The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to promote the acceleration of digital transformation in ever-broadening sectors. To find out how markets in the CEE region are responding to the new reality, CMS carried out an in-depth and wide-ranging survey in 18 countries that involved more than 100 participants in August of this year.
The survey explored accelerating developments in digital infrastructure, data and ethics, artificial intelligence and how tech-smart industries are advancing. The results ranged from the surprising to the thought-provoking.
If you look at the European Commission’s DESI (Digital Economy and Society) index, our countries are unfortunately below the EU average in term of readiness, the Czech Republic being the closest and Bulgaria the least prepared. Therefore, the lockdown has been a great test for regional operations. The response speaks for itself: 38% of respondents have completed or initiated new digital projects and an additional 45% say it served to accelerate existing projects. It is certainly very encouraging that 92% of respondents said they believe the pandemic would accelerate future projects.
We have seen a couple of good examples, for example more use of digital signatures, more digital customer contracts, especially in the financial, life sciences and, of course, telecoms sectors. On the other hand, each lockdown has also revealed a social gap and even a gender gap; many households have struggled to access digital education, and women lag behind men in terms of digital literacy. There is now a great opportunity to boost digital transformation: reluctance has fallen away and people these days are much more amenable to conducting and concluding business via digital platforms.
Digital transformation means more use of data. Our study confirms that 62% of respondents are already investing in data analytics, and this can deliver amazing things. How to access data and what to use data for are some of the key questions people expect regulators to provide guidance on.
What makes it even more interesting is that the vast majority of companies (98%) consider ethics as part of their current policies, so general councils and privacy officers should expect that ethics will become an important part of their daily lives.
Ethics is no longer a “tick-the-box” exercise, but a conscious, value-driven process that involves a great deal of thinking. There needs to be the right balance in corporate behavior between complying with law and being ethical, as this is not always the same thing. Therefore, companies’ ethics guidelines should be revised to address the current digital challenges, including realizing the consequences of using data.
AI solutions are expanding into an ever-greater number of industries and sectors. This is another situation where EU and global regulators are lagging a tad behind what is happening in innovation. Is it an issue? It certainly seems to concern respondents, as 86% have key concerns about AI and liability. The EU White paper on AI takes a risk-based approach to regulation and covers key topics such as access and use of data, liability issues and ethical questions.
Finally, the rollout of 5G in several CEE countries has also spurred progress during the past months. Although more network sharing is already happening across Europe, including the CEE region, there is clearly some uncertainty from regulators at a national level, which is critical for the wider deployment of 5G-enabled technologies. But as and when it happens, it will have a profound impact on existing industries and our daily lives across the region.
We were happy to see that 88% are confident that EU/regional and local digital infrastructure strategies will meet their business ambitions in three to five years. This clearly demonstrates widespread optimism in CEE that the right medium-term infrastructure strategies are in place.
No doubt we are living in historic times. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and has provided a perfect opportunity for what was already necessary in terms of pushing businesses forward faster in digitalization and digital readiness.