Or why digitalization in Bulgaria is "loading" so slowly
The development of targeted national information society policy began in 1999. Several strategic documents were published at that time. In 2002, the Government also adopted the E-Government Strategy that set the beginning of practical actions to build an eGovernment in accordance with the recommendations and the requirements of the community law. After that dull reminder of the facts from more than 18 years ago, let’s go back to the present. The slow “loading” of the eGovernment and the digital economy and public services as a whole continues.
At the beginning of 2018, the National Assembly obliged the Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev to present a "report on the current status of the developed horizontal components for e-government and the ways to accelerate them”, by 31st March. Until then, and at the present moment, we are living in a one of a kind paradox. Although our country is "in a very good position to be an early integrator and tester of complex IT solutions", as stated in the Innovation.bg 2017 report, only about 50% of Bulgarian companies have a website, and in the EU only Romania is behind us. Except for the ICT sector, we record the lowest share of company revenues realized through the Internet - less than 4%, with an EU average of 16.4%. According to NSI, only 10.5% of the companies in Bulgaria sold their products and services online in 2016.
Why the ICT sector continues to be a driver for the development of the economy, but the digitalization of other sectors, citizens and administration "is loading so slowly"? According to Dr. Todor Galev, Senior Expert at the Applied Research and Communication Foundation, one of the reasons for the e-delay is the fact that the development of the Internet environment and the ICT products and services is driven mainly by the so called “infotainment”, that is, the search of information for entertainment. He cites the composite index that summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance and tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness, according to which Bulgaria has a serious deficits in the fields of Human Capital, Use of Internet, Integration of Digital Technology and Provision of Digital Services because of the public administration (on the figures).
Due to the lack of developed electronic services and products - in the administration, as well as in other areas that offer public services, such as education and healthcare, there is no need for the citizens and the businesses to learn more complex skills for handling new technologies. In turn, this does not create stimuli for the administration, and the so-called traditional economic sectors, to turn from a partly analogue to digital users and entrepreneurs, or to leave paper receipts in the past.
"In the last 10 years we have witnessed the spending of huge public funds for the development of eGovernment with a dubious effect. One of the most violated provisions remains Article 2 of the E-Government Act that obliges organizations performing public functions and providing public services to exchange data electronically, instead of requiring from citizens and organizations to provide or prove data that has already been collected. The main reason for this system flow is the reluctance of the administration to drastically cut or reduce its income from fees for issuing reports and certificates. Postponing the project for the introduction of electronic identification in identity documents once again also contributes significantly to the issue, as it means increased costs for the consumers, complication and more administrative obstacles to the widespread use of electronic public services," the expert explains.
Of course, there are sectors that offer to their consumers services almost entirely on the Internet. According to the Innovation.bg 2017 report, these are the market for used cars, renting and selling of real estate properties, labour supply and demand. In the B2B segment, ordering spare parts for the car, buying black and white goods and computers happens also almost entirely online. Shopping through mobile applications and online banking are among the most popular ways for offering services and communicating with consumers.
The big challenge before the eGovernment and other analogue economic sectors is to adopt a new approach towards the citizens. They are consumers that are ready to use new products and services based on mobile technologies, as long as they are convenient to use, lightweight and accessible on different devices. As practice shows in recent years, such innovations are made mainly by startups, small or newly-formed companies, or highly specialized Bulgarian companies. Examples include the system for e-tickets in the public transport Tickey, for SMS parking of Sirma Mobile, the Citizens platform for signals to institutions. The more facilitated and stimulated the participation of these companies in the digitalization of the administrative services is, the closer their offers will be to consumers.
However, in order for the institutions to be "intelligent", or "smart", it is necessary for them to go through a successful digital transformation of their work processes. This means not only to make paper documents electronic, but also to go through an entire re-engineering of work processes and daily procedures in an organization on the basis of the possibilities offered by modern ICT. This will happen by infusing “new blood” in the administration. At the moment, few developers are tempted to work in institutions, since they receive much better offers from the private sector. At the same time, the country already has a shortage of IT specialists, and the education in this field fails to satisfy the market demand, neither in quantity nor in the quality of the graduating specialists. Common digital literacy also lags behind the average European level.
Digitization in Bulgaria will be fully "loaded" when the fear of analogue businesses and administration that the web will take away their job disappears. This will probably take time and effort, because with 26% availability of computers on the workplaces, it is hard to believe the opposite - that IT solutions will not wipe out the human factor. Until then, we will become digital the hard way - when there is no other way.