It's great, once again, to address Chief Information Officers. You are my natural brothers — and sisters — in arms.
You know what we need to make the EU more digitally competitive. You know how much we need to embrace the change and disruption ICT brings. You know how hard it can be to convince others that it is a key strategic asset.
From where I sit as a policymaker, I see the same problems, I face the same challenges. ICT also disrupts public authorities – as they try to access the huge benefits of eGovernment. And it disrupts whole policy areas — just look at what it means for the copyright system.
My job – like yours – is to make sure people see beyond those challenges: and towards the tremendous opportunities that lie beyond.
If we are to realise those benefits, it's clear that we need resources – whichever sector we're in.
Two resources in particular stand out: physical and human capital. High-speed broadband and digital skills.
First, broadband. That's the basic building block for any connected economy. And as demands get ever more sophisticated – like for audiovisual material – it needs to be high-speed and high-bandwidth broadband.
Last year I invited you to tell me your broadband stories. The benefits fast connections bring to your business and the obstacles to getting them.
I'm delighted you took up my offer. The resulting study is fascinating reading – and great evidence.
For one thing, it confirms that high-speed broadband makes a real difference to you. Because, at its best, broadband helps you work together, internally and externally; manage your business; and access new innovations like Cloud computing.
But equally — and this is the most important message for me in this report — it's clear that sometimes broadband can give you major headaches. Like differing connection speeds.
Be assured this issue is on my agenda. By 2020 I want all Europe to have fast broadband coverage, at least 30 Megabits. And I want wide use of even faster speeds, 100 Megabits or higher.
But how do we get there?
First, for me, there's one key answer to stimulate broadband investment: competition. And I see you agree too on the importance of open markets. I'm glad this message comes through very clearly in your report.
Let me tell you, not everyone in the private sector is so keen on competition: indeed some, in the telecoms sector, have asked for regulatory holidays.
But I have been clear to them, as I am being clear to you, that removing competition would not deliver for the end user. To continue to benefit from choice, low prices, and a relentless focus on user needs: the answer is more competition, and more innovation—not less.
I might add, that I do recognise that sometimes the private sector still sees broadband investment as too risky. And that is why we have proposed a helping hand through the Connecting Europe Facility. Our innovative financing would crowd in new private sector players, reducing perceived risk, and attracting wider investment.
All together, our 7 billion euros of EU support could leverage investment of over 50 billion. That's essential to Europe's economic future.
If you're as serious as I am about digitally connecting Europe, I hope you, too, will be making this point to members of the Council and Parliament who still need to agree to our Connecting Europe Facility proposal.
Your report also mentions the Cloud. No surprise: given the great benefits the Cloud could bring Europe: one million jobs, hundreds of billions in economic benefits. In future, all of us – public as well as private - may come to depend on the Cloud.
But I realise that, in regulatory terms, this is still largely an uncharted domain. So, for many potential users, there are still uncertainties, fears, and unanswered questions. Our recent extensive consultation showed those barriers to take-up clearly.
But, please, give me your thoughts too. Because I need to know the obstacles to using the Cloud. What it would take for European companies to embrace it. And what more I can do to ensure we all benefit.
Because I hope our forthcoming Cloud strategy can identify and overcome these issues. Like by ensuring joined-up policy, so we don't take away with one hand the benefits we give with the other. And by using the power of the public sector to stimulate this growing market.
Because I want the Cloud to be something that happens with Europe – not to Europe.
That is what we could do with the right broadband resources. But I'd like also to talk about something perhaps more important. Human capital: a vital resource to power the digital economy.
And because here we could "kill two birds with one stone".
Your profession depends on a strong ICT skill base. Probably most of your employees need at least basic digital literacy. And at the other end you need more and more highly-skilled specialists. From systems engineers to security experts to social media gurus—you name it!
No wonder the demand for ICT graduates is going up. Yet that's not being met by supply. In fact, when it comes to computing degrees in particular, the proportion of graduates went down between 2005 and 2009. By 2015, we predict a skills gap of 700,000. That's 700,000 ICT professionals we'll be short of: 700,000 vacancies that we might not be able to fill.
Maybe this will affect your bottom line. It will certainly affect Europe's competitiveness. And yet all the while, it comes at a time when Europe is facing mass unemployment, particularly among the young.
So here's an idea: how about a grand coalition for ICT jobs?
Because there are so many great careers out there in ICT: as its importance has increased, so have the range of skills needed. In particular, women seem to be massively underrepresented in this sector. Maybe they think it's not for them? Well, they're wrong. And indeed I recall, this time last year, handing out a prize to one very talented woman CIO! So we need to show that there are opportunities out there for everyone.
We must map out the ICT skills we need: and ensure we can fill them. We must raise awareness and market ICT careers better. We must provide opportunities - through traineeships, certification, and so on.
Acting alone, I can't do this. None of us could. But together, with you, with the ICT industry, the education sector formal and informal, with governments, certification providers and employment agencies, we can make a real difference. Large scale. That's why I call it a grand coalition.
Will you join me in that challenge? Because together we can build the human capital for a digital Europe – while providing hope for a potentially lost generation.
That's the kind of support Europe needs. Support for a competitive broadband market, support for the Cloud, support to a generation at risk.
Policy makers like me must equip Europe to face the future, and to embrace future growth. But I need your help.