I believe Europe can successfully manage the transformation into the digital age, if we build on our strengths and values.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Digital technologies allow businesses to produce higher value products and services, and improve production processes. The term digital technologies refers to, among other things:
- high performance computing
- the Internet of Things
- big data
- artificial intelligence
However, European companies are not making the most of all the opportunities digital has to offer.
The level of digitalisation in Europe remains uneven. The adoption of digital technologies varies strongly according to company size, sector, and location.
The slow uptake of digital technologies poses a risk to the European Union’s ability to compete in the global economy, to grow and create new jobs. And it is a source of inequalities.
The European Commission launched the Digitising European Industry initiative (DEI) in April 2016. The DEI initiative aims to reinforce the EU’s competitiveness in digital technologies and ensure that every business in Europe — whichever the sector, wherever the location, whatever the size — can draw the full benefits from digital innovation.
Building on and complementing the various national initiatives for digitising industry, the DEI actions are structured around 5 main pillars:
Digital innovation hubs
Digital innovation hubs are a key pillar in the European Commission’s Digitising European Industry initiative.
Companies can benefit from Digital Innovation Hubs to better understand how to improve their processes, products and services through digital technologies.
Digital Innovation Hubs are not-for-profit, one-stop-shops that support companies – in particular small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) – and public organisations in their digital transformation, offering them services such as:
Joining forces with Member States and regions
The European Union, EU countries and regions work together to make the most of Digital Innovation Hubs:
- The EU: supports the collaboration of Digital Innovation Hubs to create an EU-wide network where companies can access all necessary competences not available in their local hubs.
- Member States: make sure their national strategy supports the creation of Digital Innovation Hubs and secure the necessary financial means.
- Regions: ensure the presence and quality of regional Digital Innovation Hubs by managing financial resources such as regional development funds (European Structural and Investment Funds/European Regional Development Fund), and encourage SMEs to work with them.
At a glance: Digital Innovation Hubs in the Digital Europe Programme
The Digital Europe Programme is focused on building strategic digital capacities across the EU, facilitating the wide deployment of digitalinnovations, to the benefit Europe’s citizens and businesses.
The programme also aims at building up and strengthening the network of European Digital Innovation Hubs as follows:
- EU support for one Digital Innovation Hub per region;
- co-investment with Member States, regions, and the private sector;
- focus on SMEs and public services;
- focus on applications that build on HPC, AI & Cybersecurity; and on digital skills;
- a strong European network of Digital Innovation Hubs.
Digital Innovation Hubs in the Digital Europe Programme
- Focus: support broad capacity building of hubs in all regions of the EU, ensuring appropriate uptake of AI, HPC and Cybersecurity by all industry and public sector organisations in Europe.
- Investments: Through the Digital Europe programme, Member States and the Commission, will invest together in a network of “European Digital Innovation Hubs”. Member States and regions may use European Regional Development Funds and co-operate with industry. EU co-investments in EDIHs focus on experimentation & testing facilities and personnel for the related services
- Selection: The selection of hubs will follow a two-step process. Through a national selection process, Member States will designate a list of DIH as a basis for a restricted Call for Proposals by the Commission. The EU will further select EDIHs taking into account quality and balancing regional, technological and application coverage by the network.
- Specialisation: Over time, Digital Innovation Hubs develop specialisation in applications and sectors that benefit strongly from the key digital technologies supported by Digital Europe — HPC, AI or cybersecurity:
- specialisation must correspond to the needs of the region and its smart specialisation strategy<
- digital innovation hubs normally focus on a portfolio of services related to more than one application, sector, and technology
- networking of DIH will allow specialised hubs to offer their competences and resources to others and, vice versa, to find missing expertise and facilities elsewhere in the network.
- Co-operation with Digital Europe Facilities and Competence Centres: DIH will closely collaborate with centres of other pillars of the Digital Europe Programme.
- Skills development: DIH will support skills development in collaboration with the actions under the “Digital Skills” pillar of the Digital Europe Programme, e.g. by rolling out short-term advanced digital skills training courses.
Digital Innovation Hubs under the NextGenerationEU's Recovery and Resilience Facility
The Digitising European Industry initiative emphasised the need for significant national and regional effort to create new, or reinforce, competence centres offering the services of a Digital Innovation Hub across the whole EU and stimulate their use by industry.
The Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL) plans to invest around a €750 million in hubs, to be matched by a similar investment from Member States (50% co-funding), and possibly include private investments. With an average investment of €7 million per hub over the 7 years of the programme, the funding made available under DIGITAL can support up to 211 hubs of critical size. The policy ambition is however to fund at least one in every NUTS 2 region (240 hubs) so that there is a hub in working distance of every firm and assuring there is at least one hub specialised in AI per Member State.
NextGenerationEU provides a range of investments to significantly scale up the initial funding efforts started by European Programmes and bridge the coverage gap. RRF could be used to:
- set up new European Digital Innovation Hubs. Digital Innovation Hubs not supported from Digital Europe Programme could be 100% funded from the RRF.
- complement European Digital Innovation Hubs. Additional funding from RRF for the hubs selected under DIGITAL is also an opportunity to reinforce the investments of these hubs in distinct cost items, for example to upgrade buildings, catering for an acceleration and scale-up of operations.
- set up hubs in other areas of specialisation, outside the European Digital Innovation Hub network.
What have previous programmes achieved?
- €500 million EU funding from Horizon 2020 for Digital Innovation Hubs (2016-2020).
- Support to more than 2000 Start-ups, SMEs and mid-caps to test digital innovations in collaboration with more than 200 Digital Innovation Hubs networked across the European Union.
- 13 EU countries included Digital Innovation Hubs in their national digitalisation strategies. More are preparing to do so.
- Coaching more than 60 potential Digital Innovation Hubs in regions with slower adoption of digital technologies, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe.
Examples of innovative experiments
EU-funded success stories from the I4MS (ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs) and the SAE (Smart Anything Everywhere) initiatives:
A 3d scanner to design made-to-measure shoe insoles using HPC
A Spanish and an Italian SME (Podoactiva, Base Protection) teamed up and got help from a Spanish Digital Innovation Hub (Inycom) to design a scanner that processes data using on-demand HPC resources via the cloud.
- Podoactiva and Inycom now sell made-to-measure products to customers worldwide by working with private clinics in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Mexico
- SME Base Production benefited from a cloud-based solution
- Podoactiva and Inycom expect to multiply their turnover by three, up to €750,000, gain an additional 3% in their market share and reduce their time-to-market by 40%
- This innovation opens the door for 3D printing of insoles that could improve production and timely delivery of the product
The EU made this innovation possible under project CLOUDSME with an initial €321,000 investment
Sustainable agriculture powered by smart technologies
The Spanish SME Encore Lab, with the help of the Digital Innovation Hub CEA Leti, developed a low cost device that monitors the crops directly on the field through sensors
- 35% reduction in use of pesticides and 50% reduction in water consumption
- This innovation has been successfully integrated in Encore Lab’s flagship product leading to an expected increase of sales by 10,000 units within five years and doubling of staff to 20 people
The EU made this innovation possible under project EUROCPS with an initial €52,000 investment
3D printing and HPC to improve gearbox production
The collaboration of the Italian manufacturing SME STAM with the technology provider CIMNE and the High-performance Computing Digital Innovation Hub CSUC (both Spanish) has assured efficient use of HPC resources on-demand and led to a highly sophisticated solution for manufacturing leading edge gearbox technology: producing the parts of the gearbox through 3D printing.
- STAM saves 30% product costs and can react 30% faster to market needs
- STAM expects to triple its market share and open new markets
- It is estimated that revenues will increase by €320,000 and staff by three employees.
This innovation was made possible within project CLOUDFLOW.
SME improves design of an aircraft
HPC DIH ARCTUR and the technology service provider XLAB provided SME PIPISTREL (all Slovenian) with HPC resources and know-how to run simulations of sufficiently high fidelity “online” on a Cloud-based HPC system.
- For PIPISTREL the use of Cloud-based HPC offered the required level of simulation results 10 times cheaper than using a suitably powerful in-house system
- For ARCTUR this project was one of the first steps towards becoming a successful commercial HPC provider — rather than serving the scientific domain only
- SME XLAB gained strategic knowledge and extended its service offer
This innovation was made possible within project FORTISSIMO.