On 9 March 2021, the European Commission launched Europe into its Digital Decade with the release of the ‘Digital Compass’ – a four-pointed vision for Europe’s digital transformation by 2030. Like the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC), the Digital Compass recognises the reliance on digital to pave the way to the future and sets out ambitious goals to enable a smooth transition. The ICC welcomes this strong ambition and highlights its relevance to cities looking to digitally transform. The various elements of the Digital Compass spell good news for the ICC’s thematic tracks as they will support the cities working towards their ICC journey. 

Responding to the turbulent previous year, the Commission has proposed a set of milestones, tools, multi-country projects and even a monitoring system to put this into practice. According to Executive Vice President, Margrethe Vestager, the Digital Compass represents a human centric approach that marks “the start of an inclusive process”. Commissioner Thierry Breton talked of a post pandemic world, with the start of Europe’s Digital Decade showing “how we will shape together a resilient and digitally sovereign Europe”. The instruments already exist for this movement and the Compass will now show us the way. Funding from the Recovery and Resilience Facility will be wisely used, where a 20% minimum expenditure target is set for digital transformation and NextGenerationEU will further be used. Additional investment for the Digital Compass will come from the Cohesion Funds amongst other EU funding. 

The Digital Compass’ digitalisation of public services pillar is particularly relevant for the ICC thematic track on “Citizen participation and digitisation of public administration”. Under this pillar, special recognition was given to the current efforts seen in cities developing smart data platforms, however stated that these are “limited to basic services”. The communication further identified several technologically powered services, such as “multi-modal intelligent transport systems, rapid emergency assistance in case of accidents, more targeted waste management solutions, traffic management, urban planning, smart energy and lighting solutions, resource optimisation, and more”. Such innovative and technological solutions are particularly relevant for cities and serve good environmental and social causes. The ICC will facilitate access to these effective solutions including through the ICC Tech4Good Marketplace.  

The secure and sustainable digital infrastructures pillar specifies the deployment of intelligent edge computing in the modernisation of the public sector where it will provide data processing capacity for local public administration. A move that would further be appreciated by the Citizen participation and digitisation of public administration thematic track. 

The ICC thematic track of “Upskilling and reskilling” will benefit from the push for at least 80% of all adults to have basic digital skills by 2030 under the Digital Compass pillar’s promoting digitally skilled citizens and highly skilled digital professionals. It is envisioned that there will soon be 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU and that more women will take up these jobs. The ICC appreciates such commitment. 

The role of SMEs is also highlighted as crucial in the Digital Compass’ overall effort to leave no one behind as digital intensity increases, with ambition of “more than 200 European Digital Innovation Hubs and industrial clusters across the EU should support digital transformation of both innovative and non-digital SMEs, and connect digital suppliers to local ecosystems.” 

The Digital Compass pays its regard to the green ambitions and notes how digital transformation and the green transition go hand in hand. Energy efficient technologies that reduce global emissions and environmental footprint as a whole will remain at the heart of the Digital Compass through actions such as placing a target on energy efficient microprocessors. The use of Green Public Procurement criteria is further suggested as a means to boost demand for a green digital transformation.  

Find the full Digital Compass communication here and a summary here.