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Digitaleurope puts forward proposals for €750bn stimulus investment

Plans include skills and education, healthcare, SMEs, transformation and Green Deal

Digitaleurope, the representative body for Europe’s digital technology industry, has put forward a set of proposals for how the €750 billion EU common stimulus package can be used to make Europe more competitive and innovative, greener and more resilient.

The proposals were contained in the organisation’s report How to Spend it: A Digital Investment Plan for Europe, published at the end of October. The report puts forward ideas for pan-European projects and member-state investments in areas such as digital skills and education, digital healthcare, digitising SMEs, digital transformation and the Green Deal, and connectivity and infrastructure.

"There is a strong consensus that investment in digital technologies must be one of the pillars of the recovery," says Una Fitzpatrick, director of Technology Ireland, the Ibec organisation that represents Ireland's tech sector. "As an executive board member of Digitaleurope, I will be working to highlight these proposals to the Irish Government as well as to policy makers in Brussels. "

She believes education and skills is probably the most important area for investment. “This is the area consistently identified by Technology Ireland members both pre-Covid and now,” she says. “It’s the one that never goes away. But the nature of education and training has changed. Third-level education is still hugely important, as is staying up to date to ensure graduates are relevant to industry. But what has emerged is alternative pathways into the industry. Companies are now asking if it could be done by apprenticeship or upskilling in the workplace with highly targeted training.”



Attracting talent is also critically important. “We have to make sure we have enough talent in the country,” says Fitzpatrick. “Even if every Leaving Cert student chose a computer science course next year it wouldn’t be enough to meet the needs of the industry. The exponential nature of the industry’s growth is such that have to keep attracting key talent and skills into the country as well.”

Ireland has significant opportunities in digital healthcare. “This is one where Ireland could be very strong,” she contends. “When you look at the pharma, biopharma, medtech and ICT base we have here – the melting pot is there. We have been working with colleagues in biopharma and medtech to bring companies together and to bring talent together to make Ireland a world leader in this space. We have seen advances in telemedicine and remote patient monitoring driven by Covid-19 but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

For SMEs the digital agenda has never been more important. “When you look at sectors like retail and the experience economy, which have been most impacted by Covid-19, there is opportunity now to look at best practice digital transformation programmes. Those who have multi-platform offerings post Covid-19 will do best. Digital adoption will be critical to success and scaling for SMEs in the coming years.”

Green agenda

Sustainability can also be enhanced, according to Fitzpatrick. “There is a huge amount that digital technologies can do for the green agenda. The technology industry itself is becoming greener with some companies looking at being carbon neutral within the next three years and others looking at negative carbon by 2030. We are seeing huge levels of innovation and outreach in what these companies are doing, and they are sharing their knowledge and insights with others. That’s hugely positive. They are facilitating the transition to low carbon circular economy.”

She believes a collaboration between the technology industry, the State and different sectors can play a valuable role in this. “Public-private partnership digital lighthouse projects can show how every industry can be digitised to become greener and more sustainable,” she adds.

Turning to connectivity and digital infrastructure she says their importance has been highlighted by the shift to remote working during Covid-19. “We have all seen how connectivity is so critical to remote working and to the factories of the future which need connectivity for IoT and AI. You can have a modern efficient factory but if you want to stay competitive you are going to need connectivity to support industry 4.0 technologies. Having the right connectivity mix is very important. That means having fibre, 5G and so on to deliver the capacity, coverage, speed and security that people require.”

Allocate funds

While the European Commission has said 20 per cent of the Recovery and Resilience Package should be spent on digital investments, Fitzpatrick says it is for the Irish Government to decide how to allocate funds in this country. “We will be emphasising the key areas identified in the Digitaleurope report and hoping to align with Government thinking on them. Ultimately, everyone wants Ireland to be as competitive as possible and to realise its full growth potential.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times