Interview with Étienne Schneider in Happen

"Becoming a leading data economy"

Happen: Why did the Luxembourg government decide to develop a strategy for data-driven innovation?

Etienne Schneider: Digital and data-enabled technologies are influencing all aspects of today's society: they shape our way of working and communicating with each other, to the point of transforming our lives. As digital technologies are being deployed across all economic sectors, they have a particularly strong impact on the development of the economy. Data-driven innovation revolutionises how we do business and makes it possible to deliver solutions with unprecedented speed and flexibility, often while also reducing the overall costs and decreasing the environmental impact. Boosting the digital transformation of the national economy is therefore a priority for the Ministry of the Economy. Our "Data-Driven Innovation Strategy for the Development of a Trusted and Sustainable Economy in Luxembourg" outlines the government's vision for digitalising our priority economic sectors. The strategy addresses the projects and policies that the ministry will leverage in order to support the emergence of a trusted, data-driven economy in Luxembourg and accelerate the digital transformation of strategic sectors.

Happen: Where is Luxembourg in this field today, and what do you see as the main opportunities for the future?

Etienne Schneider: Luxembourg identified information and communication technologies (ICT) as crucial for the successful diversification of the country's economy more than 20 years ago. Since then, major infrastructure investments have been made, notably in extensive broadband networks, outstanding international connectivity and state-of-the-art high-end data centres. Today, the country enjoys solid foundations for facing future ICT-enabled opportunities and challenges. With its competitive business environment and smart policies, Luxembourg has all the assets needed to be an innovative forerunner in the data-driven economy and a perfect location for digital activities in general. Our current focus is on seizing the opportunities provided by digital technologies to create the digital economy of tomorrow. The strategy is built on a holistic approach to digital transformation. It does not only include adopting strategic technologies, but also developing appropriate skills, building relevant infrastructure and ecosystems, and designing efficient policies and support measures.

Happen: Has the strategy been inspired by any observations from other countries?

Etienne Schneider: The emerging data economy provides opportunities as well as competitive challenges for all countries. Those that are best prepared and equipped to compete digitally will also come out best. Over the next decade, digital data, infrastructure and knowledge will become strategic economic and competitive assets in advanced nations across the world. In the European Union, the establishment of a digital single market is a prerequisite for attracting investments in the field of digital innovation and accelerating the growth of digital business. The European Commission has initiated an ambitious strategy for shaping the digital single market, based on a series of actions related to the European Cloud Initiative and the digitalisation of European industry. The European digital agenda focuses on areas such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and digital skills. Luxembourg has chosen to align with these priorities. Our digital innovation strategy thus leverages and builds on the EUs digital policy and investments.

Happen: Which sectors are prioritised in the strategy?

Etienne Schneider: More than ten years ago, the government adopted a multi-specialisation strategy to further develop and diversify the national economy and better complement the strong financial sector. In order to achieve critical mass and impact, the strategy focuses on selected priority sectors: ICT, industry 4.0, health technologies, logistics, the space sector, eco-technologies — with a strong emphasis on the circular economy and smart mobility — and financial technologies. The data-driven innovation strategy has three major focus areas: strengthening the digital infrastructure, supporting businesses in the adoption of innovative digital technologies and creating a favourable legal and financial environment for the data economy. It describes the current situation and context of each of these sectors, and proposes concrete actions aimed at increasing their productivity and ensuring their sustainable development in the data economy. The ICT sector obviously has a transversal impact on all other areas, as digital technologies act both as an enabler and as a driver for the rest of the economy. We also expect the positive effects of the strategy to go well beyond the selected priority sectors.

Happen: What main actions and initiatives will be or are currently being implemented?

Etienne Schneider: We officially launched our Luxembourg Digital Innovation Hub (L-DIH) — a key element of the data-driven innovation strategy — at the end of September. Its mission is to actively contribute to the digital transformation of the economy by supporting companies in their strategic thinking and concrete actions. Hosted and managed by Luxinnovation, the national innovation agency, the L-DIH will facilitate contact between companies that need access to digitalisation skills, technologies, services and support actions, and service providers who can meet their needs. Another concrete achievement is the implementation of a high performance computer (HPC) in Luxembourg that will be operational in 2020. With a calculating power of 10 petaflops/ second, it has been designed to meet the needs of companies, in particular SMEs and start-ups. A dedicated competence centre will advise and support less experienced users with their projects. The HPC will also be used for research purposes. When it comes to projects by individual companies that fit into our data-driven innovation strategy, I would like to mention the "Factory of the Future" project launched by Husky Injection Molding Systems in February this year. This project, and the fact that Husky chose to implement it here, confirms that Luxembourg is an attractive location for high-tech industrial investments done by international groups. It is a tangible example of digital innovation in the field of Industry 4.0. The fully automated tyre factory of Goodyear in Dudelange is yet another example of such milestones pointing the way to a fully digitalised industry and economy.

