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Europe needs more 'digital innovation hubs', says commissioner

Out-Law News | 16 Apr 2015 | 11:42 am | 2 min. read

Europe needs more "digital innovation hubs" to ensure businesses can harness the benefits of digital technologies, the EU's digital economy commissioner has said.

Gunther Oettinger said that European businesses need to be able to compete at the forefront of developments relating to the fourth industrial revolution, industry 4.0, which is being driven by advancements in technology and that hubs have a role to play in achieving that. 

Oettinger said he wants at least one "world class digital innovation hub" to be established in "every region in Europe", similar to the existing catapult centres in the UK and Fraunhofer research institute in Germany. 

"We need to facilitate access to digital technologies for any industry in Europe: our ambition should be to empower any business, wherever it is located in Europe, and especially SMEs, to master its digital transition," the commissioner said. "Every industry, large or small, high-tech or non-tech, must have a good understanding of the digital opportunities and easy access to knowledge and testing facilities in latest digital technologies." 

"Regions and local authorities have a key role to play in this effort, with digital research and competence centres leading the way," he said. "These centres should be at the heart of digital innovation hubs in every region of Europe. They should be specialising to rapidly provide world class expertise and digital skills for their local and regional economy. They should connect with other centres to share knowledge and complement their expertise." 

Oettinger said European businesses must adopt digital technologies or risk losing out to rivals based elsewhere in the world. It said only 14% of SMEs in Europe use the internet as a sales channel, and just 1.7% of all European businesses use "advanced digital technologies like robotics, data analytics or cloud computing … to innovate in products and processes". 

"The digital revolution in industry is happening fast and the pace of change keeps accelerating. This means that you can fall behind quickly if you do not act fast," Oettinger said. "If we want to realise the potential of digital technologies across the economy, industry in all sectors and everywhere in Europe needs to adopt them as quickly as possible. Our economies in Europe are closely connected, and our industry has built strong cross-border value chains. This is why digitisation of our industry needs to be comprehensive across Europe." 

Oettinger said the Commission was to ensure that new "open and interoperable [digital] platforms" are developed in Europe that businesses can use to "make its products, processes or services ready for the digital age". 

He said that the Commission is keen to look into developing a new "European platform initiative in digital manufacturing" in collaboration with industry, and said new public private partnerships were needed to support "research and innovation on the next generation of digital platforms". 

"My ambition is to upscale developments of European platforms from 2015 onwards with the launch of at least five large-scale platform projects per year until 2018," Oettinger said. 

The commissioner also outlined plans to tackle the "digital skills gap" and to "ensure that existing and new regulation is fit for purpose in the digital world". 

"New digital business models are challenging existing regulatory systems worldwide, requiring a new way of policy-making," Oettinger said. "Our current regulatory environment can create unforeseen hurdles to digitalisation and uncertainty for digital businesses. This includes for example the liability of systems as they become more autonomous, safety and security with the increasing interaction between smart devices such as robots and humans, and the protection of massive amounts of data generated by digital manufacturing." 

"The availability and use of big data is crucial for maintaining the EU's competitiveness. Currently there is a lack of clarity about who owns these industrial data, and about how they may and may not be used. This reduces incentives to develop data-analytics services. It also puts industrial IPR(intellectual property rights) and know-how at risk," he said. 

Oettinger called on "key players" to offer suggestions "on how to transform our current legislation on the regulatory framework for platforms, liability, safety, IPR and data protection to make it fit for purpose in the digital world". The Commission is due to publish a new strategy for a digital single market next month.