct research, use digital standards and agile principles of private industry in the problem identification, development and delivery of meaningful digital solutions.
A citizen should always be at the center of all services and the creation of public policies, participating actively in the development of the government programs by expressing his/her needs and stating what he/she finds useful in an everyday life. We want to apply here this human centric design approach to solving a user’s problem and designing solutions, which is widespread in the world, and we have done it already through several initiatives. Primarily, we applied it through the development of the website www.covidodgovor.me, when together with colleagues from the private and public sector we developed a platform, which is based on the needs of citizens and which at any time should provide timely and accurate information regarding the coronavirus, immunization of citizens and activities to combat COVID-19 infection.
Glasnik: You have recently stated that you are listening carefully to the needs of the business community and announced the reduction of bureaucracy, simplification of procedures in order to further develop the digital economy and strengthen the economic growth. In which segments you realized that there is space for improvement, in terms of reducing bureaucracy and facilitating procedures for entrepreneurs? Can you list the specific activities you plan in these areas and the effects you expect?
T. Srzentić: We have already had several meetings with the representatives of the business community and they shared with us their major problems in digital experiences, which they and their users are facing. We would like to reduce the use of seals, paper and printers as soon as possible, and encourage the administration, citizens and the economy to use digital tools more. In addition to enabling and promoting greater use of digital signatures in the economy, introducing the electronic payment in the business system of public institutions in Montenegro and an instant payment, there is a great need of the economy to electronically submit all kind of requests towards all bodies both at local and national level.
The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, in cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare, worked on the development of the e-Faktura platform, which aims to enable small businesses and entrepreneurs to enter the process of e-fiscalization and digitalization simply and free of charge. This platform will provide all small and medium-sized enterprises, which express interest, with fiscalization of their invoices without additional costs, a system of records on issued invoices and monitoring of their business operations, in accordance with the new Law on Fiscalization.
Glasnik: The Ministry which you are heading and the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro are partners on the ODEON project. To what extent the open data can contribute to creating a new management model? What are the plans of the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media in this area?
T. Srzentić: We are glad that such a project was realized and that one of the results was creating a hub for open data within the Chamber of Economy. Open data is one of the strategic grounds of the public administration work, the essence of which are transparency, usability of this data and the creation of new platforms, and useful applications for the citizens and the business sector. In the forthcoming period, we are highly interested in working together with the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro and other business entities on the improvement and additional development of the open data portal, systems and data exchange within the public sector. Open data and open source platforms are the practice of all experienced governments in the world, which should be a goal and focus for all of us in the coming period, so we will be your strong partner in the field of open data which will bring benefits to both the citizens and the economy.
What we certainly perceive as one of the biggest current challenges in the field of open data is not the technology or people’s knowledge to use the platforms, but the quantity of data and files which are ready to be exposed and open. We must work to build and strengthen a culture of openness and join forces in recognizing the information, which solve the most important problems of our community. Facing this challenge is one of the aspects and long-term goals, which must be tackled by all of us in the public sector, no matter if it is a public institution or self-government.
Glasnik: Which activities are planned for the forthcoming period in a field of digital transformation that will contribute to the restructuring of the entire economy?
T. Srzentić: In the coming period, we will deliver the first digital services to the market, which are open source solutions, aimed at improving the communication and interaction of the public authorities with citizens. Furthermore, we are working on the platform to develop the skills of civil servants and identify career opportunities, which will enable them to use their knowledge and expertise in the best possible way within the Government and its institutions. All solutions to be launched on the Montenegrin market in the coming period, on behalf of our Ministry, are implemented free of charge in cooperation with technology companies from America and Great Britain, with the support of Montenegrin companies from the private sector and IT experts from Montenegro who were adjusting platforms to our market, economy and citizens.
The development of the new Government and Ministry website, new e-Government portal, with the new enhanced e-Services, which are fully digitized, should expand the range of what citizens can do online. In addition to solutions and platforms, we must work on the normative and strategic framework, and therefore in order to review the overall normative and institutional framework for digital governance, the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, in cooperation with UNDP, has been drafting the analysis of this framework. It is an important document, which will analyze the current situation, identify key shortcomings and development blockers. This analysis should show us direction in which the process of digital transformation in Montenegro should be carried out.
Glasnik: You are familiar with the initiative of the Chamber of Economy and other business associations for establishing a digital coalition. Do you think that a digital coalition would be an adequate support to the digitalization of the Montenegrin society and public administration?
T. Srzentić: The structure of this type is necessary, it remains to be seen which form of organization is the most efficient in our country. The field where we see the need for constant interaction and exchange of views between the public administration and the economy is definitely in the area of strategic planning of digital solutions, directions in which Montenegro should develop, as well as changes in legal frameworks which will greatly improve and accelerate digital transformation. So far, this cooperation has been on an enviable level, but in order to accelerate the development of the digital society, we must have in the early stages a common course of action, action plan and clear guidelines.
Competences, expertise and information infrastructure are highly developed in the private sector and these are some areas in which we see that we can cooperate even better. I think that people are the greatest strength of our country and we all must join forces in order to develop the skills and competencies that will position our country among digitally developed ones, which are now our role models.
Glasnik: To what extent could the experiences of the countries from the region and the EU help improve the public administration and digitalization in Montenegro?
