The IT industry in Montenegro has been growing strongly in recent years, and now a lot of Ukrainian and Russian programmers have arrived. Although the state gives millions to this sector, business barriers drive some of the largest IT companies out of the country.
As in the whole world, information technologies (IT) are a huge opportunity for the development of Montenegro, data from this market show. IT companies in Montenegro work for some of the world’s technological giants and the state recognizes their potential, but they are looking for even more decisive support from this sector and say that it will pay off.
Montenegrin IT companies mostly deal with web design and digital and affiliate marketing, which are growing strongly all over the world as one of the main ways of advertising. They also develop applications for computers and mobile phones, and in recent years they have started making video games.
“The products and services of our companies are used on 5 continents and in more than 50 countries, and they are also used by some of the world’s largest corporations such as Facebook, Microsoft, Bing, Adobe, Alibaba, AliExpress, Booking, Nike, Coca Cola, BMW, Prada…” Tarik Zaimović, director of ICT Cortex, a group that gathers around 60 percent of IT companies in Montenegro, told DW.
He adds that this industry in Montenegro has recorded constant growth in the last decade, and exponential growth in the last 3 years, and that the figures speak for themselves. Namely, last year, Montenegrin IT companies had a total income of almost 87 million euros, of which the export of IT services was over 58 million, which is a huge jump compared to the previous year.
This is especially significant if it is known that Montenegro normally has very little exports and is one of the world record holders in terms of foreign trade deficit.
Business barriers problem
In recent years, the IT industry has also received significant state aid.
“The growing trend of the IT industry influenced our country’s strategic approach to this sector,” Marijeta Barjaktarović – Lanzardi from the Montenegrin Ministry of Science and Technological Development told DW. She clearly says: “Our goal is that, with the support of the state, the IT sector will become one of the strategic branches of the development of the Montenegrin economy.”
That’s what Zaimović wants, but he also points to some things that shouldn’t happen.
“Unfortunately, our largest company in this sector, Coinis, moved the majority of its operations to the United Arab Emirates this year due to huge business barriers in Montenegro, which our country had no idea about. They got very favorable conditions there because they saw the potential in the Emirates, since it is a company that can grow to a billion dollars. It’s not serious when we have something that is domestic and we can’t valorize it,” says Zaimović.
He claims that the IT industry can quickly become one of the main branches of the Montenegrin economy, along with tourism, if the state fulfills 3 prerequisites: declare the IT industry a strategic branch of development, reform the education system so that digital skills are taught from the first grade of primary school and implement digitization public administration.
“In 8 years, the number of employees in this sector would increase several times, and the average salary would be 1,500 euros.” Bureaucracy in the public sector would be reduced to a minimum, and therefore corruption, the standard of all our citizens would improve and as a result of everything – the growth of the Montenegrin economy would accelerate,” Zaimović is convinced.
The state now provides support in the early stages of the development of startups, established the Innovation Fund and is building a large Science and Technology Park in Podgorica. Former Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, when he took office, promised that the state would produce 500 new experts in this field through the IT Academy. The Ministry of Science and Technological Development says that the training of so many unemployed people for deficient IT occupations is planned soon.
“The target group is the unemployed up to the age of 30, and the Government will give one million euros for this.” There is no development without people. Digital skills have become indispensable today and are slowly becoming a decisive factor in employment. By investing in skills and people, we invest in the long-term progress of the entire sector”, says Barjaktarović-Lanzardi.
She also announces the establishment of the Office for Digitization and Innovation, which will be positioned at a very high level, which, she says, sends a strong message of how committed the Government is to further strengthening this sector.
More and more foreign developers because of the war in Ukraine
The total IT industry in Montenegro has around 1,500 employees, says Zaimović. As for programmers and IT experts from abroad, the situation has changed drastically because due to the war in Ukraine, hundreds of Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians have come to Montenegro, who have already opened IT companies and started working. Also, the world-famous software company EPAM Systems moved part of its business from Ukraine to Montenegro and opened a representative office that already has 200 people.
“A good programmer or IT expert in Montenegro can earn up to 2,500 euros per month, and 30% more in foreign companies operating here.” What is specific to this industry is that it does not pay for programmers in Montenegro to go abroad, because our standard is significantly lower and with these salaries they can live very comfortably here,” explains Zaimović.
He, however, warns that apart from individuals in the state administration, politicians do not really understand the importance of technology development and how it can improve the standard of all of us.
“Mostly it boils down to stories that sound nice but are not realistic.” Despite the incredibly large potential, the IT industry in Montenegro is the least developed in comparison to the region, while the comparison with the EU is an imaginary noun. We still wait in lines where in developed countries people finish online, or use paper and they use an electronic signature. That’s why our standard is where it is, because we spend days and weeks on things that we can finish in a few minutes, instead of developing and making money,” concludes Zaimović.