Digital transformation in rural areas

All spheres of life are affected by digital transformation. For many agricultural holdings, access to high-speed Internet opens up new opportunities to gather information more efficiently, to manage the production and marketing of products and services. Access to the information superhighway is now as important as, for example, good traffic connections for securing jobs in rural non-agricultural enterprises and for maintaining the attractiveness of villages as living areas. In terms of demographic changes, much is expected from the opportunities that intelligent digital concepts can open up for basic services, for example in the health sector.

Romania’s rural environment has undergone numerous changes, being, today, extremely important from the perspective of the significant share of people living in these areas. The changes in the rural environment were highlighted with Romania’s accession to the structures of the European Union, at which time the rural environment began to benefit from a series of specific programs and support measures, especially in the regions located in the lowlands, where the main activity is represented of agriculture.

Romania has experienced increased use of digital interaction with public authorities since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the potential remains high, given that more public services could be moved online, and a large part of the population and public sector employees still lack the necessary skills, while the potential in rural areas is untapped. Several measures have recently been taken, including the initiative for the creation of the Government Cloud, which will allow the interconnection of the databases of the main public institutions, the establishment of the National Council for Digital Transformation, or the digital transformation programs of SMEs.

For example, the electronic signature has become an obligation, whereas previously it was only an exception. The representatives of a retail company stated that, although the gap between Romania and Europe remained large, they observed rapid increases from year to year, which could lead to a change in the situation. In addition, the digital environment, which was not seen as an alternative until the pandemic, has gained momentum.

Romania had a great appetite for cash payments, especially in public administration. However, since the pandemic of March 2020, the electronic payment platform has improved by adding more than 50 public services that allow the payment of about 300 taxes and fees and has become accessible to legal entities. The change in the situation was seen in the number of users of the platforms, which increased this year by half the number of users already using the platform in the last decade.

Experts in the field believe that Romania has two major vulnerabilities in the digitization process, which represent major obstacles for the development of digital transformation: electronic identity or interoperability and limited digital skills. In the first case, there are large discrepancies in terms of Internet access between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, only 77% of households have access to the Internet, and the share drops to only 60% in poor families. These households cannot afford the cost of such services, although the price of the subscription has decreased in recent years. Another major problem is the lack of interconnectivity between the various public administration databases, which has led to increased bureaucracy.

Romania ranks last in the EU in terms of the use of digital public services, digital skills among individuals and also in some companies and public institutions, ranking 27th out of 29 countries in this chapter.

The government launched a public policy proposal related to the digitization of public administration and if approved, the new e-government policy would be implemented in 10 years.