Europe Panel Highlights Regional Best-Practices and Emphasizes Strategic Digital Transformation

On Wednesday, Portulans Institute, in cooperation with UNESCO and ICANN, hosted a regional panel on Europe’s digital transformation, highlighting regional data from the 2020 Network Readiness Index (read our summary here). While COVID-19 has demonstrated the ways in which digital tools may be leveraged to combat a global crisis, the pandemic has also exposed that much more progress and groundwork is required to ensure digital transformations put people first. Which economies are best positioned to maintain and improve the region’s competitiveness in a post-COVID world?

The virtual panel was moderated by Portulans CEO Carolina Rossini, and featured a line-up of regional experts from the private, nonprofit and academic sectors, including:

  • Ankit Agarwal, CEO, Connectivity Solutions Business, STL Group
  • Dr. Jacques Bughin, CEO, Machaon Advisory; Professor, Solvay School
  • Paul Hofheinz, President, Lisbon Council
  • Dr. Bruno Lanvin, Executive Director for Global Indices, INSEAD; Director, Portulans Institute
  • Chris Mondini, Vice President and Head of Stakeholder Engagement, ICANN Europe.
Europe must prioritize strategic, not reactive digital transformation

According to Christ Mondini, from ICANN, “we have to work towards being more strategic and less reactive” in the process of digital transformation, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis. All panelists agreed on the importance of comprehensive, strategic and flexible digital plans, based on multistakeholder input. Speaking from a private sector perspective, Ankit Agarwal shared his enthusiasm for the digital transformations in learning, working and governing that have already taken place: some of which may have taken years under regular circumstances. “There are opportunities that lie ahead – but we have to go beyond just access to technology, and make sure that there is a real impact.” Noting this, Dr. Jacques Bughin agreed, and drew panelists’ attention to the education sector. Instead of reactively digitizing education, Dr. Bughin said, schools and institutions must “redefine, redeploy and re-transform”, leveraging digital tools.

Regional stakeholders must co-create digital solutions to shared challenges

Paul Hofheinz, from the Lisbon Council, outlined his vision for political leadership capable of harnessing the power of digital transformation: leadership with a clear objective and a clear programme. According to Hofheinz, the way to encourage this leadership is to encourage the growth of digital skills and talent transfers across the region, particularly from digitally-ready clusters to European economies ranking lower on the NRI. Doing so is a critical step in strengthening a European approach to digital transformation, as opposed to an amalgamation of national approaches. Hofheinz noted that the EU’s Recovery Plan – with a dual emphasis on green and digital transitions for short-term recovery and long-term sustainability – is a step in the right direction. Chris Mondini agreed, and emphasized the necessity of encouraging active, engaged participation from a diversity of stakeholders and “newcomers” to conversations about digital futures.

Revolutionary access and reskilling can empower youth, combat inequalities, and create jobs

Following the presentations of the 2020 NRI results and rankings, panelists commented on the importance of “well-rounded countries”, such as Sweden, that have achieved the critical balance between digital excellence and good governance rooted in inclusion, diversity and equity. “Well-rounded” countries are best-placed to use digital tools to put people first. Speaking on a regional and global basis, panelists agreed that access to ICTs is just part of the picture. As Dr. Bughin underlined, “the question is not about access and usage of ICTs per se, but whether this access is revolutionary or not.” Dr. Bruno Lanvin outlined an “equation of objectives for the digital future – creating jobs, empowering the younger generation, and combating inequalities. We need to put digital reskilling at the core of these efforts.” To this end, Ankit Agarwal shared STL Group’s experience working to improve connectivity in India’s rural areas; in sum, improving access to ICTs is only transformative when efforts are supported by locally-specific programmes designed to build digital skills and knowledge.

Northern European countries lead the 2020 NRI, and dominate the NRI Top Ten rankings

As a region, Europe has always topped the rankings of the NRI, with Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands among the world’s top-four most network-ready economies, and the top-ten rankings dominated by European countries. There is, however, a great deal of regional disparity: the lowest ranking European economies are Bosnia and Herzegovina (87th), Albania (78th) and Moldova (71st). Our panel in mid-October explored Sweden’s “recipe for digital success”, featuring insights from the Swedish Minister for Digital Development and Energy, H.E. Anders Ygeman. Denmark climbed from 6th to 2nd in this year’s NRI; as explained by Dr. Lanvin, the reason for its improvement is higher scores in Governance (2nd) and Technology (5th), which room for improvement in inclusive access to ICTs (13th). As for the Netherlands (4th), its best showings are in Technology and Governance (3rd), and the economy falls outside of the NRI top-three by a slim margin. Again, Europe’s top performers demonstrate the importance of well-rounded, even performance across the NRI’s four pillars.