The future lies in digitalization and digital skills. Any country that aims to be a major player in the global economy or strives to reach the leading countries must focus on digitalization. Based on the main indicators, Macedonia lags behind the EU and the world in digitalization in all three segments: citizens, businesses and government.
Eurostat data show that 32% of the population in 2019 had only a basic level or above basic level of digital skills compared to 56% of the population in the EU-28.
The use of information technology (ICT) in enterprises is small. Only 4% of Macedonian companies received orders online (at least 1% of all orders) compared to the EU-27 average of 18% (and 26% in Serbia, for 2020). Macedonian businesses feel pressured to be innovative and competitive, but their full understanding of the potential of digital transformation is still low (although rapid digitalisation was fueled by the Covid-19 pandemic).
Also, e-government data show that only 29% of Macedonian citizens used the Internet to interact with public authorities, less than half of the EU average (64%). The government should continue to digitize public services and use ICT for democratization, transparency and accountability. In addition, digitalization has great potential for reducing clientelism, bribery and corruption. This, together with the expansion of broadband access and the implementation of 5G networks, will lead to increased digitalization of a society that “leaves no one behind”.
Hence, there is a need to move quickly and create conditions for greater use of ICT in government services, companies (e-commerce and e-business) and citizens. The conditions for the use of ICT should be created and provided by the Government, in partnership with IT companies and business organizations. Several countries give good examples, such as the Nordic and Baltic countries, Singapore and Switzerland. A fully functioning e-government should not only be an opportunity, but should quickly become a reality for all citizens.
Basic indicators for the use of ICT and digital skills
According to Graph 1, 79% of households in Macedonia had access to the Internet in 2020. In comparison, Macedonia is in the penultimate place among the countries in the analysis according to this indicator. Also, in Macedonia, there has been some deterioration in terms of reducing the percentage of households with Internet access compared to 2019.
Graph 1: Household with internet access (in %)
Graph 2 shows data on the type of devices used to access the Internet. Namely, the data for 2018 show a dominant use of mobile devices for online access, which is the case in Macedonia and in the average of the EU-27 countries. This indicates that the majority of the population would not face significant problems in accessing digital services offered by governments / institutions / companies in EU countries and Macedonia, of course if the same services are developed and offered on the market. In the case of Macedonia, the offer of those services is reduced to a minimum. For example, e-government data show that only 29% of Macedonian citizens used the Internet to interact with public authorities, less than half of the EU-27 average (64%).
Graph 2: Devices used for internet access (2018, in %)
In addition, Graph 3 shows data on computer use on a daily basis in the countries of the sample. This data can be taken as a basis for the potential development of digital skills of the population in each of the countries, i.e. If the use of electronic devices in everyday life is greater, the opportunity for learning and progress in using the multitude of digital tools increases. It is also the basis for further development of the digital economy in which business processes can be significantly facilitated, the services offered by the institutions can be improved and the overall economic activity and productivity of the citizens, businesses and the government can be increased. Based on these conclusions, when considering the case of Macedonia, it is noted that the percentage of computer use is below the average of the EU-27 countries and is in 2nd place out of a total of 4 countries in the Western Balkans when it comes to computer use on a daily basis. If a comparison is made with the most developed countries in the sample (Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia), the conclusion is that Macedonia needs further progress to achieve comprehensive and coherent use of digital tools that already dominate the modern digital economy.
Graph 3: Percentage of population that uses a computer on a daily basis (2017, in %)
Consequently, Chart 4 shows the data on the possession of basic or average digital skills of the population in the countries of the sample. In this regard, Macedonia and its population are close to the European bottom in possessing digital skills. Slightly less than one third of the population in Macedonia has basic or average digital skills, compared to 56% of the population of the EU-28 average. This percentage is similar for the population of neighboring Balkan countries, with the exception of Serbia.
Graph 4: Population that possesses basic or average digital skills (2019, in %)
 When this data is observed through a time dimension, Macedonia has a deterioration of the parameters. From the beginning of the measurement in 2015, when 37% of the population possesses basic or average digital skills, in 2019 it reaches 32% of the population, i.e. a drop of 5 p.p. according to data available on Eurostat.
When looking at the data in Graph 5, for digital skills of the population, the surveyed individuals answer the question: “In your country, to what extent do the active population possess sufficient digital skills (e.g. computer skills, basic coding, digital reading)? [1 = not all; 7 = to a large extent] ”. Following the aggregation of responses and the processing of data by the World Economic Forum, the results are published in the annual Global Competitiveness Index, which is an indicator of each country’s competitiveness in the global order based on a variety of indicators, including digital skills. According to this indicator, Macedonia is at the bottom of the sample of countries subject to this analysis. Despite some deterioration of the indicator in neighboring countries (Albania and Bosnia) between 2018 and 2019, Macedonia remains in last place. This is a serious alarm about the need for a strong commitment to digital literacy of the Macedonian population, as a basis for rapid economic development.
Graph 5: Digital skills among the population (on a scale of 1 to 7 – best)
Source: Global Competitiveness Index, available at: https://tcdata360.worldbank.org/indicators/h945a9708?country=MKD&indicator=41400&countries=SRB,ALB,KSV,MNE,BIH&viz=line_chart&years=2017,2019
Any country that aims to be a major player in the global economy or strives to reach the leading countries must focus on digitalization. The analysis of the available indicators for the development of digital skills shows that Macedonia lags behind European countries in all indicators of digitalization and digital skills, in all three segments: citizens, businesses and government. Unfortunately, Macedonia also lags behind in most indicators and compared to the countries of the Western Balkans.
Hence, there is a need to move quickly and create conditions for greater use of ICT in public administration, companies (e-commerce and e-business) and citizens. This is achievable through the implementation of solutions for full digitalization and interconnection of services offered by various state entities to citizens and business, as well as from business to citizens. The conditions for the use of ICT (ie infrastructure) should be created and provided by the government, in partnership with IT companies and business organizations. A fully functioning e-government should not only be an opportunity, but should quickly become a reality for all citizens.