Europe is surging through its technological revolution. The push from stakeholders – consumers, corporations and technology hubs – has ramped up this initiative in the last decade or so. Apart from efficiency, the European Commission (EC) sees digital transformation as the bridge between a greener future and a digital society. To support this progress, it developed the Digital Europe Programme.
While Nordic regions such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden have digitally transformed in a massively successful way, beginning with their postal systems, the same cannot be said for other countries. According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s Industry Digitization Index, Europe comprises a mix of leaders and laggards, thus dragging the average digital intensity – the level at which digitalization drives the economy – down the scale.
The study notes that Europe utilizes an estimated 12% of its digital potential versus the USA, which is at 18%. Of all the European countries, the Netherlands functions best with 15%.
McKinsey predicts that if Europe’s stragglers double their digitalization efforts, the continent’s economy could add €2.5tr (US$2.59n) to its GDP by 2025. According to Statista, countries such as Italy, Romania, Greece and Bulgaria are Europe’s least digitally developed countries.
What is the Digital Europe Programme?
The Digital Europe Programme is the EC’s way to fund digital technology for citizens and public administrations such as postal industries. After the pandemic emphasised the impact of technology in daily life, the EC allotted €7.5bn (US$7.78bn) to accelerate digital transformation and sustain independence in digital services.
Other established funding programs, such as Horizon Europe (for research and innovation), the Connecting Europe Facility (for digital infrastructure), the Recovery and Resilience Facility and European structural funds, also support the scheme.
The program focuses on the following key areas:
- Artificial intelligence
- Advanced digital skills
- Ensuring the wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society
Who can avail of the €7.5bn from the Digital Europe Programme?
This massive project opened its third batch of calls in October 2022. According to the European Union website, corporations, organizations and public administrations from the EU member states, European Free Trade Association nations, European Economic Area regions and other affiliated countries qualify for the Digital Europe Programme.
Proposals can range from physical output, such as European-based blockchain infrastructure and data centers, to advanced digital skills training for citizens. The EC also encourages artificial intelligence applications, particularly those combating real-world issues, such as food and health.
Governments can submit ideas that promote efficiency, such as eradicating red tape and streamlining applications. One public area that could truly benefit from such an initiative would be the postal service, an archaic system that could expertly be transported to the 21st century with the proper tools.
How can you apply for funding from the Digital Europe Programme?
The EC has outlined the steps for applying on its website. For the program’s initial stages, it has determined four categories to manage the various aspects of the critical areas.
- High-performance computing
- European digital innovation hubs
- Digital Europe Work Programme (which accepts proposals outside the first three)
Each category lists and details the aims of the calls; each one has a document identifying the specific problems and issues that the EC wants applicants to address in their proposals.
If you’re interested, here’s a step-by-step guide on the application process:
Submit your proposal
Ensure that you present a concrete solution to the EC’s published conflict with measurable results. You must submit your application by 5:00pm Brussels time on the day of the deadline.
Find your partners
No man is an island. A proposal on this grand scale requires concerted effort. Collaborate with various agencies who can assist you in accomplishing your promises.
The panel will check your proposal against the criteria. Those proposals that fulfill the proposal obligations take priority. Field experts may also be called in to assess the feasibility of your plan.
The EC will draw up a grant agreement for the successful parties. It also lists the fine print, such as budget, obligations, rates and more.
What can you do with the digitalization fund?
There are plenty of projects and initiatives that would benefit governments and the communities they serve. As McKinsey stated in the report, Europe isn’t breaking even when it comes to its digital potential.
Another McKinsey report also notes that a resolute effort by a government to transform digitally can enhance services, save money and improve citizens’ quality of life. For example, converting to a smart postal system would eliminate long waiting times and tedious processes, and conserve resources. And that’s only one aspect of change.
Examples of successful digitization in other European countries include:
The digitization of Bulgaria
Despite ranking low on the digitalization index, Bulgaria has made strides in modernizing its digital facilities. Early in July 2022, the country reached an agreement with the EU for help in its climate and digital efforts – the same goals enumerated in the Digital Programme. Through the European Social Fund Plus, Bulgaria will receive €2.6bn (US$2.7bn) to upskill residents for green and digital transition. After all, according to McKinsey, the success of a digital society rests largely on the core capabilities of its citizens.
Portugal’s online shift
In 2020, the Portuguese government launched the three-pronged Action Plan for Digital Transition, the country’s strategy to evolve into a fully-fledged, digitally transformed nation. Its first step involves capacity building and digital inclusion, focusing on education, upskilling and reskilling. The second refers to digital transformation of businesses, which concentrates on big and small enterprises employing digital tools. The third constitutes public service digitization, which entails faster government accessibility and logistics via online facilities.
France’s international digital strategy
In 2017, France launched its digital plan, which focuses on three key pillars: governance, the economy and security, specifically:
- An open, diverse and trustworthy digital sector.
- A European internet based on a balance between public freedoms, growth and security in the digital sphere.
- The influence, attractiveness and security of France and French digital players.
Other ways countries have benefitted from digitalization
- The UK began its digital shift by taking 25 basic services, including voter registration, online in 2014.
- In 2019, Ireland and Greenland hired digital solutions provider e-Boks to supply their digital post.
- In 2008, with an aim for transparency, the UK used a digital tool to link more than one billion data items from 30 sources. It resulted in the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs Tax claiming an additional £3bn (US$3.6bn) in tax revenue.
- Denmark has led the way in digitization. Like Ireland and Greenland, it turned to e-Boks to digitize its postal service, implement digital signature technology for important documents and produce digital receipts. Currently, more than five million people in the country receive secure mail from e-Boks.
- Sweden has also relied on e-Boks for its digital postal service.
Why should you invest in modernizing the postal service?
It’s common knowledge at this point that ‘traditional’ post is losing money. The story of the indebted and beleaguered US Postal Service is a cautionary tale of working against the times and failing to address the sensibilities of consumers. There are many benefits to digitizing the postal industry fully, including:
- Increases profits: Digital transformation means a more streamlined service. It requires less labor and fewer physical resources, which offers you savings in the long term.
- Addresses the nomad culture: The onset of remote working has rendered addresses nearly obsolete. Who has time to check their PO box these days? Even jobs have become location-independent. A digital postbox (which is more secure than the average email) answers to the flexible needs of itinerant workers.
- Promotes efficiency: Smart postal systems not only save crucial government resources that can be allotted elsewhere, but they also enhance the experience for citizens. They offer a more personalized, secure and social service.
Transforming your postal industry could answer the EC’s call to promote security, innovation and standardization. Use e-Boks as a partner to create a revolutionary digital postal system that benefits the government and the rest of the country. Beyond digital post boxes, e-Boks also offers digital payment solutions, digital payslips and secure digital archiving, among others. The company is also committed to using carbon-neutral data and planting 120,000 trees by 2030. It is a solution worthy of the Digital Europe Programme.