Reordering the world. The world is becoming more digital every day, to the extent that more and more transactions between people and organizations, as well as between organizations themselves, are taking place digitally. Digitalization is rearranging the world. Numerous new networks are created worldwide, through which organizations have contact with each other, do business with each other and exchange information. Whereas small companies used to have great difficulty establishing international contacts, nowadays it is relatively easy for the smallest, even one-man, company to do business internationally. Not only companies are digitalizing worldwide, but also non-profit organizations and governments are facing the challenge of digitalizing their services to citizens in order to reduce cost, work more efficiently and provide better service to citizens.
Digital companies. Meanwhile, millions of companies have already gone through a digital transformation. These transformation processes within organizations are always project-driven. Usually, there are teams of information experts on the one hand, often led by a CIO (Chief Information Officer), and on the other hand, people from “the business”, who will rearrange the business processes to make the company ready for digitalization. It requires close cooperation between both disciplines to ensure that the company, after digitalization, operates better, more efficiently and more effectively than before the transition. All too often, large digital transformations fail and a lot of money is wasted or even companies go bankrupt. But in the commercial market, that will not always be such a big disaster. Companies that do know how to digitalize well, as well as the many new companies that make use of digitalization possibilities right from the start, effortlessly take the place of companies that do not or do not know how to make the transformation. We have seen this in many sectors in recent years, such as travel, retail, media, etc.
Digital public organizations. This is different for public organizations, first of all because they are almost always bound by legal rules. Going bankrupt is not the dilemma, but rather the quality and security of the service provided to the citizen. The digital transformation of the public sector seems to be proceeding by fits and starts. On top of lack of technologically trained personnel, the government, like the business world, is struggling with numerous digital challenges. Hackers, digital espionage, data privacy issues, lagging legislation in many areas, international technology skirmishes – there is no end to the digital alarm stories in the newspapers. Traditionally, information provision or digitalization within governments used to be left to individual services or ministries. But this fragmented way of working tends to lead to ever more problems. Due to a lack of standardization, data files cannot be exchanged, information exchange gets stuck or the analysis of available data is complex or impossible. Some services have their digital security in order. Nevertheless, citizens are regularly surprised with reports that private data have been hacked. In summary, despite positive examples, government is lagging behind in the provision and management of digital services, in addition to the very large number of IT mishaps in which taxpayers’ money is wasted.
Central direction. As is the case with companies, the government should direct digitilization activities from the highest level in order to reduce the current fragmented approach, set up central rules about what digitalization projects must comply with and supervise their implementation. Fortunately, we now see that this problem has been recognized in many countries, resulting in the creation of a special ministerial post for digital affairs. The most recent example is Italy. You could call such a Minister the CIO on government level: the person who directs the government on all digitalization issues as well as drawing up a central information strategy, such as the use of uniform standards. And who, like a Minister of Finance, monitors the budgets, checking per ministry whether the digitalization plans are being implemented in a coherent way, within certain budgets, in accordance with the use of agreed technologies and fitting into a total government digitalization strategy. See the successful example of Denmark.
International challenge. Governments face an additional challenge compared to the private sector. Given the fact that digitalization has a strong international component, national governments must seek international cooperation in this area much more than in other areas. Europe’s technology challenges in relation to China and the US cannot be tackled from a national framework. There will have to be much more cooperation on a European level if Europe does not want to become completely dependent on Chinese or American technology, with its contingent consequences for digital sovereignty. It is strange that national governments should store all their data with American cloud providers without hesitation. The same applies to digital espionage and digital warfare. Just as NATO’s motto is that an attack on one country should be considered an attack on all countries, European countries should consider a digital attack by Russia or China as a digital attack on the entire NATO. Digital Ministers in Europe should establish a Council for Digital Affairs on a European level, similar to many other European Councils of Ministers, in order to jointly address the major digital challenges facing Europe with a sound agenda. Without such an approach, Europe’s digital future looks bleak. From an economic, security and social point of view, a much stronger digital European approach is necessary in order to guarantee prosperity and security. The first step for all countries is to better manage their digital affairs on the highest political level.