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Unlocking Digital Ambitions
Our Suggestions

The European Commission has set out ambitious targets for unlocking the potential of the Digital Decade. By 2030, 75% of EU companies must be using cloud/AI/Big Data, and more than 90% of SMEs must reach at least a basic level of digital intensity. These are crucial goals if we are to truly reap the benefits of emerging digital technologies. Yet, as this research shows, key capabilities like digital skills, adapting the legal and regulatory framework, financing, and consumer knowledge are still lacking. To meet these ambitious goals, more targeted support must be available.

This study illustrates the extent to which education and support in accessing the right digital skills lies at the heart of these efforts. To support this goal, AWS has launched ‘AI Ready’, a new commitment to provide free AI skills training to two million people globally by 2025.


If implemented, these recommendations can support a digital transition with positive impacts on all citizens and businesses, unlocking an additional EUR 600 billion (on top of last year’s prediction of EUR 2.8 trillion in economic value) primarily driven by the expanded adoption of AI, as well as progress in cloud and big data. In total, European businesses who face barriers to digital adoption predict that the elimination of these frictions would boost their projected five-year revenue growth by +53.5%.

1. Investing in digital skills training for businesses and citizens.

As this study has demonstrated, there are both insufficient digital skills within the current workforce and increasing difficulty when sourcing new employees with the necessary digital skills. Research showed that 56% of citizens learn most of their digital skills through independent learning, while 36% of citizens say their company offers no form of skills training or support at all.

To address this, this report recommends expanding cooperative efforts between the public and private sectors to develop and deploy comprehensive and well-funded training programmes that empower both citizens and businesses to effectively use digital tools. These programmes should be tailored to the learners’ unique needs and responsive to the asks of industry as regards the skills in demand. Collaboration between businesses, educational establishments, and governments is essential in designing and delivering these programmes. It is imperative that both public and private sectors prioritise and urgently invest in modernising curricula, prioritising digital skills training, and engaging with certification initiatives. Public-private cooperation will be crucial in maximising the effectiveness of funding programmes to support SMEs and to develop digital skills. The research shows learners and businesses also highly value qualifications gained outside traditional learning institutions and as part of lifelong learning. Initiatives to address skills gaps should build upon this market demand, utilising industry-leading certifications and other micro-credentials to equip citizens with the advanced skills they need to be successful in the job market. 

Specifically, there should be an emphasised focus on enhancing cloud and AI technology skills and education. We must aim to mainstream the use of digital technologies, such as AI or cloud, in European businesses and ensure that the current workforce is able to make the most of investments in digital technology. By offering reskilling and upskilling programmes, we can empower companies to continually evolve and maintain a competitive edge in this fast-paced digital landscape.

There is, furthermore, a strong imperative to invest in digital skills training for the next generation. European citizens show a desire for good digital skills programmes in schools, ranging from basic digital skills (75% think it is important that children learn to back up their data, 67% think it is important that they are able to create a basic spreadsheet), to safe behaviour online (63% of European citizens think it is important that schools teach children to post responsibly on social media), to advanced digital skills (61% of European citizens think it is important for children to learn to code).

Finally, it is crucial to diversify the pipeline of digitally skilled citizens, expanding funding and training programmes to a greater range of citizens. Initiatives that can help reach a diverse range of citizens and equip them with digital skills will prove crucial to meeting the EU target of 20 million ICT specialists by 2030. It is important therefore to also consider the diversity of skills that will be needed to meet the needs of a number of emergent roles in ICT. Educators can seek deeper integration with business to develop more attractive educational programmes or to link with professionals able to act as role models for young learners. In doing so, educational programmes can broaden expectations about the types of careers that adoption of digital technologies will facilitate and encourage greater participation of groups who are currently under-represented in the ICT sector. These investments in educational programme design and delivery will be vital in bridging the digital skills gap and promoting a diverse, digitally literate society to fulfil a range of emerging roles in ICT.

2. Addressing legal and regulatory uncertainties.

Our research revealed compliance and legal threats as the second most significant obstacles to tech adoption. Many businesses cite an uncertain regulatory landscape as a barrier to digital adoption, and have indicated that their use of digital technologies, such as cloud computing, big data, and AI, would increase if they could ensure that they are complying with the necessary regulations. 


To address these concerns, some suggestions emerge for European policymakers:

The European Commission should consider an additional criterion in their Digital Decade targets, examining European businesses’ ‘readiness for digital uptake and investment’. By providing governments with the business confidence and commercial environment needed to drive digital adoption, Europe can better examine its digital competitiveness and highlight where intervention is required to address remaining uncertainties and support investment.

Expand the criteria of the Digital Decade to address business confidence.

For European businesses and citizens to succeed in the Digital Decade, transparency and clarity are required to lower the administrative and compliance costs that could ultimately stifle entrepreneurship and international growth. A predictable business environment would empower businesses to increase their investments, to see potential returns in increased revenues and support for employment.

The EU has just reached a provisional agreement on the AI Act, forming a broad legal framework for regulating the use of artificial intelligence. As the EU moves forward, it will remain important to focus on risk-based legislation for AI that protects citizens and rights and encourages trust, while also allowing for continued innovation and practical application.


The continued pursuit of an innovation-friendly and internationally coordinated approach will support the safe, secure, and responsible development of AI technology.

Provide regulatory certainty and publish clear, uniform guidance.
Protect flexibility for digital adoption.

