Belgium’s digitalisation efforts stall: lack of infrastructure to blame
Published on September 08, 2022
Belgium’s lack of digital skills and infrastructure are cited as the main reasons why it is failing to meet EU targets on digitisation, according to a new report published by the European Commission.
The findings were based on an assessment of how far the 27 member states have advanced toward achieving key goals set out in the Digital Agenda for Europe.
Since 2014, the Commission has published annual Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) reports, highlighting the key digital policy areas in which individual Member States are underperforming.
Belgium ranks 6th in the EU regarding the integration of digital technology, with the country showing a high uptake of digital technology within their operations.
An e-government portal…for everyone
The federal portal www.belgium.be was first launched in 2002.
Initially, it was both the institutional site of the Federal Government and an eGovernment portal.
It provided a single and multilingual entry point to information and services for citizens, businesses and civil servants.
A significant section of this portal links to all the available eServices.
Users looking for a specific digital service can refine their search by theme, target group and/or level of Government involved.
However, since Belgium has Dutch-, French- and German-speaking populations, it has also made portals to meet the needs of every user and ethnic group.
For example, the government portal of the Flemish Regional Government – vlaanderen.be – was launched in 2003.
This portal provides easy access to information and public services for citizens and businesses in Dutch.
The wallonie.be portal is the source of information about Wallonia for French citizens and businesses.
The ostbelgienlive.be is another portal dedicated to the German-speaking Community.
By 2021, all levels of government set up a new federal digital strategy – #SmartNation.
The strategy revolves around 5 pillars mirroring DESI indicators:
- digital transformation of the economy,
- digital human capital,
- digital government,
- and digital infrastructures and ecosystems
In order to help analyse the best ways to implement the country’s digital project, Digital Minds – a group with members from the academic and business world – was created.
All these efforts have helped the country performs well in terms of people using digital services.
74% of Belgians have contacted their administration online, compared to 65% on average in Europe.
Despite this improvement, according to the DESI 2022 index, Belgium is lacking in some areas.
Performing poorly in infrastructure and digital skills
According to the European Commission’s report, Belgium ranks last in terms of connectivity, showing that it has not made a lot of progress toward reaching the Digital Decade targets.
The country has largely completed coverage of NGA(Next Generation Access) networks and performs better than the EU average.
However, the rollout of Very High Capacity Networks (VHCN) has progressed slowly, with coverage reaching only 69% of households.
This is below the EU average.
However, Belgium is allocating EUR 40 million in public funding to deploy gigabit connectivity in zones where 100 Mbps cannot be reached.
Another area where the country is lagging behind in digital skills and infrastructure.
According to Europen Commission, the country ranks 13th of the 27 EU countries on human capital.
The chronic lack of ICT graduates in Belgium hasn’t improved since 2016.
While one-third of companies provide ICT training to their workers (higher than the EU average), the share has steeply declined compared to 2019.
It performs markedly worse than the EU average, and the country has seen only limited growth in this area over the last few years.
According to one study by Agoria, Belgium will need 600,000 more IT profiles by 2030 to make up for this shortage.
The different Belgian governments have their own measures to improve the population’s basic digital skills and foster digital inclusion.
For example, at the federal level, the Digital Belgium Skills Fund (DBSF) focuses on developing the digital skills of socially vulnerable children, teens and young adults.
Overall, Belgium has made progress toward the EU’s 2030 Digital Decade targets, albeit more slowly than in previous years.
Belgium needs to focus on the consolidation in the telecoms markets, which may help achieve progress on connectivity.
The federal nature of Belgium, with various levels of government in charge of different areas of public administration, is a challenge for the coordination and integration of online public services in ‘one-stop shop’ services.
While people in Belgium have taken up digital administration, more intense coordination between different levels of government is required to improve online services and digital skills through educational programs.
About the Author
Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.
He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.
After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.
He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.
As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.
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