“We don’t need a common language to communicate and understand each other, but we do need to have common standards and to share values. Rather than letting technology drive us apart, it can help us to achieve a shared vision and bring us together ”, says a voice in a video presented at the opening ceremony of the ICT 2018 conference in Vienna (4-6 December) that brought together over 5000 digital enthusiasts from all over Europe.
Among the participants there was a strong belief that digitalization is a must to build strong, competitive and sustainable economies. Many statistics confirmed that conviction. It is estimated that each job in ICT provides 3 jobs in other industries. Everything is becoming digital: from agriculture to healthcare. Autonomous cars already drive on the streets, robots help the elderly in their homes and almost everybody has a powerful computer in their pocket – a smartphone. But most of the digital innovations don’t reach people where they need them most. Many of the projects die after the pilot phase, as soon as the funding phase has ended. All too often the benefits of digitalization are reserved only for a small group of people, the digitally skilled ones. There are some sectors doing better but for others digitalization is a distant prospect (incl. healthcare). Why?
Big money, weak results
ICT shares 20% of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme 2018-2020 (EUR 6 billion out of 30 billion). EUR 9.2 billion in total has been reserved for the Digital Health Programme. Europe’s ambition is to invest EUR 20 billion every year in artificial intelligence. No doubt about it, it’s a lot of money. Looking back on how many projects have failed, we have to learn how to invest money better in order to avoid wasting resources. While the top-down approach works well for creating a regulatory framework, a bottom-up model is the right way when it comes to developing real solutions that respond to local needs and problems.
Without more European values in Europe we will lose the digital race
How to speed up the transformation?
Nobody questions the role of user-centric thinking and education (digital competences). We already know very well that we have to move faster in the research and development of innovative digital solutions, we have to invest more and create competitive regulations that are necessary for a digital-friendly ecosystem. Having a big picture and dreams are important in order to establish our course and destination (and the reason why). But it’s not enough. There are a few proposals for ways in which we can do better:
Break up the silos in research and science in Europe. Free up the data. Nobody can tackle such a big change alone, that’s why different forms of cooperation and partnerships among different stakeholders are required. Many say that Europe could benefit from diversity but so far this diversity has led to data silos. Without more European values in Europe we will lose the digital race.
It’s about societal transformation. Technological transformation is not the challenge any more – what is failing is the adoption of innovations. Why? Because society is not yet ready for change, not skilled enough to go digital. We must put education first, but we have to teach digital skills, not to those who are already digital natives but to those who are getting digitally excluded.
Stimulating organic growth. Creating a friendly ecosystem for startups and those entrepreneurships that want to be innovative.
Political will at the national level. Financial incentives at the national level must be supported by politicians at the national level.
Re-skilling workforces. The most important challenge. Strong digital competencies in all age groups ensure equal chances and an acceptance of digitalization. Unfortunately re-skilling and building digital competencies are often neglected. In the Digital Europe Programme only EUR 0.7 billion of the total EUR 9.2 billion go to strengthening “advanced digital skills”.
Infrastructure. Some digital innovations are blocked because there are some basics lacking, for example: 5G internet.
We have to be more ready to take a risk. Digital transformation is sometimes like a rollercoaster ride. We have to be ready to act quickly, to fail and to do things better when we make mistakes.
Standards, ethical rules and transparency. Without them we will struggle with data chaos and a lack of trust. Even the best technology and massive investment won’t work without trust.
Ceciline Bonefeld-Dahl, Director General of DIGITALEUROPE, highlights the 3C’s that are necessary for digital and AI solutions: clear leadership (what do we want to achieve?), competencies (knowledge) and culture. It’s about changing the mindset: let’s keep investing in technologies, research, AI, but let’s invest even more in people and digital skills to ensure trust and adoption. Technological transformation can’t happen without societal transformation.
Policy debate: Investing in the Future” discussed how the Digital Single Market can deliver a better future for Europeans and what Europe, the Member States and all stakeholders can and should do to best prepare Europe for global competitiveness.
From the author: To all digital leaders, experts and politicians! Digitalization will takes decades, we are at the first stage, there is a long way to go. Please do not call it a “digital revolution” anymore but rather a “digital transformation” or “digital evolution”. Evolution and transformations suggest that everybody is included, and that nobody is excluded as happens during revolutions.