Digital Switzerland’s strategy: Creating networked transformation

18 Dec 2017 12:15h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The session, moderated by Mr Jacques Beglinger, SwissHoldings, focused on the prospects and challenges of tackling the digital transformation in Switzerland.

Mr Philipp Metzger, Director General of the Federal Office of Communications Switzerland, revealed the main approaches used in the development of the ‘Digital Switzerland’ Strategy. He emphasised that the central element of the strategy was dialogue, in order to reach a consensus with all stakeholders and shape the transformation process for the benefit of everyone. He said that the government was rather cautious in the beginning in approaching the new information society and digital world. They tried to embrace a more comprehensive approach to digitisation and thus the national strategy is built around the uses of data.

The strategy focuses on eight key target areas:

  • The digital economy;
  • Data and digital content;
  • Infrastructure and environment;
  • e-Government and e-Health;
  • New forms of political participation;
  • Development of the knowledge-based society;
  • Security and trust; and
  • Switzerland’s international position.

Metzger emphasised that ‘to develop trust and confidence in using these new tools is a prerequisite for seizing opportunities’.

Besides, he noted that in 2018 they would continue structuring all the input and output, and all the different areas that need to be further developed in digitisation.

Mr Edouard Bugion, Vice President of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), focused on changes, which the transformation process requires. He clarified that there are actually two Digital Switzerlands. First, there is the strategy by the government, and then, there is an association called the ‘digitalswitzerland’, bringing together all the major businesses operating in Switzerland, as well as several cantons and universities.

Reflecting from a business perspective, Bugion noted that there is a need to rethink and strengthen the Swiss economy in the context of this new reality. The political framework needs to change. He mentioned that there is a substantial effort being put in into the educational aspect. For example, there is need to train and retrain the workforce. In this regard the EPFL has already started an extension school to retrain the current workforce in the context of these new technologies.

Bugion also noted that ‘there is tremendous amount of innovation and technology transfer in Switzerland and there is focus on start-ups in the digital world. Many of the start-ups around the world have emerged because of the digital and the digitisation opportunity, and so the support for start-ups is to leverage this opportunity’. He emphasised that blockchain is one of those fundamental enabling technologies which forces society to rethink transparency, privacy, confidentiality, and the integrity of data processing, as ‘our concepts are not typically formalised either in law or in the administrative framework’.

Mr Alexander Barclay, GenèveLab, presented projects which his organization implements. GenèveLab is a digital innovation team, which was created in October 2016 to ‘support all of the administration’s digital transformations [the State of Geneva]’. He said that they organise events aimed at raising awareness, for example, training for senior officials, such as design thinking and introductory courses. He also mentioned the digitalisation of governmental projects and an ongoing project – a platform, which the state of Geneva provides, where any citizen can connect and upload their tax declaration.

Barclay highlighted that there is a political will to have a digital strategy, and they ‘are working on the discussion that will go on afterwards around five key rules that the state of Geneva sees it has to play in regard to digital transformation, and those are issues around lifelong learning, protection, regulation, promotion, and facilitation’.

Ms Roxana Radu, Chair of Internet Society-Switzerland and Programme Manager at the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), gave a perspective that combines the national and international developments, to put the strategy in context. As a representative of civil society, she said that ‘the fact that this is an alive strategy, as Mr Metzger pointed out, makes it easier for us [the civil society] to have the door open for constant communication.’ She emphasised that the main challenge for the strategy is to safeguard digital rights alongside offline rights.

From an international perspective, Radu highlighted the need to learn carefully from the experiences of other countries. For example, in France, there is a law against planned technological obsolescence by manufacturers. This does not exist in Switzerland yet, but it is definitely a point for discussion in the near future, especially as the Swiss digital strategy includes a lifecycle approach to technology and considers sustainable consumption.

By Nazgul Kurmanalieva