As in 2022’s Digital Potential report, businesses are asking for the flexibility required to explore the potential applications of new and emerging technologies.[1] Increased AI adoption will rely on supporting technology choice and the ability for companies to easily choose and switch between AI and cloud service providers, as well as facilitating seamless data sharing between providers through the requirement for interoperability with international standards. A regulatory sandbox approach, which enables both innovation and competition, will prove key in providing businesses the flexibility to experiment and choose the best technology.


Citizens similarly are seeking an effective legal environment that also provides access to the best technologies. The most common priority cited by citizens in keeping their data secure was having a robust legal framework (45%), followed by using the best technology (39%). Regulatory regimes should therefore ensure that there is an open environment that supports consumer choice within a trusted legal framework.

Establish supportive and risk-based regulatory environments for new technologies.

As mentioned above, regulatory sandbox programmes for specific sectors could be further expanded to bridge the gap between new technologies and a need to regulate. Experimentation and innovation with new technologies benefit from the availability of regulatory spaces to develop new business models or approaches. Sandbox programmes act as a tool for policymakers to best understand how to support innovation through a risk-based approach. They also permit policymakers to explore how the current regulatory framework can be adapted or modernised to meet new challenges, without undergoing the time-consuming process of developing wholly new regulatory initiatives. At a time when the lead time for new technological developments is ever shortening, this more flexible and agile approach to finding regulatory solutions would help policymakers meet the expectations of both citizens and businesses keen to benefit from the promise of digital adoption.

3. Tackling financial concerns and targeting public procurement

While direct financial support provides an incentive to digitalisation, public procurement also plays a powerful role as a multiplier for technology adoption. The 2023 European Investment Bank (EIB) Investment Report notes that a key external factor shaping firms’ digitalisation is the extent to which governments and municipalities embrace digitalisation themselves – ‘this implies a coherent approach to digital governance, guided by the needs of people and firms.’[2]


The report noted that municipalities with greater digital capabilities and sophistication were less likely to report a lack of investment in digital infrastructure. For countries with a high share of municipalities considered to be ‘digitally sophisticated’, there was a higher rate of digital adoption for firms in those countries. The positive spin-off can also be seen within business sectors, as the EIB Report finds that digital innovation by suppliers or customers of businesses drives digital uptake by those businesses. Public procurement should therefore aim to expand capabilities and increase sophistication of municipalities and businesses, driving a virtuous circle of increasing digital innovation and uptake. This would mean that the Digital Decade not only delivers new and innovative key public services online that are reflective of the new opportunities AI and other technologies provide, but also drives innovation in businesses’ sectors themselves.


The European Commission should continue its support for a range of funding opportunities to digitalise businesses.[3] While guidance provides a compilation of possible sources of funding, more efforts should go into supporting target skills and modernising European businesses. Out of the six funding programmes proposed by the EU, little is directed at SMEs, with even less support for micro-SMEs. InvestEU specifically addresses the financial needs of SMEs who are adopting digital technologies but is limited in impact due to the narrow list of financial products it offers and their expansive requirements. By widening access and addressing any lack of flexibility in funding tools, these programmes can have the ability to offer the skills and resources businesses need to make the most of new technologies.  

In parallel, governments should invest additional funding for citizens to undergo digital training programmes and provide financing opportunities for businesses to increase their digital capabilities. Access to learning the skills required for the 21st century is a matter of inclusion: all employees should be prepared for the future of work.

4. Raising awareness and educating consumers on responsible AI use.

Consumer understanding and confidence are pivotal for the successful adoption of new technologies, particularly AI. While there is increasing experimentation around the use of AI, our study shows that 35% of citizens don’t understand the decision-making process behind AI, and this is concerning to them. Therefore, businesses and governments should collaborate to elevate public awareness and knowledge of AI’s benefits and possibilities while emphasising responsible usage. Empowering consumers and businesses with the necessary information is essential to foster trust and ensure responsible AI adoption during the Digital Decade.

Specifically, successful education and awareness initiatives could centre on principles of accessibility and collaboration:

Measuring citizen confidence in AI will help European governments and businesses to address consumer concerns and redress perceptions that AI uptake will lead to job displacement. An indicator around citizen awareness of new technologies will help to understand citizens’ views, to design interventions that can serve to encourage uptake and adoption based on responsible AI.

Raising public awareness and knowledge of AI’s benefits and responsible usage will prove crucial in a successful AI transition. Empowering consumers and businesses with essential information is essential for fostering trust and ensuring responsible AI adoption during the Digital Decade. To achieve the Digital Decade goals, governments must equip citizens with the requisite skills and knowledge to empower them in their digital journey.

Schools should increase their focus on digital skills, ensuring that the next generation is proficient in using digital technologies and is aware of emerging technologies like AI and generative AI. This research indicates strong support (69%) for educational institutions and employers to offer digital skills training and development support. Businesses and citizens note the importance of both basic and advanced digital skills in the digital revolution – successful digitalisation does not require all citizens to be able to code, but rather it is crucial that their skills and techniques are digitally enabled to meet the Digital Decade target of 80% basic digital proficiency by 2030.


1. Public First (2022) Unlocking Europe’s Digital Potential. Available at: 

2. European Investment Bank (2023) Investment Report: Resilience and renewal in Europe. Available at:

3. A guide to EU funding opportunities to digitalise businesses, 22 March 2022

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