Even though the ICT sector is itself worth between 6-8% of the EU’s GDP in the last few years, ICTs are much more important than that figure suggests, as they are central for the current situation and development of much more spheres of contemporary society as a whole and of national economies in Europe in particular. Today ICTs play a crucial role in: improving competitiveness throughout the economy in the face of globalisation, by boosting innovation, creativity and efficiency; – scientific and technological development in various areas (including medicine and physics); – modernising sectors as diverse as education, security, energy and transport, and making Europe’s public sector more efficient; – tackling social challenges and improving quality of life and meeting the challenge of an ageing society.
The EU policy framework for the information society and media – i2010- also promotes a European Information Society for all citizens. Actions implemented under this i2010 priority aim to ensure that the benefits of the information society can be enjoyed by everyone (e-Inclusion). Areas of eInclusion policy, as defined in i2010, are: ageing, eAccessibility, broadband gap (overcoming the so called “digital divide”), inclusive eGovernment, digital literacy and culture.
Actions under this priority also aim to encourage provision of better public services (eGovernment and eHealth). Here are the main spheres where ICTs have even bigger potential and are expected to develop in the short run: – Growth and Competitiveness ICT is a driver for productivity. The gains from ICT stem directly from investment in ICT, a fast growing and innovative ICT sector, and indirectly from improvements in business processes through wider use of these technologies across the economy.
According to a study, the overall contribution to labour productivity growth from ICT investments and from technical progress in the production of ICT goods and services accounted for about 40% of EU labour productivity growth over the second half of the 1990s, compared with 60% in the US. The ICT sector, as a whole, performs fairly well in comparison with the US in terms of size (10% of GDP in the US against 8% in the EU, and also in productivity and employment creation), but less so in terms of contribution to R&D (in the US, ICT account for 30% of R&D).
However, in these developments the EU has suffered from lower and delayed investments in ICT and, possibly, a less efficient use of ICT. Using Information and Communication Technologies can also further be used to manage finite natural resources and energy consumption much more efficiently, so that improving environmental protection without holding back economic development. – Convergence More and more, convergence of technologies, infrastructure and applications is developing to provide consumers with an access to a great diversity of attractive services and rich media and content on a wide range of devices.
Availability of content and services is becoming critical as the market moves to a phase where value-added services and content are key to revenue growth. The policy focus for 2010 will probably be the creation of a favourable environment that stimulates the competitive deployment of new converging services. – Broadband networks EU countries are global leader in high-speed internet. The number of fixed broadband internet connections in the EU keeps growing: 14 million more in 2008, reaching over 114 million in total.
Denmark and the Netherlands are world leaders in broadband, with take up over 35% of population. They lead, along with Sweden, Finland, the UK, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France, the US, which was at 25% in July 2008. This has produced a critical mass and there is already evidence that markets for high-quality content and service development are taking off. Furthermore, new developments in wireless broadband have made spectrum availability crucial to new services and applications, and the efficient management of spectrum key to further broadband developments.
Finally, the enhancement of interoperability and security are essential to and increase consumers’ choice and facilitate take-up. In the beginning of 2009 1 billion euro has been earmarked by the European Commission to help rural areas get online, bring new jobs and help businesses grow. Competitiveness, job creation and protection, sustainable development, spatial balance and fighting the digital divide are the main goals that the broadband internet access could achieve. – Contents and information society services
Convergence is creating a promising range of opportunities for the development of content and information society services making the most of ICT. The challenge for the single information space is to create the appropriate environment that will meet both business and consumer expectations while promoting the European content industry. This requires a competitive environment, where interoperability allows cross-platform competition and usage. This also requires a clear European regulatory framework with respect to content regulation and a secure environment for the distribution of digital content.
Ensuring consumer acceptance pass by offering access to a great variety of flexible content and services adapted to user needs. Improving security and privacy as well as minor protection and media literacy are needed to allow European citizens to benefit fully from these content and services. – Innovation and research In order Europe to catch-up with the levels of productivity growth of other regions of the world, it should strengthen innovation and concentrate these efforts in those sectors, like the ICT, where the value added is the highest.
A pre-requisite is to increase investment in research: at present the EU devotes only 18% of research expenditure to ICT whereas the leading OECD countries allocate more than 30%. In absolute amounts, Europe’s investment in ICT research is only two thirds of that of Japan and one third of that seen in the USA. Research and development is making technology simpler to use, more available and affordable; providing new ICT-based solutions that are trusted, reliable, and adaptable to users’ contexts and preferences. However, research alone is not sufficient as it needs be consolidated by organisational innovation.
