By Mike Sewart, Director of Digital Services in UK and Ireland at Fujitsu

The importance that digital services hold in our lives has never been more apparent than in today’s society. Whether we are shopping online, paying tax online or collaborating in real time with global colleagues — digital services are now part of everyday life.

According to new research from Fujitsu looking into the UK’s digital landscape, over a fifth of us will always opt for a digital service when offered. In addition to this, online banking and online shopping reign supreme as the most used and valued (67% and 66% respectively) digital services every day.

However despite this growth, there are still obstacles when it comes to digital services, leading many consumers failing to benefit on certain goods and services. According to the European Commission, 15 per cent of consumers shop online from another EU country. Yet, despite this opportunity, some Internet-based companies and start-ups are still unable to take full advantage of the growth opportunities that digital can provide due to a variety of reasons, including connectivity and accessibility challenges. Currently, only seven per cent of SMEs are selling internationally.

To combat this digital divide, the European Commission recently unveiled plans to create a “Digital Single Market”; in order to bring down regulatory walls and convene the 28 nationals markets into a single one. According to the European Commission, a fully functional Digital Single Market could contribute over 415 billion Euros per year to the economy and create hundreds of new jobs. This plan looks at three key pillars to help the EU become fully digital.

Firstly the plan looks at better access for consumers and business to digital goods and services across Europe. This is vital in today’s landscape as we are rapidly turning to digital channels to enhance customer experience and buying behaviours. Consumers are more demanding than ever before and want businesses to offer intuitive customer experiences leveraging 21st century technology with an ultimate goal of streamlining and simplifying customer to business transactions.

The second pillar looks at creating the right conditions and a level playing field for digital and innovative services to flourish. Establishing digital foundation platforms based on Open Standards will enable new value-networks to flourish. This will create a digital landscape that especially favours SMEs who will be able to add their value within these networks without the need for large capital outlays for common infrastructure foundations. Open Standards, transparency, trust and security will be crucial to this pillar. Sustained future growth of Europe’s economy has a huge reliance from SMEs, and they will be the ones who see tangible benefits from a single digital market, through wider uptake of services and more effective B2B collaboration.

The final pillar looks at maximising the growth potential of the digital economy. Again, Open Standards, collaboration and interoperability will be crucial to the success of this section. Equally important though is the focus on the development of the right skills within the EU, which will lead to the EU being a world leader in Digital Markets.

This plan from the European Commission highlights that Europe is well on its way to becoming a digital leader. This aligns well with Fujitsu’s Digital Inside Out research, which revealed 73 per cent of UK employees see digital as vital to the future success of their organisation. But for the digital economy to truly thrive, companies must also ensure that they are properly educating the public in how to use them — and that their employees are appropriately skilled and enabled with the right digital support services, creating a business that is digital inside and out. Once proper education is in place, both citizens and companies alike will be able to benefit from these instant services to help make goods and services more accessible.

As we see more organisations continue to embrace digital services as part of their strategic business plans, the potential to transform the way in which we work and play within society will continue to develop in exciting ways. It is great to see the EU encouraging this direction within their strategy as this will only help to position Europe at the forefront of the digital world.