Enabling the digital decade: the EU, infrastructure and tomorrow’s digital services today

The Belgium Presidency of the Council of the European Union has made digital transition one of its priorities. What can we look forward to, and how will technology enable the services citizens and businesses need?

Belgium recently took over the Presidency of the EU Council and will hold the position for the first half of 2024. In that time, Belgium will seek to build on the progress and achievements made by the previous holder, Spain. It’s a period of possibilities, and Belgium has set six key priorities for its presidency. They include defending the rule of law, democracy and unity; strengthening competitiveness; pursuing a green and just transition; reinforcing the social and health agenda; protecting people and borders; and promoting a global Europe.

Those are the overarching, umbrella goals. In specific tech terms, Belgium plans to “Prioritize a human-centered and sustainable approach to digital transition, strengthen Europe’s resilience to cybersecurity threats, address diverse challenges in telecommunications, and foster a coherent internal and external digital policy that encourages open strategic autonomy.”

These are the philosophical goals of Belgium’s presidency period. Specific legislative priorities include the Gigabit Infrastructure Act, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act and the Cyber Resilience Act. Further, there are plans like the white paper announced by the EC on the Future of Connectivity, which should relate to the future of Europe’s digital infrastructure and pave the way for a regulatory upgrade that will support investment into networks and “facilitates the emergence of true pan-European operators with sufficient scale.”

Evolving expectations and needs

But all these good intentions face a range of challenges. For starters, different EU countries have different levels of digital maturity, but EU citizens and businesses generally expect to be able to access services online wherever they are located. And past the fundamental, core public services like health, education and welfare, citizens also expect to be able to access any exchange of information or financial service, covering areas like registering, licensing, applying, paying, borrowing, making inquiries and more. EU citizens expect services to be delivered more conveniently and efficiently, meaning government needs to find more cost-effective and user-friendly ways of doing that. It aligns with EU e-Government plans and the slogan “digital by default.”

All these ambitious and admirable goals come with technology challenges. Designing and building such forward-looking infrastructure means overcoming connectivity, cybersecurity, data sovereignty and data residency issues. These mission-critical techs align with the key priorities for EU digital service delivery that have been laid out around fairness, inclusion, openness and trust. It means interoperability and cross-border data sharing among Member States are essential, with data security and privacy built in from day one.

The right tools for the job

These objectives need specific digital tools and solutions to achieve them. There is a need to strengthen digital sovereignty and communicate the differences between data sovereignty and data residency to citizens – the difference between the laws and jurisdiction that data is subject to and where it is physically stored. Governments need to focus on the benefits and improvements that data analytics can deliver to service delivery and citizen expectations. Technology and infrastructure are the enablers of next-generation public service delivery; getting them right at the start is essential.

Cloud is the essential enabler of digital services and already powers many areas of daily life and work for EU citizens and businesses. Moving forward, cloud will enable the flexibility, efficiency, resilience, cost-effectiveness, agility and scalability governments need. Multicloud presents the most appropriate way ahead for digital service enablement and brings great agility and scalability to the mix. Still, it’s also a more complex cloud landscape comprising multiple providers, often located outside EU regulatory boundaries. A cloud networking approach can give governments a secure, scalable and automated cloud infrastructure underpinned by reliable services and guaranteed SLAs.

There are other key technology areas like cybersecurity, which must be incorporated by design in all service rollouts, and AI, which is set to significantly impact EU services in coming years. AI will enhance governments’ capacity to process massive amounts of data rapidly and accurately and improve the speed and efficiency of service delivery by automating content generation processes. Forward-thinking administrations like Estonia, for example, have put in place plans to launch Bürokratt in 2025, a speech-based and text-based AI virtual assistant that will help citizens access online public services with enhanced user-friendliness and accessibility.

Orange Business is proud to support the EU in all these progressive initiatives and innovative ways of delivering digital services to citizens. With that in mind, we have developed a white paper, Empowering EU: enabling next generation digital services, in which we dive deeper into the technologies, challenges and solutions that will drive the EU forward under Belgian presidency.

Download the new white paper here.

Nemo Verbist
Nemo Verbist

Nemo is Senior Vice President of Europe at Orange Business. He has 20+ years experience leading teams to help clients transform into digital businesses by focusing on becoming data-driven, cloud-enabled, customer-centric companies. To help fulfill these new needs, Nemo orchestrates cross-functional agile teams to co-create and co-innovate in an eco-system of client, supplier and partners.