When we thought about digital technologies before this year, two mental images first came to mind: a computer in the room and a smartphone in hand. We used both every day, for work and for leisure. Nevertheless, we treated them as simple tools, no more important than a screwdriver or a screw. In short, the computer and the phone were urgent needs, but not much more.
With the spread of covid-19, however, we as a society began to think differently. The new coronavirus pandemic has caused a revolution in the use of digital technologies in our society. What used to be just an addition or an upgrade has become the core of our new way of living – in companies and other organizations, and in the circle of our families. We are beginning to realize that at a time when we all need to stay home, without digital technologies we cannot be in touch with others and continue to thrive.
When we talk about the digital revolution, we should not think that such a change could be avoided. All the technologies we are currently using intensively have been available for some time. At least two decades ago, the unstoppable force of digitalization began to change the course of our lives almost imperceptibly, but decisively.
For decades, we had to spend hours and hours at the table in December to be able to calculate our income tax accurately. This now only takes a few minutes on the eDavki online platform. Pupils and students were looking for increasingly amazing ways to record slides in lectures. Schools and universities now use platforms such as eAssistant and e-classrooms. On the road, we repeatedly forgot that we had to adjust our driving speed because we didn’t see the traffic sign put up. Today, a smart board is placed in the same place, which automatically measures our driving speed and praises us for complying with regulations or warns us to slow down. Similar changes could be made indefinitely, for any industry, work process, service, and so on. It is essential that digitalization is not new to us. We just didn’t notice it.
What has changed in 2020 is mostly our attitude towards it. It has become a part of our lives that we cannot imagine now without its influence. The coronavirus pandemic is essential as the cause that we have been able to complete the work of several years in just two months. These tools, these technologies and these application processes would sooner or later become for us what they are now – the reality of public and private life.
How to succeed and how to adapt in the age of the digital revolution? Are there differences between the digitization of the public and private sectors? These are just two of the many issues on which the panel discussion Digital Transformation in the Public and Private Sector took place, which was organized at the end of October in cooperation with the US Embassy in Slovenia by the IPM Digital Institute. Boštjan Koritnik, Minister of Public Administration; Katja Mohar Bastar, Director of the Digital Center of Slovenia (DIHS); mag. Nenad Šutanovac, director of the Association for Informatics and Telecommunications and Order. prof. dr. Peter Trkman, full professor at the Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, took part in the discussion.
The speakers were united in the idea that the digitalization of the entire Slovenian society is necessary. Measures in support of digitalization, such as the further introduction of new digital technologies and the raising of citizens’ digital competences, should be encouraged as much as possible. This applies to both the public and private sectors, individuals and their communities.
But despite the great feat of many companies, public institutions and non-governmental organizations to be able to operate successfully at a distance during the pandemic, we cannot avoid one fact. In 2020, the Slovenian economy suffered great damage due to the pandemic. Many companies and other organizations have found, and will continue to find, that they will not be able to carry out a complete digital transformation on time with their own resources. In other words, they need help.
And is already underway. From the spring months of 2019, the Slovenian Enterprise Fund (SPS) and DIHS offer and take care of the implementation of four umbrella vouchers in the field of digitalization for various types and functions of companies. Each voucher includes co-financing of a company’s investment in one of the four specific fields of its digital transformation (preparation of a digital strategy, raising digital competencies, digital marketing and cyber security).
DIHS is part of a network of digital innovation hubs in the Member States of the European Union (EU). The Digital Europe program, part of the EU’s central financial perspective for 2021-2027, will provide European companies, public institutions and non-governmental organizations with co-financing for their digital transformation totaling € 9.2 billion. The aim of allocating these funds is to help beneficiaries achieve a comprehensive transformation of their operations. In this way, they will be able to become suitably competitive, successful and proactively focused digital actors in the coming decades. According to the European institutions and the governments of the Member States, such an investment is urgently needed if the European economy and European society are to close their gap with the US and East Asia in terms of their digitalization and economic competitiveness.
In connection with institutions such as SPS and SPIRIT Slovenia, DIHS also participates in offering other options for co-financing the digitization of specific areas, such as application testing to support innovative companies in digitization, introduction of new or improved products in the field of wood processing and treatment, tackling the effects of a pandemic based on investment in the use of digital business, etc. The funds that a company can receive upon successful application in the tender for the introduction of new or improved products in the field of processing and treatment of wood and wood products amount to € 500,000, which is not just a symbolic sum. For 2021, the SPS again announces the issuance of vouchers and tenders in the field of digitalization.
SPS and SPIRIT in cooperation with DIHS are not the only initiators of investments in digital transformation in Slovenia. In particular, the Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) and the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology (MGRT) have in recent years encouraged both private and legal entities to start using digital technologies, approaches and practices in the widest possible way, in order to increase business efficiency and quality of life. Their initiatives have been very successful; in 2020, the number of digital identity applications was higher than the sum of applications in the previous ten years.
Both the MPA and the MGRT want digital technologies to be introduced in as many areas as possible. These include standardization in the field of information and communication technologies, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and, last but not least, smart cities and communities.
The last area in particular deserves more attention. Without the digitalization of cities and communities, which will include economic, urban, mobility, educational, technological and cultural changes, it will not be possible to carry out a digital transformation of society as a whole. For the full success of digital technologies, practices and approaches, the latter is essential. Digital cities, communities and municipalities will be key starting points so that the benefits and advantages of digitization can reach every household. We will all have to digitalize, from children in kindergartens to the elderly and those in retirement.
To conclude, I would like to reiterate the idea that digitization is inevitable. It is inevitable in the same way that industrialization was inevitable 100 or 200 years ago. This is not to say that there cannot be obstacles, barriers and other dangers in our digital path. No one can guarantee that the whole process will run smoothly and at the same speed as now. Potential problems and collateral damage must be taken seriously. However, the following remains clear: if we tackle digitalization too late, too slowly and to a limited extent, we will not succeed in it. We will not be able to take full advantage of its benefits and advantages, and at the same time our competitors will leave us far behind. Slovenia must not lag behind other countries that invest extensively in support of their digitalization.
That is why I want the current wave of enthusiasm for digitalization to last as long as possible and for Slovenian politics, the Slovenian economy and the entire Slovenian society to ride it to the fullest. This will enable greater economic growth, greater resilience of society to sudden crises, lower workloads and a better quality of life.