Digital transformation is one of the major concerns for the EU, and the moneys allocated for it are substantial, in line with the objectives. Why is digital transformation necessary? The answer is simple: because society evolves, the needs of the citizenry change, new instruments for communication change. At the same time, there is a strong link between digital transformation and competitiveness. These are reasons for which Brussels came up with the Digital Europe concept, the first community program aimed at accelerating recovery and stimulating Europe's digital transformation. Worth 7.6 billion Euro, the program covers the 2021-2027 period, and offers financing in five crucial areas. These are supercomputers, AI, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills, and large scale use of digital technologies in the economy and society overall. Most of the money goes to high performance computing and AI projects, with several calls for financing to be launched. Digital Europe comes in addition to other programs that support digital transformation, such as Europe Horizon, which focuses on R&D. In addition, national plans for recovery and resilience have to allocate at least 20% of digital transition spending. Digital transformation, or transition, involves changing thinking, automatizing some processes, updating the way in which public servants interact amongst themselves. In Romania, for the time being, though, there is talk mostly about digitization, the first step towards digital transformation.
Eliza Vas, expert with the European Institute in Romania, explains:
“Unfortunately, in many cases we are talking merely about digitization. The area of digital transformation may be used to characterize certain islands, certain public institutions or services that are truly digital, meaning not just a part of it. As for the big picture, unfortunately we are facing a fragmentation of digital public services. Again, there are places where such services work very well, but if we were to look to another city, we would find that that particular service is still in the bureaucratic stage where the interactions between citizens and the authorities are still paper based, when these interactions could be had by e-mail, or other digital processes.”
As opposed to digitization, which means adapting to new technologies, digital transformation involves profound changes, and it is important for this to occur as soon as possible. Eliza Vas, once again:
“As we have seen, starting with education, the pandemic forced us to digitize. In some cases, this process led to developing certain competencies, even though this was not necessarily an aim in itself. In other cases, unfortunately, it led to widening some gaps. So, considering that we will probably have some societal and economic crises, we have to make sure that citizens have the necessary skills to use them. For instance, there is a worrying statistic for Romania, showing that only less than 30% of citizens have at least minimal digital skills. As for young people, 44% of them also lack minimal digital skills. Only 10% of the population have advanced skills. Therefore it is very important to invest in involving Romania in the transformations that occur not just in the EU, but all over the world, investing in skills and tools, as well as access to these tools. In the business sector, this is also a matter of competitiveness. Considering that a large number of companies in other areas of the world who do business in this part of the world, it is important for EU enterprises be supported in undergoing digital transformation, being able to find innovative solutions for the use of European citizens. For instance, if we were to refer to communication channels we use at present, the great majority are created by companies outside of the EU, with too few local examples to be followed. In terms of digital services, citizens need not wait at an office window, queuing up to settle administrative matters – they could do this by e-mail, getting forms they need to fill in. They could also pay a tax at an ATM instead of waiting in line outside three office windows, getting a receipt, solving the problem that would have taken them to the relevant office.”
According to Eliza Vas, there are changes internationally, society is modernizing, more and more digital instruments appear all the time, but there are also changes in people's behavior. They need access to digital resources and tools, in order to use them so that interacting with the authorities is carried out more effectively.