Happen: Are there any transnational dimensions to the strategy or cross-border projects?

Etienne Schneider: Many projects described in the strategy are to be considered in the European context, and have, as such, cross-border and supranational aspects. Our HPC, for example, is part of the European network of supercomputing and will benefit from European co-funding. Our progressive approach in the fields of HPC and big data — the new building blocks of digital competitiveness — has resulted in Luxembourg being chosen as the location of the EuroHPC agency that manages the EUs supercomputing initiative. The L-DIH is also part of a European network aimed at bringing together supply and demand in the context of the digitalisation of industry, and, in particular, SMEs. It will work together with Digital Innovation Hubs all over the EU to provide access to technological expertise and experimentation facilities. I would also like to mention the cross-border testbed for automated and connected driving set up in partnership with our neighbouring countries. 'This data-driven project makes it possible to test autonomous driving and smart mobility solutions in a cross-border area connecting France, Germany and Luxembourg. The aim is to attract pilot projects and research activities centred on data in the smart mobility sector.

Happen: What are Luxembourg's main advantages as a location for international companies involved in data-driven innovation?

Etienne Schneider: Luxembourg's openness has always been a key success factor for thq economy. The positive development of our manufacturing industry and our major financial centre has been fuelled by attracting international entrepreneurs, investors and activities. I'm convinced that the same is true for the ICT sector. Well-established companies as well as start-ups from all over the world come to Luxembourg to develop their activities and serve not only the national markets, but customers from all over Europe and beyond. As mentioned before, the government recognised at an early stage that the future lies in the digitalisation of our economy and society. This is why we equipped ourselves with the necessary infrastructure to master the digital future. Our ICT infrastructure, capacities and competences are outstanding, and we have steadily maintained a high level of investment in the field. Data centres, connectivity, cybersecurity and related skills are at the heart of our strategy to be a trusted hub for valuable data. With the high-end digital infrastructure, we have prepared the national economy well for the challenges we will face in a digital interconnected future. Luxembourg also has a modern and reactive legal and regulatory framework designed to foster business development. We can thus offer a unique and secure environment for high-potential digital activities where innovative ideas can be transformed into successful business.

Happen: How can Luxembourg attract, train and retain talents with the skills needed for the data economy?

Etienne Schneider: Luxembourg owes a large amount of its economic success to its foreign labour force, consisting of both expats and cross-border commuters. Diversity is an important driver of innovation, and Luxembourg is an expert in embracing all its facets. The country is a welcoming place where it is easy to settle and find work, and where administrative procedures run smoothly with support from responsive multilingual government officials. This makes me very optimistic about the talent and skills that we are able to build. However, attracting talents from abroad will not be sufficient, and we also need to focus on developing and retaining native skilled professionals. With dedicated educational programmes, we can foster the interest of children in science and technology, and an extended offer of higher education degrees such as the Interdisciplinary Space Master at the University of Luxembourg will ensure the availability of skilled staff in the future. Lifelong learning also plays a key role. Our aim is to build a diverse, resilient and flexible talent pool and to facilitate the successful deployment of knowledge and skills.

Happen: Looking ten years or so into the future, what results would you like to see in order to consider the strategy as a success?

Etienne Schneider: The overall goal of the data-driven innovation strategy is to propose a vision and path forward for Luxembourg. We aim to put in place the digital innovation policies and assets needed to foster the emergence of a robust data economy and a start-up ecosystem centred on data-driven innovation. This will also accelerate the digital transformation of existing industry across key strategic economic sectors. Luxembourg will strive to become the most trusted data economy within the European Union by 2023. I'm convinced that in ten years, Luxembourg will be at the forefront of data-driven innovation propelled by start-ups that collaborate closely with corporate open innovation hubs or deploy testbed activities

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