Serbian magazine Bizlife interviewed Milan Gospic, country manager of Serbia within Adriatics/Southeast region in CEMA.
Could you give us a little insight into the time when Microsoft came to Serbia and how it looked back then?
Microsoft established its presence In Serbia in 2001 by organizing the first Sinergija, when we recognized immense talent and potential within the Serbian IT community. Since then, we have been dedicated to digitalization and empowering organizations to harness the power of technology for growth and innovation. We believe we are in the midst of the next massive shift in computing with AI, an inflection point similar to the magnitude of the personal computer, the internet, mobile devices and the cloud. With this shift comes immense opportunities for people and organizations. In a world of increasing economic complexity, AI has the power to revolutionize many types of work, bringing people greater satisfaction and providing substantive productivity gains and a differentiator for organizations.
In 2003 Microsoft officially opened office in Serbia, and only two years later, we opened the Microsoft Development Center in Belgrade (MDCS). MDCS has become an integral part of the Serbian technology ecosystem, fostering innovation and expertise in the IT industry. Even though it has started as a startup, now, Microsoft Serbia and its Development Centre employs over 650 people.
For 18 years MDCS has been at forefront of advancing the foundations of computing and translating new scientific understanding into innovative technologies to create value for Microsoft customers and broad benefit to society. We value our employees, and our colleagues appreciate that. I am proud of the fact, which was also confirmed by the recent research – our company is voted the most desirable IT employer in Serbia.
As Azure AI has become one of the most complete AI platforms today, it is also important to mention that the Azure Team, working in Belgrade, develops some of the most significant data processing services in the Microsoft Cloud. Our investment in AI spans the entire company, from Teams and Outlook to Bing, and it’s our goal to democratize our breakthroughs in AI through Azure to help people and organizations be more productive and solve the most pressing problems of our society. We’re committed to making the promise of AI real — and doing it responsibly.
What are the company’s greatest achievements in the past two decades?
To succeed in the local market, that market needs to have a certain maturity and readiness to embrace new technologies and innovative trends. For the last 20 years, Digital Transformation has been Microsoft’s core mission in Serbia.
Through collaboration with our partners, we have assisted businesses in embracing digital solutions, optimizing their operations, and creating opportunities for success. Our advanced technologies and expertise have positioned us at the forefront of shaping Serbia’s digital landscape.
Therefore, one of our greatest achievements is the ecosystem of customers, partners and public institutions we have built in Serbia. I proudly emphasize that Microsoft has collaborated with numerous organisations and IT partners in our country, ranging from the government to the private sector, large companies, as well as small and medium enterprises, including startups and civil organisations. Just recently, Microsoft and the TS Ventures fund of Telekom Srbija have signed a cooperation agreement, and the Government of Serbia is using Microsoft technologies, leading to modernization of applications and infrastructure with increased security.
These strong connections have ignited the digital revolution, transformed individual organizations and had a significant impact on the overall economy, creating jobs and fostering innovation.
Another thing that I am proud of is our people. We are now over 700 people company that is working on digitalization in country and region and people in our Development Center that are making cutting edge technology used over the globe. During past 20 years, as we were growing, we have supported growth of Serbian IT community and education in the country. As you probably know, Microsoft conducted the Digital Futures Index research that analyzed the levels of digitalization in 16 European countries, including our country. This helped us gaining a clear picture of Serbia in relation to the region and identify its major advantages. It was so encouraging to learn that Serbia performs well in terms of talent, with above-average results in the export of IT services and the number of women in the IT industry. Microsoft Serbia seeks to create an environment where all employees can be their authentic selves in alignment with our company values. We use our global influence to drive positive change, within our company and across the communities where we live and work.
We know that one of the principles of the company is to invest in the local community. How has this been done in Serbia?
We have consistently contributed to the development of young talent. In 2009, we organized Bubble Cup, a software competition aimed at inspiring and promoting the younger generations in Serbia. Over the past nine years, our Women Know IT program has educated and encouraged 1,000 girls to pursue a career in the IT industry after their education. In 2017, we partnered with the NGO Petlja to promote coding education for children, helping young people in Serbia develop and apply their talents in their own country.
Also, we launched the Global Skills Initiative, and 60,000 people in Serbia have benefited from this type of digital skills education.
I cannot fail to mention our support to the startup community through collaboration with our partners, as it is a direct investment in digitalization that strongly impacts the overall development of the country. Local startups can apply for support through the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, which combines technology, expert leadership, and support to help them reach the next stage of their development. We provide startups with the opportunity to build or enhance their business and sell their solutions through Microsoft channels and market access, along with Azure credits worth up to $150,000.
Supporting the community and investing in young talent are essential parts of our Microsoft culture. According to data from the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, tens of thousands of students have enrolled in IT disciplines, and their motivation is a testament to the development of future IT professionals in Serbia. On the other hand, for us, it is direct confirmation that we are doing an excellent job in the community.
What are the plans for the upcoming period, both globally and locally?
AI is a defining technology of our time, and we are optimistic about what it can and will do for people, industry, and society. Microsoft’s advancements in AI are grounded in our company mission to help every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We’re committed to making the promise of AI real — and doing it responsibly.
The next era of AI – large AI models and generative AI; driven by progress in supercomputing and machine learning, the industry has been able to train large AI models that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks using natural language —from summarizing and generating text, to generating photorealistic images, to writing sophisticated computer code. These AI models are already helping with tasks like content summarization, document management, and streamlining sales flows, and could eventually even extend to areas like designing new molecules for medicines or creating manufacturing recipes for 3D models. Microsoft is already using these models in a broad range of scenarios across our services like Bing, Office 365, Dynamics 365, Power Platform, GitHub and LinkedIn. And we’re democratizing access to this technology and making these models available for others to build upon through Azure.
One of our future perspectives is focused on security, as the main challenges that companies, governments, or organizations face in defending against various threats include lack of awareness and training, outdated security measures, and the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals.
And we cannot forget about sustainability. Our company looks ahead when it comes to this issue. The goals are global, but we act locally to achieve them. Microsoft is advancing towards a more sustainable future. We have accelerated research in sustainability and enabled our customers and partners to build sustainable solutions using the power of AI and digital technology. We conducted a study that showed Microsoft Azure solutions can reduce carbon footprint by up to 98%. We are also building the Planetary Computer, a catalogue of global environmental data, and we are committed to achieving a negative carbon footprint by 2030 with the goal of eliminating all past emissions and producing zero waste by 2050.
Finally, Milan, in just two sentences, how would you “sum up” 20 years of Microsoft in Serbia?
If I say that recent Microsoft survey found that 89% of employees and business decision makers that have access to automation and AI-powered tools feel more fulfilled because they can spend time on work that truly matters, and as a result, 9 in 10 hope they can apply AI solutions to even more tasks and activities, I dare to believe that in the last 20 years, and in the next 20 years, as well, Microsoft is going to be a successful contributor to a more resilient and competitive society in Southeast Europe. We will continue to invest in innovation, collaborate with our partners, and empower businesses and individuals with the tools and resources they need to thrive in the digital age. We are here, because remember, these are just the first 20 years.