The digital economy will be an economy of platforms. Is that a good thing? People want efficient economies and public services. A smart society is our common goal, and digitalisation is the path to achieve it. But the development of a smart society is not necessarily “fair” to all participants. As we can see all around us, the developing ecosystems are rarely all-encompassing. We are getting silos all over again, only this time they are bigger, at the level of countries or even regions.
Business models are also changing. The digital economy is becoming a cloud platform economy. What does this mean for everyone who uses them – both providers and service users? Above all, a better user experience for end users, as they get what they want in the way they want it, and for the price they are willing to pay. Platforms also enable the emergence of new connected services with higher added value. For example, multimodal transport: this could mean that passengers can combine several means of transport with one payment, a parking lot awaiting them if they drive part of the route with their own vehicle, etc.
Airbnb and Uber have significantly changed the areas of lodging and urban transport. Hoteliers and taxi drivers are complaining about the “unfair competition”. What about the people who make this possible in practice? These are mostly precarious workers who are disregarded by most people. Most of the added value created by such platforms remains with their owners, which is a problem, especially for small service providers who are unable to fight against giants.
PLATFORMS SHOULD BE CONNECTING
But platforms themselves are not evil, as they connect the provider and the customer, preferably in a way that both are satisfied. A bigger problem is the trend of creating unconnected platforms, as in this case, investors’ money is not spent in an ideal way. One such example is paying a parking fee through applications where you need one specific application to pay in one city and another one in the neighbouring city. Why not have just one platform for the whole country or region?
A FAIRER EUROPEAN DIGITAL ECONOMY
The European Union is aware of these issues and wants to establish a new, common European digital economic space through targeted investment and emerging regulation. Most of the investments are intended for the digital transformation of the economy, society, and the public sector – for the development of concrete, usable solutions. The Digital Europe Programme provides €7.6 billion of funds to companies until 2027, while the Connecting Europe Facility “bag”, which covers transport, energy, and digital solutions, is even “heavier”, with more than €20 billion allotted for the development of breakthrough solutions.
So, what can societies do in the field of platforms? It seems that – in contrast to my home country Slovenia, for example – some European countries are more than aware of the emerging changes and are also accelerating their investments in their future. Bottom line: this is a race against time. Governments should be aware that today’s investments mean economic survival in tomorrow’s new common European digital economy – and take appropriate action and start building networking platforms.
In cities, with the help of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, a huge amount of data can be generated that could be put to use by providers to deliver quality services. Whether it’s monitoring free parking spaces and creating applications that point drivers to them, measuring air pollution and changing traffic flows accordingly, population movements or more advanced services, such as predicting traffic flows and harmful emissions using artificial intelligence methods, for example in case of a roadblock.
SLOVENIA IN FOCUS: LET’S CREATE AT LEAST ONE REFERENCE ENVIRONMENT
Following the example of other smaller countries, Slovenia could choose to specialise in a particular field and export that knowledge. Which area to choose? In principle, it doesn’t matter because the digital transformation is changing the playing field everywhere. Therefore, we should unite the forces of the state administration, the public sector, and the economy, for example in the field of healthcare, take advantage of the unique opportunity of the European healthcare area, and position Slovenia as a reference environment for Europe. Without this, we cannot expect the export of Slovenian solutions or the participation of the Slovenian economy in the new European digital economy, which will emerge in the standardised European data space.
In any case, it seems that Slovenia is just the right size so that, if it had the will, it could build a reference connecting platform for any selected area. This would greatly accelerate the emergence of new value-added solutions based on existing data and services, from both the public and private sectors. And it also puts the country on the emerging European map of digitally capable economies.