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Open letter to the editor - by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, and Björn Ottersten, Digital Champion for Luxembourg

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Published on Friday, 07 June 2013

Big corporations like Siemens, Alcatel, and Microsoft used to be the foundation of progress, growth and wealth. Today, in this age of information and communication technologies (ICT), new innovative business models are driven by small enterprises and start-ups. This development is quickly gathering momentum, driving innovation and creating jobs.

Developing cutting edge services or products does not necessarily require vast laboratory infrastructures or large teams of researchers. Innovations take many forms, technical, organizational, social & financial. Disruptive innovation often comes from small businesses and sometimes even from single individuals, whether it is launching an operating systems with global reach (Linux), retransforming the entire telecom market (Skype), or reshaping the music industry (Spotify). The new way of generating innovation doesn’t respect geographical borders, regulated work schedules or corporate hierarchies.

What counts is the ability to adapt. And quickly. Being open to technological progress is the only guarantee to ensure economic success. We see a business ecosystem evolving where R&D increasingly is outsourced to small dynamic enterprises that can assume high risk; exploit the creativity of teams; leverage entrepreneurship; and respond quickly to small but growing markets. Many ventures fail, but this is a necessary and natural process.
What must Europe do to seize the opportunities of the digital society and this new culture of innovation?

Ideas can arise everywhere and entrepreneurs are looking for a place to realize their goals quickly, effectively, and with the maximum possible success. Only a Europe without internal borders will be able to keep up with the global competition by providing an environment for rapid dissemination of novel products and services, a characteristic of the highly scalable, digital economy.
We need to lay the foundations for a future-proof innovation model; stimulating the development of networked technologies and services relying on the worldwide availability of talented creators; facilitate access to cloud based architectures that are the engines of cost reduction; invest in research and the renewed qualification of the working force; establish a common minimum level of preparedness regarding cross-border network and information security; drop our traditional inward looking and protectionist approaches in favour of an open reach approach.

We need to have adequate infrastructure as a basis for the digital society. Digital connectivity allows ideas arising somewhere in a Transylvanian village, on a Frisian island, or on a finca in the Spanish Pyrenees to spread - as long as there are creative people out there in these disparate locations with Internet access.

The digital society appeals especially to the younger generation. Expertise and access to networks depend on solid education & training. Digital skills have to be systematically incorporated into the education of our children and the continued education of adults. Also here ICT is bringing disruption, with massive open online courses (MOOCs) transforming higher education. If we embrace large-scale interactive participation for teaching & learning, we can level the playing field for our students, but also raise the level to meet global competition.

European policy makers, especially in the current economic environment, need to help create the right conditions for this digital future. The process of “relentless innovation” is increasingly being advanced by the smallest organizations. We need to find ways of strengthening these players and enhancing their competitive edge.
Luxembourg is well positioned to take advantage of these trends. A forward-looking strategy has created an efficient ICT infrastructure with high bandwidth connectivity, data centres and cloud services attracting digital businesses of the future. Looking ahead, we need to ensure that the human infrastructure is also in place. From universal e-skills to focussed research & innovations, fostered in creative environments and fuelling the economy with new ideas with access to markets of scale.

If we accept an economic ecosystem of change where relentless innovation leads to disruptive and optimistic thinking, we can lay the foundations for lasting growth & prosperity.