Advantages of a Digital Society

The EU is ready for a digital revolution and for reaping its benefits – this was one of the conclusions of the conference on the Advantages of a Digital Society, which took place on 25 October 2017 in Tallinn, Estonia. The participants discussed various aspects of e-society and the Digital Single Market. Cyber security, societal trust, the free flow of data, the further development of infrastructure and getting rid of barriers hindering the Digital Single Market were just a few of the issues raised.

Digitalisation is already changing the way we operate our businesses. The revolution is here and everyone can benefit from it, underlined Jacek P. Krawczyk, president of the Employers' Group, in his welcome speech. He stressed that reacting to ongoing changes in good time and making swift adjustments to business models is key in order to succeed.

A well-functioning Digital Single Market is a must if the EU wants to benefit from technological advances, stated Toomas Tamsar, Managing Director of the Estonian Employers' Confederation. He pointed out that ongoing changes will soon require changes to taxation systems, which need to be adapted to new business models. The EESC has already responded to the request of the Estonian presidency by preparing an own-initiative opinion on Taxation of the collaborative economy.

Oliver Väärtnõu, Member of the Board of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, presented examples of the benefits that using e-services can have for businesses. He also highlighted the importance of cooperation between the public sector and the private sector in further developing  e-society.

New business models come with a new mindset, said Kadri Simson, Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, in her keynote address. It is crucial to see digitalisation as an opportunity, not as a threat. She pointed out that legislation should help companies grow, rather than create new barriers. She gave specific examples of how Estonia deals with regulatory measures for a fast-changing business environment.

Best practice from Estonia and the introduction of digital services in Estonia

The participants on the first panel focused on the examples that Estonia provides as an e-society in the EU. The panellists also pointed out a number of areas where further improvement is needed.

Data flow between countries and businesses must be improved in order to provide border-free flows in real time. According to Janne Viskari, Director of Finnish Digital Services at the Population Register Centre, Estonia serves as a unique example of data flow, on account of having a proper approach to the subject. Estonia first built an advanced secure infrastructure for data exchange and then started gradually implementing numerous e-services.

Cybersecurity and societal trust in e-services was another issue raised. Having been the target of a mass cyber-attack in 2007, Estonia is an excellent case study in that respect. According to Merle Maigre, Director at the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, the way in which the government dealt with this attack increased societal trust in e-services. To provide sufficient cybersecurity, an effort is required at state level, as well as from corporations and individuals. Similarly, e-society will not succeed without a sufficient level of trust between citizens, the government and the private sector. Having an appropriate level of private data protection and a sufficient level of transparency, and involving numerous stakeholders, made it possible to build such a significant level of trust in e-services.

Innovation comes first and the law follows, stressed Marek Helm, Head of Public Finance Management at Nortal. When discussing the regulatory framework for dealing with digitalisation, the panellists agreed that it is important that the law does not hinder innovation. There will be a number of complicated issues that lawmakers will have to face, such as difficulties in defining the "geographical" origin of data and providing "digital" sovereignty when choosing data storage facilities.

European Digital Single Market

In the second panel, the participants attempted to identify the main measures needed at EU and national level in order to foster the creation of a Digital Single Market.

Good regulation and regulatory certainty, tailored policies on skills and education that meet the requirements of an ongoing digital revolution, proper investment in infrastructure and close public private partnership on this are just a few issues that have to be tackled in order to create a Digital Single Market.

Siim Sikkut, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Secretary-General for IT and Telecoms at the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, summarised the priorities put on the table by the Estonian presidency to speed up the creation of the Digital Single Market, including the legal basis for investment, e-commerce, cyber-security and the free flow of data.

Ulrich Samm, EESC rapporteur for the opinion on the European Gigabit Society, complained about the large fragmentation among operators in Europe and emphasised the urgent need to harmonise the systems and legal framework for data flow, etc. In order to provide equal access to digital services, significant public investment in infrastructure in remote and peripheral areas is also needed.

A digital society is not simply a nice thing to have; it is the only thing to have, concluded Viljar Lubi, Deputy Secretary-General for Economic Development at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, in his closing keynote speech. He pointed out that digitalisation makes competition even more global than before. He also referred to another aspect of digitalisation – robotisation – and the consequences it has for labour markets and business models.

The conference was organised jointly by the Employers' Group, the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU, the Estonian Employers' Confederation and the Estonian Chamber of Crafts and Industry.

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