importance of digitalisation, smart cities
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Alun Foster, Head of Plans and Dissemination at ECSEL JU, lifts the lid on the economic importance of “digitalisation”

The economic importance of “digitalisation” has been in the media for a while. Businesses and administrations alike have woken up to the benefits to be gleaned across all parts of their operations from this seemingly unstoppable digital wave. From a marketing buzzword to big advances in product and service efficiency, it’s all there and anyone who misses this bandwagon will be in serious trouble. That sounds dramatic but is sadly true. Any enterprise, be it large or small, manufacturing or service, private or public sector, that does not keep up is likely to become short-lived and surpassed by more competitive players or solutions. We all need “digital” but must also be aware of its potential pitfalls – not in the least of these is safe, private, guaranteed continuity of service.

Digitalisation has already become so intimately woven within the fabric of society, losing control of it would have potentially far-reaching if not disastrous consequences. Self-determination about the availability, as well as features and functions (visible or not), of digitalisation solutions has become key in protecting both the well-being and the values of society. The new European Parliament and Commission are fully aware of the implications, and “digitalisation” has now become a central theme in many areas. From financial regulation on acquisitions, protection of individual privacy and rules that assure fair business practices to fundamental R&D on related topics, all bases presently have the full attention of policymakers. But “digitalisation” evolves very quickly.

While most of us experience it through the interfaces offered to us on what are visibly computing devices running software, by far the biggest impact comes from the things we do not see…

• The Internet of Things (IoT).
• Artificial intelligence (AI).
• Big data.
• Smart cities.
• Self-driving cars.
• Clean air transport.

All are products of digitalisation; all rely on very advanced software technologies and – importantly – all of them rely on very advanced electronics technologies too. Without the electronics technologies, there’s no software and consequently no “digitalisation” either. Keeping control of the electronics technologies as well as the understanding of software is, therefore, paramount for a society in assuring self-determination. Europe has a long history of funding collaborative, pre-competitive research on areas where the normal workings of a market fail.

What about critical supply networks?

Electronics is manifestly such a market, where the rush for cheap consumer items has driven producers to chase the lowest cost available on the global scene, and not always without some fundamental compromises. The digitalisation wave is now relying on these same sources for its fundamentals: surely an unsafe situation, by any standard. In the constellation of available funding opportunities, Joint Undertakings like ECSEL fulfil a specific role. With an ambition of appropriate scale, ECSEL JU spans large parts of the critical supply networks, from basic materials to safe, reliable working products and services.

Mandatory for securing industrial and societal well-being, developing common solutions to technological problems, along with agreement on methods, tools and standards that stem from significant industrial buy-in, requires a different approach. Traditionally, piecemeal work on separate areas could leave valuable ideas stranded in what some call the “Valley of Death”, never making it out of the test lab. With its three-way funding model (“Tri-partite”) ECSEL JU projects can develop enough traction across increasingly complex supply networks to be able to bridge that valley.

It’s a win-win-win situation in fact: Each Euro a country invests is matched by another from the European Union (EU) (or each Euro the EU invests is matched by another from participating countries), and these two Euros are then more than matched by the industrial participants, who see in this a way to fast-track their access to new partners, technologies, markets and businesses, driving up their local investments in infrastructure and staff.

This, in turn, fuels economic activity, provides jobs, secures public budgets and, thereby, citizens’ wellbeing: a virtuous cycle. More to the point, it works.

ECSEL JU projects have, amongst other successes:

• Delivered standards, processes and tools that keep EU industries ahead in Industry 4.0 manufacturing.
• Triggered multi-billion Euro investments in semi-conductor manufacturing infrastructure in Europe.
• Kept European suppliers ahead of the world in safety critical electronics, such as those used ubiquitously in aeroplanes, cars (especially self-driving), trains, etc.
• Established European suppliers as leaders in Power Electronics, used world-wide in (sustainable) electric vehicles and energy management systems, also aiding the transition to “green digitalisation.”
• Put European companies on the map for supplying advanced chips for the mobile telecom industry, including 5G radio and beyond.
• Kept European suppliers ahead of the world in safety-critical electronics, such as those used ubiquitously in medical devices, aeroplanes, cars (especially selfdriving), trains, etc.
• Defined technology platforms that can accelerate the development of new electronic medical devices, that in turn can help to keep the ballooning cost of healthcare under control.

And the work continues.

Does Europe need a programme like ECSEL JU in the future? Based on these successes, we think most certainly yes!

You can find out more about ECSEL JU and the excellent projects they fund, by visiting the ECS Brokerage Event 2020, to take place in Brussels on January 14th & 15th: see or

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Head of Plans and Dissemination
Phone: +32 2 221 81 02
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