The digital revolution brings opportunities for big and small companies, but many of them still find it difficult to know in which technologies to invest and how to secure financing for their digital transformation.
Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are particularly slow in integrating digital technologies: only one out of five SMEs in the EU are highly digitised, yet they represent over 90% of all businesses in Europe.
There are also strong differences in the level of digitalisation across the EU, depending on the sector and region. To bridge the current divide, the EU proposed Digital Innovation Hubs as a key priority in the Digitising European Industry Initiative, adopted in April 2016.
Digital innovation hubs (DIH) can help ensure that every company, small or large, high-tech or not, can grasp the digital opportunities. With technical universities or research organisations at the core, DIHs act as one-stop-shops where companies —especially SMEs, startups and mid-caps— can get access to technology-testing, financing advice, market intelligence and networking opportunities.
Who does what in the Digital Innovation Hubs
Member States and regions should invest in the creation or reinforcement of Digital Innovation Hubs that support their national/regional digitalisation strategy. They should secure the necessary financial means, for instance through regional development funds.
The EU supports the collaboration of DIHs to create an EU-wide network, where companies can access competences and facilities not available in the DIH of their region. This network will lead to knowledge transfer between regions and will be the basis for economies of scale and investments in the hubs. For this, the European Commission is investing EUR 100 million per year from 2016 to 2020.
Networking Digital Innovation Hubs
Several EU initiatives and projects are shaping the pan-European network of DIHs:
- ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS)
- Smart Anything Everywhere (SAE)
- Open Data:
- Supercomputing Exercise for SMEs - SESAME NET
- EIT Digital (from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology) will also contribute to the network of DIHs through its project MIDIH.
- In addition, the DIHNET.EU Coordination and Support Action will coordinate the whole network of Digital Innovation Hubs.
To help DIHs to effectively collaborate and network, the European Commission set up the European catalogue of DIHs. It now includes over 200 fully operational hubs across the EU.
A working group within the Digitising European Industry initiative brings regularly together stakeholders interested in Digital Innovation Hubs to discuss relevant topics, exchange good practices and move the policy area forward.
Widening towards regions not well covered by Digital Innovation Hubs
The Digitising European Industry initiative aims to ensure the presence of a DIH in every region by 2020. However, many regions are still underrepresented in the existing network. To help them, the European Commission has launched training programmes for new DIHs:
- I4MS mentoring programme
- Smart Factories in new Member States: training for DIHs in Central and Eastern Europe (training materials also open for consultation)
- DIHELP - DIH Enhanced-Learning Programme
Training and development of skills
Helping companies accomplish their digital transformation also means ensuring that the employees have the necessary skills to work with new ICT technologies. Digital Innovation Hubs can play a key role in this respect, as they offer access to training and skills development. This element will be further reinforced by the European network of Digital Innovation Hubs, especially by building on the experience of EIT Digital.
How to get involved
- If you are an organisation willing to be part of a consortium that coordinates EU projects related to Digital Innovation Hubs, the Smart Anything Everywhere call is open now under the Horizon 2020 programme for 2019. In 2020 calls will open on I4MS, Photonics and Big Data.
- If you are an SME, mid-cap or startup interested in testing and implementing digital innovations, you can apply for several open calls from EU projects on Digital Innovation Hubs.
- Join the conversation in our Futurium site: share best practices, blog about your experience, propose ideas.
- Find events and workshops related to Digital Innovation Hubs and reports from the working group meetings.