16 June, 2023

Gearing towards the Digital Decade


JOE TANTI – CEO – MBB

An overview of the EU’s strategy for 2030

Digitalisation is a key priority for the EU. Being ahead of the curve on innovation and technology is crucial to safeguard the competitiveness of European businesses and this is enabled through timely and efficient regulatory frameworks.

We have witnessed a digital revolution over the last few decades. During this time, digital gatekeepers have accumulated a magnitude of power over ordinary businesses and consumers which needed rebalancing; artificial intelligence has evolved from basic to highly sophisticated tools; data is now widely regarded as digital gold; and as the digital economy grows, so do the challenges and risks that come in the form of cybersecurity threats.

The basis for a thriving digital economy is a robust regulatory framework. This way innovators and companies can operate by the same rules in a predictable environment. To this effect, during this mandate the European Commission has been very active in regulating the digital economy. To mention a few, the Data Act which concerns the interoperability between data spaces, the Chips Act which focuses on semiconductor technology, the Artificial Intelligence Act which is a new global standard establishing rules according to risk categories, and the Cyber Resilience Act which tackles cybersecurity aspects of hardware and software products. Not to mention the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act that aim to ensure the safety and standards of products and services sold online. Considering the impact that digitalisation will have on the future EU economy, a reinvigorated focus on legislation is highly justified as long as it is practical and does not stifle innovation.

Nevertheless, beyond legislation, a much broader vision is required for the EU to be a global protagonist of the digital economy. With this in mind, the European Commission took a step further by outlining a strategy for the Digital Decade with clear milestones leading up to 2030 in areas that include digital skills, digital infrastructures, digitalisation of businesses and public services. The EU’s Digital Decade strategy is human centred and aims at building and deploying technological capabilities that will address digital divides and will help people and businesses become more independent in an increasingly interconnected world. In this respect, to keep up with innovative technologies that are fast evolving, the EU also established the Digital Europe Programme, with EU funds made available to help public authorities and companies to reinforce the critical digital capacities in the key areas of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced computing, data infrastructure, governance, and processing. These are to be deployed in critical sectors like energy, climate change and environment, manufacturing, agriculture, and health.

Furthermore, through the Digital Decade Policy Programme (DDPP) the EU is looking to double the number of EU digital unicorns by 2030. Unicorns are defined as privately owned companies valued at $1 billion or more. Such companies provide an innovation and investment driven ecosystem that will boost the creation of more tech companies in the EU. To date such investment is mostly concentrated in the United States and Asia.

From a local perspective, Malta ranked 6th out of 27 EU Member States in the 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). 71% of Maltese small and medium enterprises have at least a basic level of digital intensity and perform particularly well in the use of technologies such as big data and cloud solutions. Malta also boasts a strong focus on advanced digital technologies, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. But despite such progress, Maltese companies, similar to businesses across the EU, experience lack of staff with adequate digital skills.

Overall, these are encouraging indicators, but not sufficient to be complacent. In the coming years, digitalisation will become more sophisticated and in much shorter timeframes. This will require ongoing investment in infrastructure and skills for Maltese and EU companies to remain competitive. For these reasons, while the EU’s ambitious and multifaceted Digital Decade plan is welcome, the progress and success of the strategy will be shaped by ongoing proactive policy and regulatory updates, and consistently matching public investment to the same level as other global competitors.

The Malta Business Bureau has been fairly active in supporting companies go through the digital transition through the different EU projects it is engaged in. Currently, together with other partners the MBB is implementing the DIGITOUR project, which identifies innovative ways in bridging the digital skill gaps and training needs within the tourism sector. Through the Tourism 4.0 project several tourism SMEs have received a grant to upgrade to more digital operations. Another project, ToRRe, is concerned with helping the retail sector reinvent itself through a toolkit that promotes digital upskilling. Digitalisation shall remain a priority for the MBB, and we will seek to continue adding value to the local business sector through such projects. 

Joe Tanti is the CEO of the Malta Business Bureau. The MBB is the EU business advisory organisation of The Malta Chamber and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association. It is also a partner of the Enterprise Europe Network.

This article first appeared on The Malta Independent on 1st June 2023.

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