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Digitising European industry: Reaping the full benefits of a digital single market

Digitisation of industry would create an additional €110 billion of revenue for industry per year in Europe over the next five years. Companies will be able to develop new products, processes and business models that can provide improved safety and greater comfort for users. They will be able to sell personalised products at mass production cost, and they can optimise the use of energy and other resources. Digitisation can help to solve issues related to an ageing society (people can stay longer at home), use less energy (for instance, city lightning that only switches on when it is needed), monitor the environment, etc.

There are currently more than 30 national and regional initiatives on digitising industry. The Commission will organise: 1) twice-yearly high-level roundtables of representatives of the Member States’ initiatives, industry leaders, and social partners to ensure a continuous EU-wide dialogue, monitor progress and investments, to be kicked off by meetings at the Hanover Fair later in April 2016; and 2) an annual stakeholder forum involving stakeholders from the full digital value chains beginning in early 2017, prepared by working groups in the second half of 2016.

For Member States which have already launched their initiatives, Commission’s plans will better coordinate and link up national digital programmes. This could improve access to finance for all. The European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) has shown that the EU as a whole can mobilise resources for investment that no individual Member State could raise on its own, and can leverage private investments to greater effect than many Member States. Countries without national or regional programmes or initiatives will be able to leapfrog the steps already taken by Member States with initiatives.

The Commission will invest €500 million in digital innovation hubs so that every industry, large or small, high-tech or not, can get access to knowledge and testing facilities in the latest digital technologies. These centres of excellence would be based in technical universities or research organisations and should provide companies, in particular SMEs, with access to facilities for digital innovation; supply advice on potential sources of funding or finance; make available spaces for testing and experimentation; and help workers find the necessary skills and training. The Commission will invite digital innovation hubs to bid for EU funding in a series of calls for proposals over the next five years. It will also encourage Member States and regions with no appropriate hub or facilities to invest in them, in particular with EU regional funding.

With the support of industry and Member States, the Commission will: 1) propose in 2016 an initiative on free flow of data within the EU in order to remove or prevent unjustified localisation requirements in national legislation or regulation as well as to examine in greater detail the emerging issues of data ownership, access and re-use rules, including as regards data in an industrial context and especially data generated by sensors and other collecting devices; 2) explore the legal frameworks for autonomous systems and internet of things applications in particular safety and liability rules and the legal conditions to allow large-scale testing in real-life environments; 3) initiate work on the safety of applications and other non-embedded software not covered by sectoral legislation to gather views on possible need for further action at EU level.

While personal data is covered and protected by EU rules, there are no clear guidelines for other types of data. Large amounts of data are produced every second, created by people or generated by machines, such as sensors gathering climate information, satellite imagery, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, or GPS signals. They represent a goldmine for research, innovation and new business opportunities. But data often remains stuck in national expensive data centres (e.g. Member States requirements to keep data inside their territory). Unnecessary restrictions should be removed and national systems better aligned to allow a better flow of data within the EU and to stimulate the development of new technologies such as cloud computing. The Commission will assess the different legal and technical obstacles and will then define measures to address them.