T. Srzentić: In the previous period, we have established contacts with a large number of diplomatic representatives and international organizations in Montenegro. These meetings are useful because we can hear their views in relation to the needs of the citizens and the economy, but also for defining areas of practical cooperation. In the area of digitalization, many governments around the world have done a lot, and a lot of it is available on the open platforms, which we can take over, while some of them are already ready to go into production and see the light of day in Montenegro. Our country should use those experiences, which are applicable within our framework. And there is no need to spend money to purchase some custom made solutions, unless necessary, when it is enough to enter the market, and use international contacts, given that all of them are more than ready to give us a helping hand. Certainly, the experiences from the EU are important to us and we have already discussed the modalities of knowledge and experience transfer. On the other hand, we are committed to being a strong partner to the countries of the Western Balkans through cooperation within various regional mechanisms, especially within the digital agenda. We need to join hands and use events such as the Western Balkans Summit, ReSPA, SIGMA, EBRD, EGA, UNDP, UNICEF and OECD international programs and projects for strategic planning and sharing of the best digital practices.
Glasnik: What is your assessment of the situation in the Montenegrin ICT sector and is there space for the contribution to its development through the activities of the Ministry?
T. Srzentić: The Montenegrin ICT sector has huge potential. We want to use the synergy we have with the ICT cluster to make it to the greatest possible extent part of the solution so that they could help us identify the problems of our community. In the previous period, our Ministry has worked on establishing a new digital platform, which will be focused on the ICT sector and provide collaboration and sharing of information and knowledge, digital principles and standards between the companies and the government sector. The aim of this platform is to post and share the entire open source in one place, in order to contribute to the unification and standardization of development, improvement and acceleration of the delivery of a large number of applications, and most importantly knowledge sharing, thanks to which we will provide a faster development of digital services in Montenegro. In this way, we want to increase transparency and open ourselves to our ICT community, which has so far shown great desire, motivation and willingness to help develop state platforms. We all have the same goal, which entails the development and digitalization of the Montenegrin society as a whole.
Glasnik: A survey by the Chamber of Economy of Montenegro showed that 86.5% of employers in the ICT sector have a need to employ new staff, but that most of them have difficulties in finding suitable professional staff in the Montenegrin labour market. How do you comment on the results of this research and how can the Ministry contribute to reducing this gap?
T. Srzentić: As digital transformation, technology and the spread of digital services are not the only and key factor, our efforts and strategy are aimed at educating and empowering young people, who will evolve into program developers, IT experts, project managers, leaders, and thus become the drivers of innovation in Montenegro. In cooperation with other ministries, partners from the academia, private and civil sector, as well as experts from America and Great Britain, we are working on the establishment of the Office for Innovation and Digital Services, which will be a hub for development, implementation and promotion of digital skills, agile processes and tools, which will greatly enhance and encourage the development of the digital society as a whole.
During the first 100 days of the Government, in cooperation with Harvard University, international partners and the local ICT cluster, we agreed on a pilot version of the concept and program of the future Digital Academy for civil servants and relevant actors. All resources, programs, tools, methodologies, lessons as a product of the work of the academy will be publicly available and accessible to interested citizens, organizations, academia and the private sector.
Glasnik: The representatives of the ICT sector hope for a larger number of interactive e-Government services, a higher degree of digital networking in the country, the implementation of the Law on e-Documents and making them equally valid as the traditional ones. Will you meet these expectations in the foreseeable future?
T. Srzentić: Regarding the Law on e-Identification and e-Signature, as well as the Law on e-Document, we are working on their evaluation and we have already noticed that their implementation does not contribute to elimination of business barriers. We have received certain requests on this issue from the private sector and we will try to include certain proposals in the Government's Work Program for this year. Feedback, which we received from the business community, but also from individuals, are initiatives for the introduction of electronic payment in the business system of public institutions in Montenegro, the introduction of new payment systems for financial transactions abroad, encouraging paperless digital interaction which would be based on the use of eID, additional digital services in the health care, as well as the expansion of the range of services of the e-Government portal.
The ICT sector and the private sector are our most important partners and networking of all relevant actors, with the new organization of the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, is a prerequisite for the full digital transformation. We have already hired volunteers and students within the started projects, and we also received the support from the largest companies from Montenegro, which offered the free of charge assistance of their experts and their expertise in the field of project management, marketing and IT development. We are extremely grateful to them for this, especially for the desire, motivation and willingness of all to accelerate the digital transformation. ICT experts from America, Canada, Great Britain have already joined us, and we see opportunities for cooperation, networking and sharing of good ICT practices.
Glasnik: The strategy for the development of the IT sector of Montenegro has been repeatedly announced for years. Its aim is to make certain changes which would bring us closer to the digital society. Do you plan to adopt this important strategy in the next period?
T. Srzentić: The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media is responsible for drafting a significant strategic framework for digital transformation. The plan is to involve all stakeholders in order to draft a document, which will represent an unquestionable direction in the coming period in this area. In addition to involving colleagues from line ministries and representatives of the business organizations, we also plan to include international organizations, in order to incorporate good economic practices of the countries recognized as leaders in this field, both in the region and in the world. We will also take into account all key EU programs and strategies, respecting the specifics of Montenegro. This strategy, among other things, should position the ICT market in Montenegro and, together with other strategic documents concerning the digital society, provide a comprehensive strategic framework for the further development of Montenegro.

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