The pandemic has accelerated the world’s digital transformation, but Europe is still lagging behind

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The coronavirus pandemic is forcing businesses around the world to take ‘digital transformation’ seriously.

The term has been a popular phrase in business for at least a decade. But it has meant different things to different people. Many companies have taken a piecemeal and interim approach to embracing digital technologies that might even be called ‘transformational theater’.

This is not an option in the pandemic, when employees cannot get to the workplace and customers are afraid to shop in physical stores. For many businesses, the choice is difficult: go digital or go bankrupt.

In one Fortune virtual conversation On Tuesday, three experts explored how the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in a multitude of industries, including healthcare, education, transportation, media and manufacturing.

Paul Scanlan, chief technology officer of Huawei Technologies’ carrier business group, noted that telemedicine, distance education and video conferencing have become the global standard almost overnight.

Even so, speakers agreed, some regions have embraced digital transformation more easily than others. All three agreed that European companies have been much slower than their counterparts in the United States and China to integrate automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud services and high-speed sensors. in all aspects of their business operations.

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The challenge for Europe is to get businesses in the region to “adopt” AI technology, said François Candelon, senior partner and CEO of BCG and global director of BCG Henderson Institute. Europe, he said, “is not as advanced as what we can see in Asia now”.

China, on the other hand, has the advantage of having local tech giants ready to invest heavily in AI and benefits from government policies that support this technology.

Huawei’s Scanlan argued that, even before the pandemic, “China learned that AI, [the internet of things]and 5G are essential parts of the transformation. “

“Artificial intelligence must be part of future digital transformation plans,” Michael Frank, public policy manager at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said at the event.

The United States, for its part, has the advantage of being a leader in AI research, Candelon said.

But BCG’s Candelon, who returned to Paris this year after spending seven years in China, warned that Europe was “really lagging behind.”

Some European countries are pursuing digital transformation policies, but Europe needs an “ecosystem” that will link national hubs, Candelon argued. “We don’t need 50 Silicon Valleys… two of them would be great.”

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