• Head of Unit for "Technologies and Systems for Digitising Industry"

    Max Lemke

350 people met in Paris to discuss how to make European industry more digital and fit for the future.

Two years after the launch of the Digitising European Industry (DEI) initiative, the DEI Stakeholder Forum was excellent proof of how the European Commission is already harvesting results of the common work started with Member States and industry back in 2016.

I was very pleased to see Member States being on the same page. They are already replicating each other’s best practices and working together on Digital Innovation Hubs, industrial platforms, digital skills and more.

All participants could bring home a lot of new and excellence ideas, and get inspired by the many different people who drive change across Europe by taking action in the public and private sector.

There was widespread agreement that we are living in a time of big change, where speed is a necessity and no longer an option. ‘2030 is tomorrow, we must get ready now’ as one of our inspirational speakers said. It is important that we keep doing this together like we did during the 2018 Stakeholder Forum in Paris.

The next digital revolution has already started: Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is a very good example of how fit-for purpose the DEI initiative is, as we need AI in all pillars of the initiative. The European Commission has set the basis to enable AI with the HPC Joint Undertaking and the data package presented in September. Later this spring, the Commission will also announce an ambitious AI strategy for Europe. This was welcome at the Stakeholder Forum where people were excited about the opportunities AI can bring across the industry and they expect the European strategy to lead the way.

Partnerships and platforms

A key take-home message was the importance of winning the battle of the Business to Business (B2B) platforms, where the EU is traditionally strong. Speakers at the Stakeholder Forum agreed that the European Union took great action by accelerating the development of digital industrial platforms and their interoperability. The EU has the means to succeed in this global race.

Strategic partnerships across Europe are very successful in developing digital technology and mobilising investment to solve problems that cannot be addressed by a single Member State. However, the landscape of partnerships is complex and there is a need to streamline among them and with Member States.

Within this framework, the bilateral agreements signed at the Stakeholder Forum by the Big Data Value Association (BDVA), the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA), and the Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) were an excellent example that partnerships are ready to address these challenges and work more closely together.

Digital Innovation Hubs

One of the key goals of the DEI initiative is to help SMEs make the most of digital opportunities and digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) play a key role here. Companies and hubs are benefiting from mutual collaboration and this was clear throughout the event. These success stories are crucial to encourage other SMEs to go digital.

Since the European Commission launched the DEI initiative, DIHs flourished across Europe: more than 200 are already mapped in the pan-European catalogue. The Paris region, for example, is investing €300 million to build further infrastructures, diffuse skills on latest technologies and to scale up regional Digital Innovation Hubs on IoT, AI and HPC. The EU will also continue investing €100 million per year until 2020 to support the network and collaboration of DIHs across borders.

Europe also faces important challenges that we need to address together. SMEs need help to finance their digital transformation as investors find this is often too risky. Representatives from both the banking sector and SMEs, present at the Stakeholder Forum, said that the EU needs simpler instruments that foster mutual understanding and facilitate investments. This is indeed something the European Commission is considering to act on, with Member States.

In addition, our workforce needs to get ready for the digital change. As stated by one of the speakers: Europe will not necessarily lose jobs with the digital transformation, but there will be massive shifts and we need to prepare for it. On European level we are paving the way to re-skill citizens with for example the Digital Opportunity Traineeships programme. Digital Innovation Hubs will certainly also play a key role in skills development.

EU added value

The EU is currently proposing future priorities and resources for its budget in the coming seven years and digital needs to remain a priority. I was very happy to count on the support of stakeholders at the event, who highlighted that there is a clear need to keep investing in digital innovations, notably through the Research & Innovation programme and through outreach to SMEs.

Cooperation will also continue to be fundamental. We must cover the full value chain for the digital transformation of European industry to be successful and Europe can only do so if everyone works together. We need a strategic approach and coordination with Member States and national initiatives in order to face worldwide competition. Only together we stand strong.

At the European Commission we aim to add value at EU level, pulling resources and activities under common agendas through the EU budget. Member States and industry are essential to make this a common success. I am confident, after the Stakeholder Forum, that we have the necessary commitment and that Europe is creating an impressive collective effort to make the most out of digitalisation of our economy and society.