How can innovation be as much a part of Europe’s future as its past? How can innovation be as much a part of Europe’s future as its past?

It is great to see the EU moving in the right direction with its data strategy, which aims to empower better decision-making – both in business and the public sector. 

Europe has a long and proud history of innovation and adaptation to a changing environment that dates back to ancient times. Today, it is having to heavily rely on that enduring spirit of innovation as it wrestles with the impact of COVID-19. Europe’s approach to innovation and dealing with change in this time of crisis will not only determine how it fares today, but also how it will transform in the future.

While the importance of digital was already widely understood in Europe, the limited mobility of people that we see today underscores its relevance. This is no longer an abstract conversation about the digitalization of processes. Digital has become a vital element to guarantee continuity of healthcare, communications, work, collaboration, and exchange of goods and services everywhere. The survival of our economies and our societies rests on our ability to access high-quality communication networks, work remotely, and collaborate to deliver services using virtual methods. There has never been such a need for digital tools and opportunity to rethink how Governments interact and transact with businesses and citizens. For organizations, there has never been such a perfect environment for stress-testing digital solutions and their digital strategies.

The EU realizes the scale of the opportunity that digital brings with it – one of the top priorities of the European Commission is to build ”a Europe fit for the digital age”. If the current global crisis is reshuffling the priorities for businesses and government, digital is playing a crucial role in guaranteeing the continuity – and sometimes the existence – of some organizations. In this context, the Commission’s ambition to become a digitally transformed, user-focused, data-driven and easily interoperable organization by 2022 has become an imperative. And it wants to extend this approach to all EU Member States.

Building on the challenges and learnings experienced by many other large organizations, the Commission must take a holistic approach to digital transformation by having a clear purpose in mind and creating a digital ecosystem. This means much stronger involvement and collaboration with its employees and partners, as well as different stakeholders within the Member States. It not only requires the development of new solutions and delivery processes, but a complete rethink on how services are provided with end-user needs in mind, and the use of cloud and emerging technologies. Most importantly, it requires the upskilling of the Commission’s entire workforce. What’s more, this needs to be done within a comparatively short period of time.

So how can the Commission deliver on its digital ambitions? Execution is vital. The move from “doing digital” to “being digital” will require widespread changes to working practices across a vast organization.

Digitalization does not start with technology. It starts with people and mindset… 

Robust management of any change process is crucial to success. It is much easier to install infrastructure and supply software than it is to rethink processes and services, change habits and ways of working and to equip people with new skills. So cultural change programs should underpin the Commission’s digital transformation – and they should be rolled out from the top, starting with management teams. The programs will convey the EU’s digital vision to the Commission’s workforce to empower them to bring it to life.

To succeed in their mission, Commission staff will need to adopt a new mindset. Today, due to the current pandemic, public departments and agencies around the world have been forced to move towards smart working models, often with little to no notice. In addition, departments and processes often operate in siloes or lack an integrated approach to ensure continuity of critical operations during crises.

Increasingly, government organizations will need to be more agile and collaborative. They will also need to embrace a customer-centric, or, end-user-centric mentality and a digital-first approach. Importantly, Commission staff will benefit from learning about what has gone right – and wrong – with large-scale transformation projects in the private sector.

Digitalization is about far more than automating existing processes. It requires new tools, skills and ecosystems. By cooperating with new partners, and using methods such as dynamic procurement, Commission staff can implement new ways of working that help to deliver high-quality and citizen-centric outcomes. That is a huge prize.

A connected, interoperable Europe

The digitalization of the Commission itself is just one of the critical steps on a journey towards a more digitalized EU, where the Member States connect their services securely across borders. As the current coronavirus crisis highlights, digital communications, experience management platforms, and being able to transact across borders are vital to the sustainability and wellbeing of the Member States. All Member States are developing their own digital government solutions, some of them, like Estonia and Denmark, have made excellent progress. They are innovating and creating value in processes at a local level. As a result, many examples could be elevated from the individual Member States to meet the needs of the entire EU. Having a proactive, citizen-focused and fully digitalized government is already a target for many Member States.

The ultimate goal should be to have seamless services and transactions, both with governments and across borders. In some cases, the technological solutions themselves should be consistent throughout Europe. So, data is critical. Alignment around data structures and standards is needed across the Member States for data to be exchanged effectively. Once that framework is in place, new processes and e-government solutions can be constructed, and services can be more easily digitalized. Consistent and reusable data across the EU will become the basis for understanding trends and making future predictions.

Setting a new global standard?  

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Digital Economy Report 2019 highlights the value that can be created when data is translated into digital intelligence. So far, the US and China have been the most successful countries at taking advantage of the digital economy from a commercial perspective. This is mainly thanks to the concentration of a few, very large, global platforms in their markets. In comparison, the EU has lagged.

Yet now the EU has an opportunity to seize the initiative in another vital sphere of digital transformation – e-government. It can do this by focusing on six critical areas:

  • Improving the customer experience of those who access government services
  • Using digital technologies to explore the co-development and operating models to provide services and improve the management of resources through smarter spending
  • Investing in cybersecurity to keep citizens, information and strategic assets safe
  • Equipping public sector workforces with digital skills
  • Developing a smart infrastructure that is efficient, resilient and sustainable

·       Leveraging data to generate policy insights and added value for economies

It is great to see the EU moving in the right direction with its data strategy, which aims to empower better decision-making – both in business and the public sector. Another significant development is its white paper outlining policy proposals (pdf) for artificial intelligence options that respect the values and rights of EU citizens. What is also needed is investment in terms of funding and resources and an absolute commitment to transforming the EU’s operating model by putting its citizens’ and businesses’ interests at its heart.

The digitalization of government gives the EU much to play for – a more efficient European Commission, citizen-centric public services and the option of becoming a model for other jurisdictions. It also allows Europe to send out the message – loud and clear – that digital, speed and innovation will not only enable it to withstand the current health crisis; they will also be the foundation for an exciting and prosperous future.

Rezumat

The EU realizes the scale of the opportunity – one of the top priorities of the European Commission is to build ‘a Europe fit for the digital age’. The huge challenge facing the Commission is similar to the challenges faced by many other large organizations. It involves the creation of a digital ecosystem that takes a cloud-first approach to service provision while having top-level cybersecurity and cross-border interoperability. Digitalization of government gives the EU much to play for: a more efficient European Commission, citizen-centric public services and the option of becoming a model for other jurisdictions.

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