Countries in the Western Balkans created digital infrastructure to support transparent business operation and prevent fraud in their Common Regional Market. The official registries from 5 countries in the Western Balkans created a digital platform, connecting all official legal and financial data about companies, connected entities, blocked bank accounts and sanctioned persons, bridging different legislations, languages and currencies. The platform won the 2022 OECD/SIGMA/ReSPA award.
European integration of the six Western Balkan countries through the Berlin Process envisioned establishment of a Common Regional Market. One of the key challenges all governments faced was how to enable transparent and safe business operation in the regional market based on accurate and reliable data for businesses, bridging different business legislations, practices, languages and currencies. To achieve this ambitious goal and foster trade and investment in the entire region, governments of North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina needed to create a single digital platform that will:
- Establish real-time interoperability between official registry data sources.
- Unify all legal and financial data about 1.5M+ companies, their financials and connected entities, registered in various national registries.
- Make searches and complex business and financial analytics in all national languages and English, as well as national currencies and Euros.
- Create a core digital infrastructure that is extendable for future government-to-business and business-to-business services.
- Use public cloud services, while seamlessly integrating with the national digital infrastructures, respecting data sovereignty and privacy.
Official business registries of North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (RS), mandated by their respective governments, contracted consultancy and development company REAKTIV to develop BIFIDEX as a single regional digital platform that will achieve the following goals:
- Provide single source of accurate real-time business and financial information in the region.
- Create novel services for business and investors to foster trade and investment in the region.
- Create novel services for the financial sector to prevent fraudulent practises and money laundering.
- Provide analytics and cross-border financial comparisons of industries and entire economies.
REAKTIV in collaboration with the official business registries from the 5 Western Balkan jurisdictions in the period of 2017-2022 created and operated BIFIDEX (Business and Financial Data Exchange), that now offers the following services on the market:
- Searches of companies, entrepreneurs and persons.
- Full company profiles, with complete legal and financial data.
- Real-time tracking of changes in the registered data of the companies and their involved officials.
- Financial KPI’s and company comparisons within individual economies and across borders.
- Industry analytics by various financial criteria of choice.
- Connected companies and persons across borders and their ownership percentage.
- Company roles and appointments across borders.
- Company insolvency information from the blocked bank accounts and duration of blockades.
- Court sanctions to companies, their owners and officials.
- National statistics of foreign ownership.
BIFIDEX offers its services on a free and commercial basis, with Public-Private Partnership revenue-share model between REAKTIV and the official business registries. The platform is designed to be extendable to various countries and data sources, with already expressed interest to join by most of the registries in Southeast Europe. In addition, the platform can be used in the future to connect the business information from the Western Balkans to the one from the EU business information interoperability systems. As a regional core digital service infrastructure, several initiatives are planned to extend the scope of BIFIDEX toward different scope of data and services in the Western Balkans, including:
- Beneficial ownership
- Supply-chain management
- Business, manufacturing and services profiling from the companies
- Facilitating access to finance to companies
- Facilitating cross-border procurement by issuing unified digital multilingual Tender Dossier with all legal, tax and financial requirements.
The official business registries involved are currently exploring the opportunity for establishment of an international organization to better coordinate the further scale-up of the solution. The innovative technological platform and know-how accumulated in the project can be used to replicate BIFIDEX in various regions that have challenges in integrating cross-border data to facilitate trade, investment and transparency.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
BIFIDEX created unified methodology for all data from all official registry sources in the region, allowing the end-users from a single source in real-time to:
- Search, obtain and compare official information from different countries in different languages and currencies.
- Have access to combined information previously not available by the official registries, neither existing on the commercial market,
- Have a statistical outlook of aggregated information for industries and economies that was previously not available.
- Pay a single subscription for used data, without bothering with different national pricing models.
The entire solution also operates from a public cloud infrastructure, with complete depersonalized data, protecting data sovereignty and depersonalization of private information residing in national database infrastructure, while offering rich searching experience with full GDPR compliance.
What is the current status of your innovation?