ICT must be widely adopted and supported by adequate reorganisation of business processes and by a skilled workforce. Businesses in the EU are increasingly adopting advanced ICT and are engaging in on-line transactions but are lagging behind in the adoption of integrated business applications (particularly the European small and medium enterprises). – Skills and work The development of the ICT sector and the wide-spread diffusion and use of ICT in the economy and in the society bring opportunities for new employment and more creative and fulfilling jobs.
Changing needs for ICT and e-Business skills (e-Skills) in the future heavily depend on innovation and the introduction of new technologies. The greatest challenge is to assess forward-looking innovations and understand what new skills will be needed, to be able to anticipate and manage changes and be effective, quick and efficient in creating new, innovative jobs. – e-Business Though nearly all enterprises are connected to the internet, a large section of the business community is only beginning to exploit the potential of ICT.
E-commerce is expected to continue to grow rapidly. More efforts are needed to improve business processes in European enterprises and fully integrate ICT providing new opportunities to reduce their costs and improve performance. Factors which will contribute to increase e-Business include promotion of take-up of e-business solutions and best practices security, addressing privacy and security concerns, availability of content and new services, increase automation of business processes, acceptance of payment for content and services, e-invoicing and e-procurement. Public services Public services are at the heart of the European social model, playing a key role in growth, innovation and cohesion. There is increasing evidence that a better exploitation of ICT through combined improvement of facilities, working processes and skills can significantly enhance public service’s organisation provision. However, the potential remains unfulfilled due to technical, legal or organisational obstacles.
For example, government services are widely available online but the demand is not sufficient and efficiency gains from back-office reorganisation are still largely underexploited. Specific challenges relate to friendly user-centric services, back-office streamlining, interoperability of key infrastructures and facilities, identity management, or privacy and trust. – e-Inclusion Increasing impact of ICT on social inclusion and participation creates new opportunities. Significant progress on ICT penetration across all EU regions and socio-demographic groups helps to decrease disparities.
However, some specific challenges concern accessibility of ICT equipment and user-friendly interfaces, digital literacy or improved confidence and support for ICT use. Some important concerns are “design for all” of ICT equipment; human mediation and support for e-services; intuitive use of affordable value-added e-content and services accessible; and efficient solutions for threats to privacy, security and harmful content threats. – Quality of life and environment ICT have a direct impact on the environment but also indirect social and economic consequences as a result of its application.
ICT positive impact on the environment includes environmental modelling (forecasting), the miniaturisation of devices (which reduces the resources needed for manufacture and distribution), micro/nano technology and embedded systems which improve disaster management, and reduce the environmental impact of farming and fishing. ICT also enables a less resource-intensive production, thereby reducing the environmental impact of economic activities. – e-Work contributes to environmental sustainability as travelling to work is reduced.
Innovative transport planning systems can ease traffic congestion and optimise transport capacity. ICT can also contribute to quality of life by delivering more efficient and more effective public services and goods to individuals which in turn can improve their life chances. ICT support for comprehensive life-long learning policies (through e-learning, digital competence actions) can enable all individuals to adapt and keep the pace with the continuous social, economic and technological changes. – Climate and energy policy
The combined climate and energy policy is central at the EU’s political programme. Its aism are to bring about alternative ways of running our daily lives so that Europe can continue to create growth and jobs while leading the global effort to tackle climate change and energy efficiency. Europe faces three main challenges in this field – tackling climate change, guaranteeing secure, sustainable and competitive energy, and making the European economy a model for sustainable development in the 21st century.
The resolve of the European Council to transform Europe into a low-carbon, high energy efficiency economy means that the continued growth of the European economy, essential to achieve full employment and inclusion, needs to be decoupled from energy consumption. The current trends are unsustainable. Indeed, if nothing were to change, final energy consumption in the EU is predicted to increase up to 25% by 2012, with a substantial rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
ICTs have an important role to play in reducing the energy intensity and increasing the energy efficiency of the economy, in other words, in reducing emissions and contributing to sustainable growth. In addition to that, ICTs will not only improve energy efficiency and combat climate change but will also stimulate the development of a large leading-edge market for ICT enabled energy-efficiency technologies that can foster the competitiveness of European industry and create new business opportunities.
Courtney from Study Moose
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