Challenges and prospects in the EU: Quality of life and public services Chapter 8

93 Introduction Context The transformational impact that the increased use of digital technologies has had in the economy and in society has led some authors to hail these changes as being as significant as the Industrial Revolution. Eurofound has defined the current state of technological change as the digital age, ‘an historical period marked by the widespread use of digital technologies in different aspects of human activity’ (Eurofound, 2018a, p. 1). Far from being confined to industry, the digital age has already had a profound impact on public services, with a wave of change that will continue and strengthen as time goes on. The magnitude of the potential impact of digitalisation is reflected in the EU policy debate. The AGS 2019 makes extensive reference to digitalisation and technological change, as challenges as well as opportunities for future growth (European Commission, 2018a). Digitalisation (together with the ageing of the population and climate change) is considered to ‘put mounting pressure on our workforce, social welfare systems and industry, compelling us to innovate and reform to sustain high living standards’ (European Commission 2018a, p. 5). Its impact on work is among the long-term challenges for Europe, whereas the slow diffusion of digital technologies is considered a challenge in the short term. The AGS also shows that there are significant investment gaps in intangible assets (e.g. copyright) and infrastructure (e.g. broadband) as well as in the digitalisation of SMEs. The AGS indicates that some regions and sectors have struggled to make the most of technological innovation and warns about the risk of widening disparities. Consequently, Member States are invited to carry out reforms prompting the broader and faster uptake of productivity-enhancing technologies. Some types of reformmentioned in the AGS are investment, skills development and stronger links between education and training systems and businesses. The AGS findings point to the need for upskilling due to technological change and the importance of investments in education and training. The AGS also highlights the importance of the adaptability of the workforce, especially the low skilled, to ensure optimal application of technological progress. The need for digital skills is also mentioned in the Draft joint employment report accompanying the AGS 2019 (European Commission, 2018d). The report notes the slow improvement over the last year regarding the share of populations with basic digital skills or better, showing that there is a ‘two-speed digital Europe’. This is one of the headline indicators of the Social Scoreboard, which ranks EU Member States according to their performance in various domains. Scope and objectives The purpose of this chapter is to provide examples of the use of digital technologies in public services. Furthermore, it presents some of the impacts and main issues associated with the use of these technologies. Digital technologies have been classified and conceptualised in very different ways. Given the policy relevance of this topic, it is important to establish a clear conceptual framework and definitions. Eurofound has clustered digital technologies into three categories: automation, digitalisation and platforms (see Box 7). 8 Impact of digitalisation on health and social care Automation of work : the replacement of (human) labour input by machine input for some types of tasks within production and distribution processes (Eurofound, 2018a, p. iv). This includes technologies such as advanced robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Digitalisation of processes : the use of sensors and rendering devices to translate (parts of) the physical production process into digital information (and vice versa) in order to process, store and communicate information (Eurofound, 2018a). This includes technologies such as the Internet of Things and virtual/augmented reality. Coordination by platforms : platforms mediate any activity that ‘uses digital networks to coordinate transactions and interactions in an algorithmic way’ (Eurofound, 2018a, p. 4). Platforms mediate for-profit or not-for-profit economic activities by bringing together service users and providers with the aim of conducting specific tasks or solving specific problems (Eurofound, 2018b). Some examples of platforms in the care sector included in Eurofound’s platform repository are and (Eurofound, undated-b). Blockchain technology is included in this category. Box 7: Three categories of digital technologies