Driven by the idea of helping decision-makers accelerate the digital transformation of society, Microsoft presented the Digital Futures Index research. The index shows the level of digitalization of 16 European countries, including Croatia. In addition to the current level of digitalization of the country, it detects the most prosperous areas but also the areas where there is more work to accelerate the process of digital transformation and achieve the country’s full potential. We talked to Tatjana Skoko, Advisor for CEE Manufacturing Industries and Representative of Microsoft Croatia, about best results achieved in the country as well as the fields where there is room for improvement.
Why is this research important for Croatia?
This research is important because it shows the current state of digitalization in Croatia – specifically in digital business, digital government and public sector, digital infrastructure, digital sector, and human capital. In addition, it helps us to understand and compare our digitalization level with the one in the neighboring countries, but also Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia. The goal is to define our current position and detect areas for progress.
When it comes to countries in the region, Croatia has excellent results in the field of talent and skills; Slovenia excels in digital competitiveness and digitalization of the education system, and Serbia has above-average results in exports of IT services and the number of women in the IT industry. On the other hand, an excellent opportunity for all countries lies in digitalizing public services.
The question now is how we can support society, learn from each other and accelerate digital development. The fact is that digitally more advanced countries have proven to be greener, wealthier, more innovative, and more competitive.
How can we prevent our experts from leaving the country?
Croatia has many talents and a high level of digital skills, especially among young people aged 16 to 29. Acquiring new skills is one of the crucial ways to retain talent, and luckily, there are companies that invest in talent development. It is essential to ensure that talents stay in Croatia by creating new jobs and opportunities for IT professionals and entrepreneurs. Croatia’s entrepreneurial talent is also reflected in the number of startups that are above the average for Central and Eastern Europe.
Croatian startups can use the support we provide through our Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, which combines technology, expert guidance, and support they need to reach the next stage of their development. Our platform allows Microsoft-qualified startups to use free Azure loans worth up to $ 150,000, get free access to development and productivity tools, benefit from mentoring support from business leaders and technology experts, and receive special startup offers from Microsoft partners.
How much does the ICT sector contribute to the domestic economy?
Croatian technology companies are extremely important for the economy. The ICT sector contributes enormously to the country’s GDP and drives digital development as technology companies take the lead in introducing digital tools and innovating business processes.
Croatia is on the right track. Digital growth has accelerated over the last two years; for example, citizens are increasingly interacting with public institutions through digital technology. What is missing is a greater number of digitalized public services. A good example from which we can learn is Estonia, where 99% of public services can be requested and obtained online.
The overall level of digital development in Croatia is slightly below the average in Central and Eastern European countries. How can we accelerate digital transformation?
Every business is being transformed into a technology business because digital innovations are shaping entire industries today. The digital transformation is driven by data, universal access to cloud computing, and the potential of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence. The most successful companies will be those that are likely to introduce digital technology such as cloud, IoT, and artificial intelligence. Croatia is highly ranked in cloud use. In order to be competitive with European countries, we need to invest in IT professionals and their continuous improvement.
An excellent example of a successful transformation in the automotive industry with the introduction of digital, innovative technologies is the Neostar platform, which provides an entirely new experience of buying a car from the comfort of your home in a safe and creative way. The Neostar platform has been developed on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, which offers a full range of functionalities in the field of artificial intelligence, such as machine learning and neural networks, which was key to achieving the innovation of the Neostar platform.
What are the priorities in digitalization?
Creating a robust, sustainable, and inclusive economy. The fact is that more digitally advanced countries have higher levels of innovation and productivity, which makes them more attractive to professionals. The particular focus should be on small and medium-sized enterprises. Small and medium-sized companies make up 99% of business systems in Croatia, and they are the drivers of the economy. The role of the owners and leaders of these companies is to encourage change in the Croatian economy. With this comes the need for digital education of employees to enable the transformation of the organization.
SMEs are becoming more technologically advanced and have an increased need and desire for digital and cloud services. Therefore, we are proud of our strategic partnerships with Hrvatski Telekom and A1 Telekom, where we are working together to accelerate the digital transformation of small and medium-sized companies by offering digital technologies such as Microsoft 365 packages and education.
We are increasingly embracing hybrid work. How does the role of a leader change in this different business model?
I believe that successful leaders inspire their teams through their personal qualities, expertise, and integrity. The hybrid way of working implies a certain level of separation from the team, so empathy and the ability to understand the needs of others become important factors in creating thriving teams.
A leader is a person who builds a positive organizational culture and helps employees understand the purpose of the company, inspires them and works together with them to achieve that purpose. It is a more challenging task in a hybrid environment but utterly attainable with mutual respect and open communication.
How is Microsoft contributing to the accelerated transformation in Croatia?
Microsoft has been present in Croatia for more than 25 years. In this period, we have realized countless successful projects. We continue to work with our partner ecosystem to raise awareness of the importance of digital business transformation and to be a trusted partner in digital transformation to accelerate local innovation and growth, both for private sector companies, the public sector, and NGOs.
An important initiative to support society in accelerating progress is our Digital Skills Initiative, which has enabled more than 36,000 people in Croatia to acquire digital skills through free courses at LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learning, and the GitHub Learning Lab. We have established cooperation with numerous faculties throughout Croatia, from Rijeka, Opatija, and Dubrovnik to Zagreb and Varaždin, to enable students to upgrade their skills and be more competitive in the labor market.
We are also looking forward to cooperating with the Lipik Center for Artificial Intelligence in the field of acquiring skills. Just recently, we held additional training for students and startups in Lipik on artificial intelligence and cyber security. I believe this is just the beginning of a long and successful collaboration.
How do you see Croatia in the future?
Croatia has a strong potential and all the prerequisites to become the digital center of this part of Europe and to base its economic development on innovation and modern technologies, such as artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is a technology that defines our age and can do a lot for people, industry, and society, and the possibilities of application are innumerable. The power of technology lies in solving challenges. Croatia is on the right path in using technology to accelerate economic and social development and become a wealthier, greener, more innovative, and competitive country in which people live better.