IMD and digitalswitzerland recently hosted a Summit on digital competitiveness and the latest digital trends for some of the biggest names in high tech in Switzerland at IMD’s campus in Lausanne.

250+ business leaders from telecom and technology companies as well as representatives from governmental and international organizations active in the digital sphere attended and networked at the reception following the conference.

The event came on the heels of the release of the World Digital Competitiveness Ranking by the IMD World Competitiveness Center. In this year’s rankings the USA leads followed by Singapore, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. Rising from the 3rd spot, the USA overtakes Singapore and Sweden to top the ranking.

The evening featured addresses by IMD President Jean-François Manzoni, and Marc Walder, CEO of Ringier, a leading Swiss Media Group, and President of digitalswitzerland’s Steering Committee. Swiss media personality and politician Fathi Derder was Master of Ceremonies.

Digital leaders

Michael Wade, IMD Professor and Director of the Center for Digital Business Transformation, an IMD and Cisco initiative, gave a keynote speech on “Why Digital Transformation is not about Digital”. Pierre Vandergheynst, Vice-President and Professor at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, looked at the evolving landscape of digital education. Christos Cabolis, Chief Economist and Head of Operations at the IMD World Competitiveness Center, presented the Digital Competitiveness Rankings 2018 and what it means for Switzerland.

Data front and center

One of the hot topics of the evening was GDPR, sweeping new regulations in Europe tightening which data organizations can store about their stakeholders and how they use it. “There are a lot of passions around this issue of data – in some cases there are legitimate concerns but in many cases, there are quite irrational concerns,” said Jean-François Manzoni. “To have better discussions we will need to differentiate different kinds of data – some of which are more sensitive than others -, and hopefully reinstate some degree of trust in the institutions that hold data. This issue also relates to the balance between individual rights and collective rights. For example, video cameras in the streets can be seen as an intrusion in our lives or an enhancement to our and public safety. So let’s strive to have intelligent conversations about these important questions and not let irrational fears get in the way. Let’s also realize that in some cases data can become a massive competitive advantage.”

Switzerland’s own digital readiness

Another key topic of the evening was Switzerland’s place in the Digital Competitiveness Ranking (moving up from 8th last year to 5th this year). Christos Cabolis, Chief Economist at the IMD World Competitiveness Center said: “The performance of Switzerland is high and robust. The presence of innovative firms, along with strong scientific and technical talent, provide the pillars of a healthy digital ecosystem. From the regulatory perspective, Switzerland needs to ease the process of starting a business. It also needs to improve participation in government and governance via e-participation and e-government. A promising strength for the Swiss economy is the existent ties between universities and businesses for knowledge transfer, where it tops the ranks.”

Optimism for Switzerland

The distinguished panel closed the event by discussing prospects for Switzerland’s digital future.

“This country has everything it takes to move up the ladder, but others might be faster,” said Marc Walder.

“I would like to thank IMD for preparing this ranking which gives us a great indication of what we can improve as a country in digital,” said Martin Vetterli, President of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and part of the event’s panel.

“The issue is not only the speed of change at our end; it is also the speed of change at the other ends,” said Jean-François Manzoni. “When we look at nation or city competitiveness, what we see is that the strong tend to get stronger. So there is really a race going on. The question for Switzerland then becomes: How can we manage the change process a little bit more skilfully to ensure that the system accepts more change faster than it normally would? Introducing change always requires patience and persistence. Some sense of urgency also helps.  I have no doubt that digitalswitzerland’s activities will contribute to enhance the sense of urgency of key stakeholders, including business leaders and politicians, and we look forward to supporting them and contributing to a vibrant Swiss digital ecosystem” he concluded.

IMD joined digitalswitzerland in February 2018