The digital train won’t wait

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Günther Oettinger at the Digital4EU Stakeholder Forum. [European Commission]

While yet another redistribution of European Commission portfolios is subject to speculation  – in particular Digital Economy and Society – we should remember that the digital train won’t wait, warns Arnaud Thysen.

Arnaud Thysen is director of the European Business Summit.

The high-speed digital train brings ever more innovation, new technologies and fundamental changes for consumers, for our society and of course for businesses. This means a lot of potential but also some specific challenges. At the occasion of our next dialogue on how to “think digital”, I would like to share some of our partners’ experiences.

Firstly, the Internet of Things, big data, and cloud computing are transforming European industry – both manufacturing processes and services. Blurring boundaries between the digital and physical world, digitalisation is expected to increase efficiency by making industrial value chains shorter and more vertically integrated.

To take advantage of this potential, the EU’s 16-point policy plan will need to ensure that Europe seriously invests in research, innovation and the development of e-skills. Indeed, this is a key moment to pursue the digital agenda which will offer EU businesses new opportunities to face global competition and regain our leadership at the global level.

As BusinessEurope recently estimated, a successful digital revolution could increase Europe’s GDP by €2,000 billion up to 2030.

Nevertheless, Europe has lost ground in the digital sector over the last years and it is fundamental to reverse this trend. A concrete obstacle that EU businesses will face more strongly is cyber security.

As everything is becoming smart: smart phones, smart watches, smart cars and smart video cameras are already established in our homes and businesses, and they have transformed our personal and work lives by creating digital online environments where we can be constantly connected, we are becoming more vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

As Vince Steckler, Avast Software CEO explains, “as the ‘real’ world increasingly merges with a digital world, cyber criminals see an opportunity to exploit new ways of making money, such as stealing personal and business data, harvesting and selling personal information, and demanding ransom in return for valuable, private files”.

Therefore, a security company like Avast Software needs to use the latest machine learning technologies to keep one step ahead, protecting consumers and business customers, and striving to educate people at large about the new risks and threats today’s digital world presents.

As Steckler adds, “we need to recognise that we will be more successful if we can engage with other industry players, calling on them to act responsibly and work with us to establish the technology and policy-based safeguards that are necessary to protect our society as a whole and to ensure we get the best out of our digital lives”.

In light of this growing cyber-threat, investing in the field of cyberspace can be an opportunity for the EU to become a strong player, which is stimulating cooperation between different sectors such as energy, health, transport, and finance. By bringing together stakeholders from key areas of the European digital agenda, this alliance between business and society could create a value-driven cyber security environment.

Secondly, on the customer’s side, we are all increasingly aware of the impact the digital evolution has, not only on the global economy but also on our daily habits. Vice-President David Goodridge from MasterCard confirms this revolution, underlining that “What is changing is nothing less than how people interact with their families, their friends, their communities but also how they transact when they shop.” These developments on the customer’s side clearly have an impact on strategies of technology companies in the payment space.

Finally, the digital revolution has an impact on society as a whole. Recent political events, such as Brexit and the US presidential election have shown that, according to Luciano Floridi, director of research and professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, “the complacency of reason can corrupt digital into a negative force. Today, reason needs to awake again and guide digital as a force for good. This is possible, but only if we have what I like to call a ‘human project’ that can shape and orient the change”.

Professor Floridi makes and important point when insisting on the fact that “designing the new human project for our mature information societies is an ethical task for which we shall be judged by future generations”. Indeed, a focused approach towards skills and inclusion within our society could help decide upon the right investments to make in this newly established environment and avoid a digital divide.

The debate is open. But we need to speed up in finding answers for Europe to take advantage of the digital revolution and deliver growth and new jobs for the Europeans.

Think Digital Summit will be hosted on the 29 November 2016 in the Egmont Palace in Brussels. The summit is an initiative of European Business Summit. Engage in the debate – register here.

EURACTIV is a media partner of the ThinkDigital.EU – Shaping the Digital Future of Europe event.