European industry cannot slow down. Championing the world of B2B platforms is a battle Europe cannot afford to lose. Insights from the B2B platforms workshop in Brussels.

Over the last few years, a global digital battle is taking place, of strategic importance for the future of our European economy and industry: the Business-to-Business (B2B) platform battle.

The Business-to-business platform race

The US and China now champion the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) platform market with Uber, Facebook, Google, Apple, Alibaba, Tencent, Amazon and the like.
Europe is well positioned in the B2B platform race, with strong manufacturing, energy automation, and robotic sectors. For example, in the manufacturing sector, the World Economic Forum recently highlighted that Europe is on the lead of the best "lighthouse" factories, with 5 out of 9 of the most modern factories in the world being located in Europe and 2 out of 3 of the ones selected in China being stablished by European companies.

In fact, digital industrial platforms are no longer just a support instrument but rather a critical means for business operations. Both large and small manufacturing companies have made it very clear that platform openness, flexibility, simplicity, security, avoidance of vendor lock-in, and native support to data-driven operations are prerequisites for any solution to see global acceptance and generate a sufficiently large ecosystem around it.  The manufacturing industry needs interoperability, simplification and openness to seamlessly engage with B2B platforms, to fulfil their business operations with different partners and customers in their value networks.

The European, as well as the global, B2B platform landscape is characterised by a high proliferation and fragmentation of diverse solutions with few signs of consolidation. Success in the B2B platform battle requires commercial platforms to be collaborative, simple, scalable, secure, and trusted.

At our recent workshop on B2B platforms in Brussels, we discussed with users and suppliers the challenges ahead to make Europe a leader on digital industrial platforms.

The main message was the need to intensify collaboration among European actors to succeed on this race. Commercial platform providers and European community-driven initiatives, such as International Data Space (IDS), FIWARE, or the Industry 4.0 Adminis­tration Shell, are of strategic importance while the role of the European Union becomes instrumental in ensuring that the needed rules, technical specifications, and business models are set at European level for the benefit of our industries.

The European approach on industrial platforms

Data is becoming critical for the business growth strategy of companies and it will become more important in future. Europe is committed to developing a European approach on data and to putting in place the most suitable collaboration strategies to embrace European values on data sovereignty and openness. That is why the EU has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and promotes data usage and sharing, open APIs, and interoperability.

In addition, the European Commission has launched a European strategy on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which deals with technological, ethical, legal and socio-economic aspects. This includes an Expert Group on AI, which will draft ethics guidelines and policy and investment recommendations to put European values at the core of the technology.

These actions contribute to a comprehensive European approach on industrial platforms, an approach key to address fragmentation, simplify the use of B2B platforms across sectors, and without compromising the business models of European companies. The approach aims to generate attractive economies of scale across sectors and enlarge the B2B platform market.

Delaying or failing to respond to the challenges will have a profound impact on the future of European industry. Industrial data platforms and data sovereignty will condition the competitive advantages that our industry may draw from the next generation AI solutions and other digital opportunities. The decisions we make today should ensure that European technological excellence also translates in a privileged positioning of European companies in the global markets.

Horizon 2020 for platform building

Being fully aware of the strategic importance of this challenge, the European Commission is offering 200 million EUR for the period 2019-2020 of the Horizon 2020 programme for platform building. The focus for 2019 is specifically on two verticals: energy and manufacturing, and  horizontal data platforms.

We aim to help European industry to set the enabling trust models, the right level of platform openness, and the consolidation of standards and interoperability. This is all needed for the roll-out of inclusive business models that effectively address the needs of every business in any industrial sector.