By Peter Friess // Programme Officer // Media Policy Directorate – Social Media & Networks –
STARTS // European Commission, DG Connect, Brussels, Belgium

There is much talk on the subject of digitization. While many think that digitization is just an inevitable force in our world, others are making the important point that in order to make the most of today’s digital revolution, we in the EU need to focus our efforts on better understanding what forms of digitization are most important to our future. This requires a constantly updated understanding of how rapid technological innovation has the potential to disrupt businesses, reinvent products, and reshape modern-day industries.

Industry is a pillar of the European economy. The manufacturing sector in the European Union accounts for 2 million enterprises, 33 million jobs and 60% of productivity growth. We stand on the brink of a new industrial revolution, driven by next-generation technologies such as the Internet of Things, Cloud Computing, Big Data and Data Analytics, Robotics and 3D printing. They open up new horizons for industry to become more adventurous, more efficient, and more capable of developing innovative new products and services. Recent studies estimate that the digitization of products and services can add more than 110 billion euros of annual revenue to the European continent in the next five years.

This economic potential should not be taken for granted. Europe’s high-tech sectors face severe competition from around the world and are also often at odds with traditional business and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that can tend to technologically lag behind. To make sure that both future and present-day industries have every opportunity to evolve, innovate and succeed, the European Commission launched a major innovation initiative last year as a part of Horizon2020: Digitising European Industry (DEI). DEI is designed to develop the next generation of digital platforms and to rebuild the underlying digital supply chain upon which all areas of business depend. This initiative targets every economic sector by identifying which segments of the economy are most advantageously positioned to adapt, transform and benefit from digitization – notably by also allowing smaller players to capture value. Digital Platforms are becoming a key factor in one industry after another by altering or reorganizing old business models with new types of services and applications that in turn lead to whole new marketplaces. The initiative cross-cuts a wide area of topics – micro-electronics, Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud Services and Artificial Intelligence.

Besides direct support for these types of technologies, DEI funding also goes beyond a strictly technology and ICT focus and also contributes to more sustainable forms of innovation for organizations that are combining Science, Technology and the Arts (STARTS) and creating future social networks and media platforms.

 

STARTS is backed by the European Commission

In the digital age, art and engineering are no longer contradictory modes of thinking, and the STARTS initiative attempts to remove the boundaries between art and engineering to stimulate creativity and innovation. There are a growing number of areas where the arts are gaining prominence as a catalyst for inspiring conversions that turn S&T knowledge into novel products and services that eventually go on to restructure approaches to research, business, and society in general.

To spark innovation, the European Commission has a three-year funding plan in support of “STARTS lighthouse pilots” that seek to develop art-inspired solutions to many of Europe’s largest industrial and societal challenges. By engaging with technologists, end-users, creatives and industry leaders, this project seeks to support groups focused on new ways of conceptualizing how technology can be put to use. Funding will focus on two key themes. The first theme is ‘art-inspired interactive human-centered environments,’ involving digital objects and novel media like IoT, augmented reality, or social media. The second is ‘art-inspired urban manufacturing,’ driven by de-centralized and digitally-enabled production systems that lead to mass co-creation in urban environments. Expectations are high that these pilots will break old molds and foster new innovations that benefit both the public and the private sector.

Lastly, DEI supports fostering the “Future Hyper-connected Sociality” associated with rising social networks and new media platforms. The next generation of social networks will be a critical place for the exchange of ideas, conducting commerce, and learning new disciplines. Like the “STARTS,” the European Commission will also spend the next three years financially supporting organizations working on social media platforms that contribute to a “Global Social Sphere” where decentralised community structures and open source innovation are critical. All of this ultimately benefits prosumers, journalistic enterprises, local communities, and small businesses that already depend upon the social networks of today to achieve a range of different objectives.

Overall, chances are high that the Digitization of European Industry will be achieved more and more effectively as the forces at work within industry, science, the arts and government continue to more cooperatively align with one another and maintain an open dialogue in regards to future innovations. The extent to which this can be done is the extent to which digitization will not just be seen by traditional business leaders as mere disruption, but also a fantastic opportunity for growth, innovation, and discovery.

The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and may, in any circumstances, not be interpreted as stating an official position of the European Commission.

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