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Slovenia’s digital development journey: Q&A with Boštjan Koritnik

ITU News caught up with Slovenia’s Minister of Public Administration, Boštjan Koritnik, to hear how the country is using technology to fight COVID-19, advance digital development, and eventually bring meaningful connectivity to all its citizens.

1. How do information and communication technologies (ICTs) enable sustainable development in Slovenia?

We aim to become a society powered by digital technologies, which offer the potential to bring benefits to all of humanity. Digitalization can help us maintain our economic competitiveness, globally. At the same time, we see this as a unique opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.

Slovenia seeks a green digital transformation for a healthier world.

In our Smart Specialization Strategy and our Digital Slovenia 2020 development strategy, we encourage companies and public-sector organizations to integrate digital technologies fully into their business processes, products and services, which we believe will improve efficiency and spur further innovation. Digital public administration is a prerequisite for agile decision-making and efficient services. One key European Union (EU) benchmark, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), places Slovenia among the countries with room to expand their e-government capacity. Simple tools and user demand have proven a winning combination. Slovenia has made some strides with advanced digital technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI). A National Programme on Artificial Intelligence is now set for government approval. Digitalization is well underway in automotive components and assembly, e-commerce, tourism, and material sciences.

Along with Digital Slovenia 2030, we are preparing national Cybersecurity and Digital Public Administration strategies to define our precise goals.

Real digital transformation begins with the trust of citizens and businesses. We must therefore raise awareness about the benefits of digitalization and the tools needed to achieve it. We are also preparing a project to stimulate demand for digital services, partly through radio and television promotion. The ultimate purpose is to increase Internet use for services like e-government, e-banking, e-commerce, and e-health. Another forthcoming project seeks NGOs to implement digital training programmes for people over the age of 55.

2. What are the main actions the government is taking to connect the unconnected in the country?
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has accelerated digitalization. However, it has exposed some shortcomings and risks, too, which we must address together in the post-COVID recovery period. Many Slovenian households lack adequate broadband connections. Our goal for 96 per cent of households to receive Internet access of at least 100 Mb/s, and the remaining 4 per cent at least 30 Mb/s.

We plan to tackle white spots – places without broadband coverage – using public funds.

After carrying out a market survey, we will prepare a public tender to co-finance the necessary expansion of coverage. We must also ensure the security of our 5G networks, which promise to become the backbone of future societies and economies. Slovenia, in line with EU policies, signed the Joint Declaration on 5G Security with the United States. Uptake of the EU toolbox for 5G cybersecurity is also progressing well.

Finally, I should stress the importance of data. Smart use of data can be a powerful growth tool, creating new jobs, shaping new business models, and creating unprecedented innovation opportunities. We are increasingly using AI to support government decision-making. Slovenia’s national open data portal, OPSI, provides a public-sector data hub. It’s free to use, and the data is published in machine-readable formats under an open license, which allows continual output of new analyses and applications.

3. How have ICTs helped Slovenia to address the COVID-19 health and economic crisis?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Slovenian digital sector has provided crucial communication and service infrastructure to shore up the economy, maintain government services and the education system, and safeguard our entire society.

Thanks to the Internet, most citizens have continued working, learning, and carrying out other activities from home. COVID-19 has shown, meanwhile, how good statistics help to make better decisions.

For instance, Slovenia has developed a mobile app, #StayHealthy, to help contain and control the spread of new infections and reduce the burden on national health facilities.

Users can install it on their smartphones voluntarily and free of charge.

4. Slovenia will hold the European Council Presidency from July 2021. What will be your main priorities in terms of digital development?

During Slovenia’s European Council Presidency, we plan to work actively on the Artificial Intelligence Act, which is scheduled to be published by the European Commission in the second quarter of 2021. September will be “AI Month”, with an AI showroom and other events and activities planned to happen in Slovenia. At a conference on AI hosted by my ministry on 14 September, we will introduce some results of our work, highlight best practices, and discuss key AI issues with Slovenian scientists who are internationally recognized in the field.

Another important theme during our Council Presidency will be the introduction of advanced technologies to create the European Gigabit Society.

This goes hand in hand with strengthening cybersecurity, bridging digital divides, and establishing advanced networks. We will also focus on building up EU resilience against large-scale cyber-attacks.

5. How can cooperation with ITU and the broader international community help to advance regional and national priorities for digital development?

Digital development entails the transformation of industrial and economic processes, as well as health services, education, agriculture, and public administration. This builds resilience and allows a stronger response to critical challenges, including the current pandemic.

Cooperation with ITU helps us expand our digital infrastructure, ensure digital inclusion, and strengthen digital skills.

It helps us to provide equal access to ICTs, foster the necessary skills among all groups in society, including people with disabilities and young people, and thereby maximize the benefits of digital technologies.

ITU programmes can also help to advance regional and national ecosystems for digital innovation.

Systemic approaches are needed to close the growing gap between different regions and encourage entrepreneurship. Cooperation can boost confidence, among both people and institutions, in the use of digital technologies. Improving broadband infrastructure and ensuring secure services, combined with ITU engagement, should enable all our citizens, including children, to confidently use digital technologies in everyday life.

Join the upcoming ITU Regional Forum for Europe on Meaningful Connectivity organized with the support of the Ministry of Public Administration of the Republic of Slovenia.

Image credit: Greenvalley Pictures via Pexels

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