Q&A with Roberto Viola
Q. Mr Viola, you are Director General of DG CONNECT covering Communications Networks, Content and Technology, for the whole of the European Union. This is a vast project and your remit is so wide-ranging. What would you say are the top three objectives of DG CONNECT and how have they changed over the last three years (if they have)?
A. It is indeed vast and incredibly rewarding. Why? Because if we get this right we will improve the lives of EU citizens. Digitisation will radically transform our economy and our workforce. With the right digital policies in place, the data economy will have a beneficial impact on our economy and society, thus creating opportunities for all. In this respect I would like to mention connectivity, trust and data.
On connectivity, we need to make sure that all Europeans citizens and businesses have access to fast and reliable internet which will allow them to access content, products and services within the digital single market. Good connectivity will also help further digital transformation of our industries and the modernisation of key sectors such as health, mobility, energy and our public administrations. Furthermore connectivity will improve the digitisation of products and services, adding more than €100 bn of annual revenue in Europe in the next 5 years. To get good connectivity we are looking to develop state of the art infrastructure and technology for the data economy and will help Europe lead the High Performance Computing race.
On trust, we want to boost cybersecurity technology and improve cyber resilience across Europe. The Commission recently adopted proposals aiming to ensure trustworthiness of ICT products and services and to avoid fragmentation of cyber certification schemes and initiatives by establishing an ICT cybersecurity certification framework. We will also set up a network of competence centres with a European Research & Competence Centre at its core to pool expertise. We have also laid out a Blueprint on the parameters for a coordinated response to large scale cybersecurity incidents and crises. Last but not least, our recent proposal adapts the scope of the Cybersecurity Agency to the current and future needs to improve coordination and cooperation.
Another priority is the free flow of non-personal data in the Digital Single Market. Here, we have proposed measures to remove unjustified or disproportionate rules that hamper or restrict companies in choosing a location for storage or processing of their non-personal data. Indeed, removing data localisation restrictions is considered the most important factor for the data economy to unlock its full potential and to double its value to 4% of GDP by 2020.
Q. We know how quickly digitisation is changing social and economic development in countries across the globe. This is often being called the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. What are the challenges for the social and economic welfare of societies as a whole – and is it important for the benefits to be spread equally? Is that feasible?
A. Although some fear this 'revolution', I see this as an opportunity. Indeed, data technologies and services are transforming the society and are a major source of growth. If we get it right, the value of the EU data economy could increase to €739 billion by 2020, representing 4% of EU GDP.
The main challenge is to ensure that our citizens are ready for these changes. 37% of the work force lacks basic digital skills, and there are more than 300.000 vacancies for skilled technical experts. We are working with member states to ensure that they introduce digital skills plans. The Commission is working to help the EU workforce through a number of actions building on the experience from the recent pilot "Digital Opportunity" scheme. Furthermore, we are watching with interest how the digital revolution will impact social and welfare systems. Even here, digital transformation brings value to the economy and allows us to have a better quality lives. For example, more connected and efficient governments will help citizens get access to better services, start businesses, smarter mobility solutions and enjoy a better quality of life. So, in my view, although there are certainly challenges, we should also embrace the opportunities.
Q. Does DG CONNECT have overlap with other areas, such as e-health and e-government? How does your DG deal with the tensions across subject areas or are they complementary?
A. I do not quite get the question. E-health and e-government are at the centre of DG CONNECT mission. We have policies and research activities in these areas. Digitisation is providing unique solutions to various societal challenges from sustainable and personal healthcare to energy and resource efficiency.
We are of course working very closely with our colleagues across the Commission. One example are the actions in the area of eHealth announced in the Commission Communication on the mid-term review of the Digital Single Market, which will allow the possibility for citizens to use their personal data concerning health, securely for medical purposes. It will also support the development of a secure data infrastructure to advance research, disease prevention and personalised health and care. Indeed, the early adoption of EU-wide of people-centric digital health innovation to prevent chronic diseases and improve the quality of health and care services can be done thanks to using mobile health applications, telemedicine and connected care.
Q. How does the DG decide where to deploy its resources?
A. We have to be double C: committed and creative. We have introduced the concept of project teams. For cross cutting issues, of which as you can imagine there are many, we set up teams who work on them full-time or part-time depending on needs. It not only allows us to be flexible and adapt to the current needs but gives also colleagues a chance to take up a managerial role. And of course, we are a digital Commission!
Q. You will be a keynote speaker in the forthcoming IIC Annual Conference – its 48th consecutive such Conference. This is very much an international event. How important to you and your colleagues is it to work with your counterparts in other countries and what do you expect?
A. Thank you again for the invitation to the IIC Annual Conference, I am very happy to be able to speak there. Working with our counterparts in other countries is of key importance. We aim to make digital issues part of all our cooperation programmes.
We have ongoing ICT dialogues with our principal partners and now, we are stepping up cooperation with them on the emerging issues such as the future of the Internet or the role of Blockchain.