A roadmap for the Basque Country’s digital future

Figures from the digital world met on 12 July at ESTIA, on the Izarbel technology site in Bidart, for a day of discussions organized by the Communauté Pays Basque on the future of the sector in the Basque Country. These discussions were unusual in that they brought together economic actors and actors in higher education and research, two worlds that share a number of digital issues. Their joint presence was particularly important because this day represented above all an opportunity to review the current digital situation in the Basque Country, before working on the first strategic orientations for developing the digital ecosystem across the region. The sector has been identified as one of the main Domaines d’Actions Stratégiques (DAS) (Strategic Action Areas) by the Communauté Pays Basque, which is supporting its development and making it one of the flagships of the region's economy. 

 The challenge of a resilient and sustainable digital economy

The first speaker of the day, Jacques-François Marchandise, General Delegate of the FING think tank (Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération), outlined the major challenges facing the digital world today. For this specialist in digital transformation, digital technology should be reconsidered from three angles: the new frontiers of data, the impact of digital technology on society and the lessons learned from crisis situations. While data is emerging as a field of technical and economic innovation, it also presents major political and legal challenges. Today, data must necessarily be governable by private and public organizations and controllable by professionals, citizens and territories. For Jacques-François Marchandise, the key to ensuring the sustainability of digital technology is simplicity of design. This is all the more important as today's digital technology is not adapted to tomorrow's world. "We need to move from a digital world that has been imposed on us to a digital world that has been chosen, that takes into account its impacts (ecological transition, respect for privacy), and that demonstrates simplicity and resilience. We have considerable room for manoeuvre in this area.” Jacques-François Marchandise also warned of the advantages and pitfalls of digital technology in times of crisis, in particular the sector's dependence on the outside world, on complexity, on Big Tech and on constant innovation. In order to build a digital system that serves sustainability, the FING co-founder identified three key points: "tinkerability”, i.e. a digital system that can be repaired, perfected and understood; "governability", through a digital system that serves public policies and the general interest; and finally "proximity", with a decentralized digital system that favours local networks. "We need to work on the human development of digital technology. Taking into account ethical, social and environmental issues is stimulating and motivating, and these are also the markets of tomorrow. Initial training on these topics is needed.”

Developing available training

Training was also discussed on 12 July. The Communauté Pays Basque presented the main themes of the diagnosis carried out by Strasbourg Conseil and the ADIT on the structuring of the digital sector in terms of higher education and research in the Basque Country. Although the higher education offer has developed considerably in recent years, with 17 initial training courses from BTS to Master's degrees and 7 continuing education diplomas, the number of graduates is still insufficient to meet the sector’s requirements (0.37 graduates for each job vacancy in New Aquitaine). The Basque Country, with 24 higher education courses in the digital sector, from BTS to Bac +5, is ranked 7th in terms of traditional digital training and 4th in terms of digital training for specialized sectors, such as construction and industry, with the ISA BTP and ESTIA engineering schools among others. A sophisticated but still insufficient training offer, in the face of which paths for development are emerging. As far as research is concerned, the study highlights the degree of correspondence between the research areas of the laboratories (LIUPPA, SIAME, ESTIA) and the strategic fields of activity identified by the Communauté Pays Basque. Finally, the digital economic fabric places the Basque Country in 4th place among the EPCIs in New Aquitaine in terms of the number of NA jobs and in 2nd place in terms of the number of employer establishments. Above all, the study warns of the need to develop initial digital training in the region, given the strong demographic growth in young people under 20 years of age expected in the Basque Country in the coming years. It also emphasized that this offer must meet regional requirements. This is all the more important because while the Basque Country currently enjoys a good dynamic in its professional training offer, particularly in AI, development, data analysis and multimedia, HR requirements are also growing.

A diversified ecosystem with potential

Another result presented on 12 July was a diagnosis of the digital sector, an original prospective study carried out by the Communauté Pays Basque. This enabled the collection of the recommendations of 27 business leaders, academic actors, clusters, institutional actors, etc. Diversified, made up of established, human-sized companies, with very specialized players in niche markets, the digital sector shares strong human values, nourished by an attachment to the region. Among its assets are its attractiveness and a good dynamic set in motion with the Pays Basque digital cluster and the recent “French Tech” label. But the sector’s lack of strategic vision and visibility, faced with competition from other dynamic areas such as Bordeaux and Toulouse, may hinder this sector with a potential that is felt to be strong but still under-exploited. The digital ecosystem in the Basque Country today appears to be at a crossroads, with a shared desire to start a new cycle: between cultivating a local digital industry and welcoming national champions, attracting and retaining talent, defining a collective positioning, and reinforcing or transforming what already exists. These are the questions and issues raised by the survey.

The event on 12 July was above all a moment of shared reflection. Collaborative workshops made it possible to set the objectives of tomorrow's digital economy in the Basque Country and to develop projects to meet them. This collective work will continue with a view to following the digital roadmap drawn up by the Communauté Pays Basque. Expected during the first half of 2022, it will determine the projects and actions to be carried out to support economic and academic players in their development and to make the Basque Country an attractive, competitive digital environment, while at the same time promoting its strengths.

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