With economic headwinds buffeting Europe, governments are confronted by many difficult challenges. But in these unpredictable times, one thing is certain – that Europe has to embrace change, to do things in a better, more efficient and innovative way.
From healthcare and education, to energy and the environment, to entrepreneurship and job creation, government agencies need to focus on creating efficient and affordable ways to make a real impact for the people they serve. Innovation should be a catalyst to meet these goals as the public sector addresses expanding citizen needs (and demands) with constrained resources.
European governments need to collaborate, exchange knowledge, and keep an open mind in exploring the potential solutions to these difficult challenges. At the same time, we must also recognize that countries, regions and cities compete with each other: for foreign direct investment, in business and consumer markets, to attract new businesses and top talent.
This form of competition was a core topic at our recent Competitiveness Forum, attended by government and industry leaders from across the Central and Eastern European region.
Countries that compete successfully on a global scale often specialize in a discrete set of industries in which they have developed world-class capabilities. And increasingly, those industries are heavily knowledge-based and require a pipeline of skilled workers. The needs of these industries must be factored into long-term policy goals for education, workforce planning, R&D, and investment.
Given the increasing demand for knowledge workers, cultivating an adaptable, skilled and technology-literate workforce should be a national priority for all countries. A thriving local software industry can create many new, high quality and environmentally friendly jobs – jobs that many young workers can target, right here at home. IT is an engine for economic growth, not just in the IT sector itself but as a force multiplier due to its impact on other sectors of the economy.
Digital literacy and critical thinking skills, in particular, are essential to preparing workers for success in the modern economy. According to IDC, in the next decade, 77% of all jobs will require technical skills yet there are many countries not producing STEM graduates at a rate to fill those jobs.
We believe that it is highly important to address the opportunity gap in education by offering universal learning access to all. But tough economic conditions and pressure on public spending means many schools and colleges have to do more with less.
Innovation and modernization are therefore key. Which is why we’ve invested in Partner in Learning programs in 29 Central Eastern Europe countries that help governments accelerate the introduction and increase the effectiveness of ICT in the classroom. And by utilizing the new opportunities that cloud computing offers to education, we can take much needed steps further and faster.
Workforce programs should be tailored to the needs of the information economy and emphasize training strategies that increase citizens’ employability – and industry has a key partnership role to play here. In Poland, for example, our ‘Skills for Poland’ program has provided eSkills training for more than 250,000 people in two years.
To fully leverage the expertise and resource of all stakeholders we have developed public private partnerships – ranging from PPPs with more than a dozen UN agencies to local partnerships with governments, our industry partners, academics and others to support policy initiatives to enable a thriving and competitive knowledge economy. We have also invested in 217 Microsoft Innovation Centers across the Central Eastern European region. These centers act as a catalyst to local software economies, providing a resource for innovation and access to the latest ICT.
For many of our customers in the public sector, the overriding imperative has been ‘keeping the lights on’ and managing costs. We have worked hard to help them through a challenging period of cutting budgets, cancelling low priority projects and adjusting to the ‘new normal’.
Government agencies have become more efficient with their precious resources and have enhanced the productivity of their workforce. They have optimized spend, stripped out unnecessary overhead and made smart investments that are aligned to their organizational goals.
Many governments are now looking at how technology can help drive further innovation to deliver new services with long term efficiencies. Expectations are rising – both from citizens and politicians – as they demand more personalized adaptive and responsive services.
As technologies continue to advance, new opportunities will be created. For example, our own research suggests that ‘Big Data’ – the term given to deriving actionable insight and intelligence from vast collections of information – could help Europe’s public sector reduce the costs of administrative activities by 15-20%, saving €150-300billion, and accelerate productivity growth by up to 0.5 percentage points over the next ten years.
It’s hard to predict how the future will unfold, but it’s certain that the Europe of tomorrow will be different to that of today. And whilst the journey ahead will likely be full of twists and turns, we’re committed to partnering with governments at every step. We passionately believe that technology and innovation have a critical role in modernizing public services, creating new efficiencies and making a real impact for a better tomorrow for every citizen.
Where Europe succeeds, we succeed
Europe matters to us. For the past thirty years, it’s been our aim to help fuel the European economy with the programs, partnerships, products and services we deliver, through ourselves and others. Our investment has reaped significant return for thousands of new and existing businesses across the continent.