Mass vaccination in Serbia is the most effective and obvious demonstration of the benefits that digitization of public administration brings. In the last month, nearly 600,000 Serbian citizens received an email or a text message signed “Your E-uprava”.
“The electronic system used to set up vaccination against Covid-19 is the culmination of our work so far. At the same time, it is the sum of the experience we gained in the process of digitization, especially during the pandemic,” says Dr Mihailo Jovanović, director of the Government Office for Information Technology and Electronic Administration, which he has been helming since 2017.
The pandemic has accelerated the implementation of many administrative projects, such as electronic registration of children in nurseries, digital registration of high school graduates and online tax returns. In the past year, what items have been added to this list?
We have been focusing on services that are related to the pandemic. One of the first systems we developed was the Donirajplazmu.gov.rs website. Anyone who had developed antibodies to the coronavirus could apply on this website to donate plasma. The whole process – from blood donation to plasma delivery to hospitals – is monitored. Secondly, we have also ensured that citizens, who registered with the E-uprava web portal, could receive PCR test results via email. This alleviated some of the burdens on health centres and hospitals. The next step was to ensure that people could schedule the PCR testing online upon personal request.
Is the mass immunization system the most complex compared to other systems?
Electronic reporting and calling procedures are already in place. What’s new is the tracking of every vaccine vial, from the moment they land at the airport to delivery to central and regional warehouses and then to health centres and hospitals. We knew where each dose was at all times. And this is critically important because, for example, when it is taken out of the refrigerator located at the Torlak Institute where it is stored at -70 degrees Celsius, the Pfizer vaccine must be injected within five days. The Sputnik V vaccine, on the other hand, is stored at -20 degrees, and the shelf life after leaving the warehouse is only two hours. Without an efficient information system, such a complex logistical operation would not be possible. At the same time, mass vaccination is the most effective and obvious demonstration of the benefits brought by the digitization of government administration, in this case of its health segment.
Have other parts of government also unexpectedly and rapidly moved to the digital track?
In a situation where direct physical contact has ceased to be an option, even the biggest bureaucrats in the administration have realized that digitization is the only solution. Due to unintended circumstances, we have already crossed the line, after which there is no turning back. Both citizens and the administration have overcome their initial scepticism. It seems to me that both are now eagerly awaiting to see what new services will be available. This is extremely important, because without enthusiasm, no system, no matter how perfect, will work on its own.
How far away is the day when the entire state administration will be just one click away to Serbian citizens?
Our goal over the next three years is to establish an electronic government that allows full online communication between citizens and the state, using computers and mobile phones. And for that, in addition to E-uprava, we all need to become e-citizens, so to speak. It is sufficient to open an account on the e-uprava website to access all other public administration web portals – from the tax-related services to the electronic student records, where parents can see their children’s school grades at any time. Currently, Serbia has nearly 400,000 “e-citizens.” Since the vaccination has begun, on average, that number has increased by 600 every day.
At the end of last year, the state-run Data Centre was opened in Kragujevac, which is five times larger than the one in Belgrade. What will be stored in this state-of-the-art database?
I regret that this important event has been overshadowed by the coronavirus-induced crisis. And everything about this event is interesting, starting with the criteria for choosing the location. The place had to be close to a motorway, in the vicinity of a university that would provide staff, in an area where there hadn’t been floods and strong earthquakes in the last hundred years, far from military industries or chemical plants and gas stations. Another condition was that there be no commercial flights over that location. We had a tough time finding such a piece of land which had to be at least four acres in size. For now, we have constructed a building that will house the Data Centre, where data from state and local government agencies will be stored in an electronic format. The second facility under construction will be used for data storage by the Ministry of Interior, the Serbian Army and the Security Intelligence Agency (BIA). In addition to the highest standards of data protection, energy security is also guaranteed. Power is supplied from two sources and even if both of these sources fail at the same time, there are units that allow continuous operation for 96 hours after a power outage, without having to refuel.
Are there any companies interested in the services of the Data Centre in Kragujevac?
We already have a dozen of signed contracts, for the period of 5, 10 and even 15 years, with companies such as the IBM from the United States and Huawei from China. There is no better validation of trust in the State of Serbia and its experts than the fact that such giants use our resources to store their corporate data.
This post is also available in: Italiano