Cloud cover across Europe: the next digital revolution

9 June 2012

Neelie Kroes is vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe. Here, she describes how she proposes to expand the use of the cloud across the continent.

Europe's digital economy is much larger than people realise. Bigger than Belgium's economy and growing at roughly 12% a year - similar to the growth rate in China - if it were a country it could claim membership of the G20.

The sector also produces about 2.6 jobs for every job it displaces, and demand for skilled IT workers is outstripping supply. If EU member states fully implemented the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe, their GDP would be boosted by one percentage point.

At the heart of this success story is 'cloud computing', which offers portability for data, photos or music and access through all devices.

Individuals are using cloud services in huge numbers, often without realising it, but it is small businesses in particular that are benefitting from the cloud revolution. Meanwhile, the public sector's procurement capability should increase competition in overall cloud supply to everybody's benefit, not just taxpayers'. The public sector, through policy-makers such as myself as a leader at the EU, can also establish an efficient legal framework. That framework needs to be cloud-friendly, with clear rules on how to protect data and how to move it between jurisdictions, and on product and service liability.

"I want to see a vibrant digital sector in Europe because it’s clear how important it is for jobs and growth – so the more European successes, the better."

Why does the adoption of the cloud matter to small businesses? Having broadband access as a base helps them to achieve higher growth and to break into export markets at double the rate of companies not using the cloud. The cloud lets them take their ideas and products to the next level by storing vast data on off-site servers, enabling corporate computer systems to operate more smoothly. Instead of having to buy and maintain expensive infrastructure and software, they can effectively rent these as services.

It's a massive increase in flexibility and in cost-control, and will have a significant impact on productivity across the whole economy.

Vibrant digital sector

More than half of European companies are already using the cloud - anyone with a webmail account or a company Facebook page is using it. But instead of dipping their toes into the cloud, companies would be better placed to embrace it if there were more services meeting their specific needs and if, for example, they knew they could fully trust what will happen to their data should something go wrong.

I want to see a vibrant digital sector in Europe because it's clear how important it is for jobs and growth - so the more European cloud successes, the better. We aren't picking winners; we are just creating an environment where there can be more winners. To anyone who questions the role of policy in cloud development, I say that we want to protect the internet playing field rather than take it over.

We don't want to control the cloud; we just believe that everyone deserves the benefit of certain and transparent data protection. Voluntary approaches such as codes of conduct cannot provide that protection on their own. For example, who would be liable if something went wrong in the cloud and data is lost or compromised? Which rules and which jurisdiction would apply? These are not questions that codes of conduct on their own can answer in a satisfactory way.

"Europe’s digital economy is growing at roughly 12% a year, similar to the growth rate in China."

Earlier this year, I announced a European Cloud Computing Partnership. It will use the lever of public sector procurement to push the cloud forward for all businesses and individuals in Europe. The work of the partnership and the European Commission's overall cloud computing strategy will go to the heart of the obstacles blocking the use of cloud computing; standards, certification, data protection, interoperability, lock-in and legal certainty all remain troublesome for smaller companies wanting to use the cloud.

In particular, the partnership will work to overcome fragmented public sector demand. Common requirements will harness the power of the largest single buyer of IT services and expand market opportunities. But we will be careful to ensure that creating a series of specifications does not have the effect of reducing competition and demanding a rigid, one-size-fits-all service.

Forming parterships

We will launch the partnership before the European summer, and we are talking to partners - Japan, the US and others - to ensure that the rest of the world can deliver on the same terms.

Making more use of the cloud is a game-changer for the European economy, and it could be the difference between hundreds of thousands of small businesses succeeding or failing. It can make government services so much more effective and affordable too.

In general, getting the cloud right will mean the internet can continue to be a generator of innovation, growth and freedom. That's good news for all of us. I won't rest until every leader understands their role in supporting these positive developments, and every business understands what a launch pad the cloud can be for them.

Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe.