PANEL: Digital transformation to greater economic competitiveness 

The coronavirus pandemic has fully demonstrated that digitization is a fundamental pillar of long-term competitiveness. While Czechia has traditionally relied upon economic factors such as cheap labour to maintain their competitiveness, a number of experts are seeking a shift towards high value-added industry.  However, this transition can only be achieved through robust digital transformation.

Digitization not only increases efficiency but also the productivity and flexibility of companies. The benefits of digitization became apparent during the past year as a number of companies managed to grow during the crisis. By creating new jobs and achieving higher work productivity, companies that have taken advantage of the benefits of digitization have overcome the current crisis much more easily. Today, it is doubtful that anyone questions the objective benefits of digitization. Yet, its rapid rate of development means that if Czech companies do not adapt to this trend quickly, they risk being replaced by others very soon.

In addition to large companies, due consideration must be paid to the employees who have also experienced major changes and challenges in the past year. The arrival of coronavirus has transformed the concept of home office from a somewhat rare benefit to a very common standard routine. This trend has fundamentally changed the way we work, as online meetings and electronic communication replace traditional workplace practices. However, the rapidity with which workplace practices have transformed presents the question of whether this operational system really suits most employees, or whether productivity, work ethic and concentration worsen at home.

What is the state of Czech companies in terms of digital transformation? To what extent are the principles of the Industry 4.0 concept being implemented successfully? Will the home office become an integral part of our working life? And is working from home beneficial for both employers and employees?

 

PANEL: A cashless society as a step towards losing freedom?

The coronavirus pandemic has given impetus to the development of digital services while greatly accelerating the transition to a cashless society. Consumers are increasingly reliant upon mobile devices and various applications for their daily transactions. Alternatives such as cryptocurrencies are garnering considerable interest with examples like Bitcoin being referred to as modern gold. In fact, cryptocurrency is beginning to be attractive for large companies such as the American Tesla.

Due to the increasing prevalence of alternative currencies and digital services, it is essential to recall last year’s legislation on digital finance issued by the European Commission. While the package was primarily focused on stimulating and developing financial innovations, it also included the expected development of regulation in the area of payments and crypto-activities while establishing the priorities connected with the digital transformation of the financial market by 2024.

The European Commission wants to strengthen strategic autonomy in financial services and supervise the European financial system more effectively in order to safeguard its stability. The Commission had also placed priority upon maintaining existing levels of consumer protection, as data security and safety are vital to the digitization of this sector. Furthermore, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, the digitization of the financial sector can be said to be almost inevitable.

Is the digitization of financial services safe from a consumer perspective? How can the risks of the digital transformation of finance be regulated? To what extent is digitization beneficial, and when is it already developing at the expense of civil liberties? How to avoid continually entering passwords that we must remember or write on a piece of paper, which we will lose anyway? How quickly is the Czech Republic able to respond to digitization?

 

PANEL: Internet regulation, data collection and the role of AI

The Internet is one of the most fundamental inventions of the 20th century and is an integral part of our lives. We work, shop, educate ourselves or spend our free time online, and this symbiosis between technology and people will certainly deepen further. During its existence, however, the Internet has also become a tool that divides society, which serves to spread disinformation, restrict freedom and even facilitate criminal activity. Therefore, it is obvious that even our evolving digital society needs to have its rules.

At the end of last year the European Commission presented a package of legislative proposals called the Digital Services Act which attracted special attention from both supporters and opponents. The Act was devised in order to create a set of Europe-wide binding rules for the provision of digital services which are currently governed by internet giants and various online platforms.

The new rules should guarantee better Internet regulation, more profound protection of personal data, and preventive measures against voter manipulation before elections. Such regulations were formulated in response to findings by Cambridge Analytica in connection with the misuse of data and the spread of misinformation and fake news (not only) in the pre-election period, as well as the spread of footage of terrorist attacks on social networks.

How can user data collection be regulated? Should the amount of data collected be charged? Is the transparency of data and algorithms of individual platforms sufficient? Isn’t there reserved too much space for artificial intelligence? Are we users of the Internet or a part of it? And can the internet be a safe place at all?

 

PANEL: The crisis as an opportunity for development of eHealth

Every crisis is an opportunity for positive change, and this statement is no truer than when applied to the field of healthcare. Artificial intelligence offers immense potential for significant improvements in the current Czech healthcare system, as is evident by the application of various emergent technologies. Such advancements include machine learning models which are already making doctors significantly more effective by performing diagnostics and making suggestions for subsequent medical treatment.

The Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on  Czech healthcare has presented a unique opportunity to transform the current system into a form that better corresponds to the modern digital age. Paradoxically, society can come out strengthened by the current situation, but we must not forget the “common routine problems” which until recently were at the forefront of the general public’s interest.

Digitalization remains a major challenge of the healthcare system, but this process has the potential to become the biggest technological leap in recent years. The most basic unit in this regard is health data, and it is growing at an exponential rate. The ease of exchange, sharing, analysis and access to health data will determine whether the Czech healthcare system will really evolve into the 21st century. In addition to reducing the burden of administration, increasing the safety of health services, and increasing the quality of healthcare, the main benefit of digitalization will be the strengthening of patients’ awareness and their active involvement in their own personal health care.

What is the benefit of digitizing healthcare for the patient, doctor or provider? Where will digitization lead up to? To what extent have modern technologies helped us in the fight against coronavirus? And how can data in the Czech healthcare system be used effectively in order to prevent their misuse?

 

PANEL: A step forward, two backwards – what lesson did the year of digital education teach us?

Education is one of the areas which are highly sensitive to significant changes. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools were closed in a very short period of time, forcing both students and teachers to quickly adapt to new forms of virtual learning as traditional education was transferred to the online environment.

Numerous factors limited the effectiveness of online teaching such as inadequate levels of digital literacy as well as the quality of technical equipment available to teachers and students. From the outset, it was clear that the education system was not prepared for such a transition, leading many to doubt the effectiveness of distance learning.

The Czech Republic was not alone in its struggle to adapt to virtual learning. Practically all European countries which shifted their education program to a virtual environment encountered problems. It appears that society is not yet ready for a full-fledged replacement of traditional teaching by distance learning. Moreover,  the increase in remote forms of education has resulted in a higher frequency of cyberbullying among students as well as other similar phenomena originating from the limited digital literacy of individual users.

Will distance learning become a solid part of the educational system? What steps can be taken to make this form of education more effective? Where did get Czechia inspired? What are the experiences of other countries with distance learning? Will we see the replacement of paper textbooks with the digital ones? Have students just lost a year of their studies?

 

PANEL: Intelligent urban mobility for the 21st century 

The rise of modern mobility technologies can be seen across the globe, and as the world is digitizing, so too is urban mobility. The European Commission has been supporting this phenomenon since 2002 with its annual campaign known as Mobility Week. The aim of the campaign is to acquaint cities with new trends and support the implementation of emergent technologies into practice.

Speed and comfort are currently among the most frequently discussed priorities in the context of emission-free urban mobility. They can be achieved thanks to the implementation of intelligent transport solutions, the use of sustainable alternative fuels in transport, and total digitization using smart applications or so-called carsharing. The European Commission’s goal is to create a carbon-neutral continent by 2050 with modern cities which provide a happy and high-quality life for their inhabitants. In order to create a sustainable transportation system, the European Commission is also strongly supporting non-fuel-based alternatives such as walking and cycling as they are the least burdensome for the city and offer the greatest benefits for humans.

The automotive industry appears to be undergoing the most visible change within the field of mobility, primarily due to regulatory pressures applied by the European Union in order to reduce emissions. The automotive industry is a key aspect of the Czech economy, implementation of electromobility plans, intelligent traffic management and autonomous management should begin to accelerate in the coming years.

Is urban mobility really being digitized? How is society reacting to this trend? Does society notice it at all? When will ecological forms of transport play a more crucial role?