BIFIDEX was gradually developed since 2017, starting with integration of the registries from North Macedonia and Serbia, and expanding to Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (RS) with bigger scope of data and services. All commercial services were launched in April 2022. Currently, marketing plan is under development to increase sales of services towards businesses and financial sector. Plans for development of API for integration with external systems, as well as a mobile app are in the roadmap for Q1 2023. The Innovation Fund of North Macedonia co-financed REAKTIV in its further extension of BIFIDEX to create services for access to finance for businesses. Consultations with different Western Balkans governmental agencies and international institutions are taking place, planning extension of BIFIDEX as a regional core digital service infrastructure to be extended for other digital government-to-business and business-to-business services.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Founding partners of the BIFIDEX project were the members of the Management Board of Regional Business Registry Portal BIFIDEX:
- North Macedonia – Central Registry
- Serbia – Business Registry Agency
- Albania – National Business Centre
- Montenegro – Tax Authority of, Central Registry of Business Entities
- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Srpska – APIF
The project was financed by EBRD and the UK GGF.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Key stakeholders were business registries from 5 Balkan jurisdictions, that were directly integrated in the project. The governments of North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (RS) were involved in the organizational setup of the regional Management Board and approving the joint pricing policy for the services. Business associations represented by the regional association of the chambers of commerce were involved in the promotional activities.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
As a novel service in the region of Western Balkans BIFIDEX has significantly facilitated cross-border trade, eased access to company information and facilitated investment opportunities across the Western Balkans region. Its major impact is demonstrated by the commitment of all participating countries to further extend BIFIDEX as one of the core digital platforms to enable the single market in the region. As the single go-to source for official business and financial information in the region BIFIDEX currently has statutory and financial data on over 1.5 million companies and persons in the Western Balkans. More than 63.000 users have visited BIFIDEX and more than 1.100 have registered to use its services.
Challenges and Failures
- Major challenge in the establishment of BIFIDEX was the political factor, i.e. the support and commitment needed by the governments of the participating countries, especially regarding reaching consensus on the platform and its governance mechanism. However, direct involvement of each respective government from the very beginning has proven crucial for overcoming obstacles, as implementation of BIFIDEX was part of each government’s Regional Investment Reform Agenda.
- Different legislation, level of technology development, data structures and the internal institutional capacity were challenges for implementation and integration.
- Special challenge was how to combine BIFIDEX’s public cloud infrastructure with the national hosted infrastructures of the registries, while respecting data sovereignty and data privacy. However, the innovative technology applied, and the consensually developed unified data methodology helped overcome all the challenges imposed by the national differences.
Conditions for Success
For such a large-scale regional project, impacting various stakeholders, with high expectations of success to create core e-service infrastructure for doing business in the single regional market, critical conditions for success were:
- Direct endorsement from all respective governments, with highest level of monitoring of implementation.
- Carefully designed governing structure and rules, to ensure each country’s interests are equally represented.
- Advocacy and marketing by the representatives of the business community as the chambers of commerce.
- Financial support of the international agencies like EBRD, bringing financial instruments targeted to regional development.
- Ensuring future sustainability of the platform past the initial donor support in a form of public-private partnership with revenue share with the company that will further develop, market and operate the platform.
The innovative technological platform and know-how accumulated in the project can be used to replicate BIFIDEX in various regions that have challenges in integrating cross-border data to facilitate trade, investment and transparency. The concept of a single platform for integration and business intelligence of any official registry data source under a single unified methodology can be applied in different geographies and domains.
Integration of data and technology governed by different legislation regime was challenging. The project started gradually with definition of common tools and unified methodology first for the data from North Macedonia and Serbia, and then the pilot was extended to Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The project was presented in all key international registry conferences (EBRA 2022 and CRF 2022) and has received accolades for its implementation. In June 2022 the plans for its further development were presented in front of the Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans and EU officials at the Open Balkan Summit in North Macedonia. The project won the prestigious 2022 OECD / SIGMA / ReSPA Western Balkans public administration award.
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
17 January 2023