How Not To Become The Digital Champ Of Europe

The 3rd Tuesday in September is a peculiar day for ICT stakeholders in the Netherlands. Since there is no such thing as a department of Digital Affairs the question always is whether ICT or related concepts will be mentioned in the king’s speech. After all ICT is widely regarded as the enabler of digital transformation and accelerator of economic growth. But does it get the official credit for it? In the table below we made a Word-count for ICT and related concepts for the last 9 years in the king’s speech.

Word count in King’s speeches 2010 – 2018: ICT, digital, cyber, information society








© The METISfiles, 2018

Given the pivotal role of ICT in our economy it is a disappointing score. Only ‘Cyber‘ (always mentioned in combination with ‘threat‘) pops up a few times over the last few years. Then again, the king’s speech is just an overall State of the Kingdom affair; it looks back, it analyses the current situation and announces some governments top line plans. Yet, it remains disappointing considering the ambition of Dutch government to become the digital spearhead of Europe. This ambition is stated in the Dutch Digilisation Strategy that was released in June 2018. (Note that “Digilisation” is used as the translation of “digitalisering” instead of more familiar terms as “digitalization” or “digitization”. In the rest of the digital strategy paper the term “digitalisation” is used.)

Moreover it is not the only ambition of the Dutch government.  The strategy paper mentions 3 key ambitions:

  • Leading the way and taking advantage of opportunities (digital economy)
  • Everyone can participate and we work together (digital skills)
  • Trust in the digital future (cybersecurity)

These key ambitions translate further into 24 sub-ambitions. It is in fact the first-ever holistic view of Dutch government with respect to the role of digital technologies. Kudos for that.

Source: Dutch Digilisation Strategy, June 2018

Other countries such as the UK and Belgium have these digital strategies too. In fact the UK’s ambitions are a bit of the same and translate into 7 key goals:

  • Building a world-class digital b vinfrastructure for the UK
  • Giving everyone access to the digital skills they need (digital skills)
  • Making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business (digital economy)
  • Helping every British business become a digital business (digital economy)
  • Making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online (cybersecurity)
  • Maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
  • Unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

The Belgian government also has a digital strategy called “Digital Belgium”. They stated their digital ambition to become a digital frontrunner back in 2015.  Key ambitions are:

  • Digital Belgium supports an approach, which boosts the digital economy and expands the prospect of jobs and growth.
  • Digital Belgium wishes to continue to advance the pioneer role that Belgium plays in rolling out new technologies for ultra-fast internet.
  • Governments, along with private players, must ensure that as many citizens as possible, irrespective of their age and background, can take advantage of the necessary digital
  • Digital Belgium is continuing the efforts to implement a digital transformation of the federal government, aiming at digital-by-default end-to-end interactions with citizens and organizations.
  • Digital Belgium wants to ensure digital confidence and digital security by respecting rights and strategically and effectively tackling illegal practices.

It may not come as a surprise, but the Dutch digital ambitions look a bit, well, a lot, like those of our surrounding countries. Nevertheless, all these ambitions make sense. Cyber security, digital skills, open data, first class digital infra, digital government services, etc., are key issues in a country’s digital transformation process.

But what is disappointing is that while digital technologies are the acknowledged driver of our future society and economy, the Dutch digital agenda doesn’t go much further than stating its ambitions and intentions and plans. The government budget 2019 doesn’t show any financial implication with respect to carrying out the Dutch digital agenda.

  • The infrastructure fund (€ 6.4 billion in 2019) is 100% aimed at improving water, rail and road connectivity, capacity and management; the digital infrastructure is not even mentioned.
  • The ministry of Education is the third largest department with a budget of € 38 billion. It’s main digital priorities are with a new supercomputer and support for the digital library. There are no clear plans for substantial investments in our crucial ICT-knowledge infrastructure.
  • It is true that in the annual budget some € 30 million is set aside for cyber security; more than last year. It doesn’t sound like an awful lot and is not clear where that money is going to but the FUD-factor (using fear, uncertainty and doubt as the all important motivation) has at least paid off.

It is time that the government’s digital ambitions are substantiated with more than just time, effort, promises and vague objectives and put their money where their digital mouth is. As € 182 billion of our GDP (29%) is currently generated by our digital workforce, this doesn’t seem very unreasonable.