Next Monday I will be at CeBIT the world′s largest and most international computer expo. It is no surprise that the expo, which in the past attracted more than 800,000 members of the general public, has re-invented itself as a more slender, targeted fair for "IT in companies". This year's slogan "d!economy" is even more telling: It shows that the IT sector is convinced that the whole economy, be it industry, trade or other sectors, will become digital in the future.

The reason is simple: Digital technologies make our industries, our businesses, and our economy more competitive. Take new technologies like robotics, cloud computing and 3-D printing. They can help cut costs and thus make our companies more competitive. But we are not there yet, some sectors are slower than others, and there are other ways in we have to step up our efforts:

  1. There are still large disparities between Member States and across industries particularly between high tech industries such as aerospace and more traditional sectors like construction. The former are embracing new technologies much faster than the latter.
  1. There are investment gaps between companies. Large companies have the capacity to invest in new technologies and processes while SMEs, which constitute a large part of Europe's industrial fabric, often, do not. SMEs should not be left behind in the digital revolution.
  1. Technology also opens the door for new competitors from the U.S. and Asia who are expanding beyond their traditional markets. This can ultimately affect large parts of European industry such as automotive and transport and, more generally, all manufacturing and related services. I am very aware of the rising concerns of European businesses who are worried that they may grow to depend on competing providers from outside of Europe. This risks moving a major part of value generation outside their traditional business sphere.
  1. The digital skills gap in Europe is widening and is expected to reach more than 500,000 unfilled vacancies for IT experts this year. The demand for people with new, highly specialised skills is exploding, for instance in relatively new fields like big data analytics, cyber-security or cloud computing. So the challenge is to make sure that Europe's workforce adapts to the new digital work environment. We have to put digital skills on education curricula and make re-skilling of current workforce a priority.
  1. Our current rules and legislation are unfit for the new industrial age. They are creating unforeseen barriers to digitalisation and uncertainty for digital businesses. At the same time, new digital business models in the shared economy are challenging long-established regulatory models and policy-making worldwide. Liability and privacy issues appear to be of major concern and they will have to be tackled very carefully.

No Member State can resolve all related issues alone, or has the resources to respond to all global challenges.

This is why the EU's plans for a Digital Single Market must include measures for the development of smart industry in Europe. I will be presenting more details on a strategy for Digitising European Industry next month at Hannover Messe 2015.

But if you are interested in the topic, you may also want to tune it to my keynote speech in the CeBIT Global Conferences on Monday, 16 March 2015 at 11:30 hours. It will be live streamed in English and German: You can also follow me on Twitter at @GOettingerEU




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