Securing Europe’s future: innovation and technical progress are key, says Barroso

As the President of Microsoft International I had the honour of hosting the Government Leadership Forum (GLF) in London.

An event that unites government leaders from across Europe as well as from the EU institutions.  GLF always provides a dynamic, and at times challenging debate, and this year was no exception. 

The central theme of GLF was Building a Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Europe — Europe 2020 in Action, so who better to introduce the event than the architect himself, President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso. Click on video below to hear President Barroso’s address.

José Manuel Barroso : opening speech for the Government Lead

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I can only applaud the President’s call to help move Europe from crisis management toward a broader agenda focused on reform. We are all undergoing a transformation brought on by the financial crisis, and while I wish a more positive force had brought it about, I would argue that this journey toward increased transparency, productivity and efficiency is a good one. I believe this transformation will make all of us more accountable to our constituents and our customers and better leaders for it. 

President Barroso and the Commission have set in motion a solid strategy to help the EU chart its way out the crisis and begin its own transformation with the Europe 2020 Agenda. The first three flagship action plans of the Europe 2020 strategy, namely the Digital Agenda, Youth on the Move and the Innovation Union are welcome and important steps.

There is an incredibly important role for technology to play moving towards economic upturn. The Europe 2020 Agenda clearly aims to put technology at the heart of Europe’s competitiveness. We believe that the goals of raising productivity and improving innovation output can be realized through the innovative use of ICT and specifically, cloud computing. We’re already seeing some interesting transformation happening when cloud services are applied to traditional scenarios, opening new worlds of possibility in innovation, cost savings and efficiency in service delivery.

One example is a UK-based company called Huddle, which was recently selected by the social security agency of the Belgian government to help meet the increased IT demands of managing the Belgian presidency of the EU, while also reducing its ICT costs and complexity. With a new imperative for inter-agency and cross-department collaboration and information sharing, this agency turned to Huddle to serve as the platform through which its constituents can securely share and collaborate on information. The Huddle platform is built on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s development platform for the cloud. 

Another example is the Swedish Red Cross which is using the cloud to help manage communications with its volunteers. In times of crisis, volunteer numbers swell and reliable access to information is critical as those volunteers deploy to the field. Using the Microsoft cloud, this organization can now cost-effectively scale its ICT infrastructure to ensure reliable field communications for its variable numbers of volunteers, while saving 20 percent in overall ICT costs.

These are two short examples, and we currently have more than 300 organizations in the public sector in EU countries using the Microsoft cloud today, with the potential for more than a million EU civil servants to be using the Microsoft cloud within the next year. 

However beyond the technology discussion, there’s also a critical discussion to be had on the policy front. The ability for Europe to be competitive and take full advantage of this step-change in computing innovation is dependent on policy innovation, now more than ever. As the ‘Digital Agenda’ has recognised, there remains much to be done. 

In particular, The Digital Single Market has yet to be completed, with particular gaps remaining on data portability across borders to support eGovernment and eHealth service delivery. As President Barroso mentioned in his remarks, new technologies are desperately needed for the provisioning of better public services at lower cost. Additionally we must continue to prioritize policy that provides for skills training to equip European citizens with the digital skills they need to thrive in the 21st century economy.

I would argue that innovation on the policy front is as important as innovation in the technology. I couldn’t agree more with President Barroso that Europe cannot be allowed to remain in our comfort zone of “business as usual.” 

We believe deeply in the promise and potential of the Europe 2020 Agenda for European governments, businesses and citizens, and we are deeply committed to partnering closely with Europe’s government leaders to help move this important agenda forward and to help Europe reach its full cloud potential.

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