Interview met AmCham Connect, een publicatie van AmCham Belgium (Engels)
1. What can be done to make sure there is more innovation in the technology field? Most of this innovation does not take place in Labs and cannot, therefore, currently benefit from some of the existing Innovation and R&D support measures.
As innovation is not necessary linked to labs or does not always take place in academic environments, we do indeed need to get in contact with the 'innovators' in alternative ways.
We need to reach the innovators where they are, and grant them the tools they need to be creative and innovative. Granting developers access to the government data is a good example. By doing so, we allow them to create applications. These applications can generate substantial economic value (calculated to up to 870 million euro by Agoria)
2. The European Patent was one of the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the EU; why was this important for Belgium and how will this affect the development of new technology and innovation in Belgium?
The European Patent significantly reduces costs for entrepreneurs and offers them a better protection of their intellectual property rights. It was indeed one of the priorities of the Belgian EU-Presidency, because it plays a key role in fostering an environment that encourages innovation. Entrepreneurship and innovation are the key ingredients for being successful in today's and tomorrow's knowledge economy.
3. Belgium went from 22nd to 18th place in the most recent 'IT industry competitiveness index 2009' and ranked strongly in the WEF Global Competitiveness Report; which areas do you think need to be targeted in order to make further improvements?
I have analyzed the reports you mention, and we are performing well (rank 15 for the Innovation and sophistication factors) in the 2010-2011 report of the WEF. The most problematic factors for doing business in Belgium are the restrictive labor regulations, the tax rates and regulations. Modifying these will help us grow faster
4. How can Belgium position itself to ensure that it attracts the necessary investment in the ICT and technology sectors?
Belgium is well positioned to attract ICT and technology investment. It has a highly qualified and motivated workforce. A quarter of the workforce in Belgium has an university degree. Belgian universities score particularly well in science and technology. Combine this with a multilingual workforce and you get one of the most attractive labor pools in Europe.
Belgium has also a high degree of "technology-readiness", something that was underscored in this year's World Economic Forum report.
Another factor is the fact that a high number of technology firms - big and small - are already present. We have strong clusters in the fields of ICT, life sciences, aerospace technology, nano-technology, telematics, banking solutions, geo-ICT, etc. Present successful investments attract new ventures.
Finally, Belgium has one of the highest productivity rates (GDP per person employed) in the world.
5. Belgium ranked 9th in the 2011 World e-Government ranking (Waseda University) but why has Belgium not been more successful in exploiting the important technological lead it had with its EID card several years ago?
The technology of the eID card has been exported to several other countries, so from a economic point of view, this was a success. The main obstacle in getting more government bodies, administrations and companies to use the eID, is the need for a eID card reader. Although the cost of the device is very low, many households don't see the need to invest in it, which makes the full adoption difficult. But we are working on a mobile version of the eID (stored in your mobile phone) which will facilitate a real breakthrough.
6. How can technology be a (partial) solution to making the government(s) more efficient and lowering the cost? (This would be helpful to address Belgium's budgetary situation)
Technology (when deployed correctly) can reduce costs in three ways. First of all, it makes the government more efficient by offering a clearer view on the budget (e.g. more efficient tax collection, or better insights in administrative processes). Secondly, new technologies (as cloud computing) can reduce the overall IT costs of the government. And finally, IT contributes to a better collaboration with other countries (interoperability), thus reducing costs too.
7. Simplification is one of your buzzwords; how can the business environment in Belgium be simplified? With the many new regulatory requirements coming from regional and European levels, the total administrative pressure on companies only seems to have increased.
According to an independent study of the Federal Planning Bureau, the administrative burden has actually decreased by 31% since 2000. Ever since I became part of the government, it has been one of my main priorities. The government has also introduced a Kafka-test which entails that the government must check for each new law whether the bill that is put forward does not increase the administrative burden.
8. You're a big fan of Twitter; how important is it for companies to be represented on social media networks?
Twitter is my favorite social network. According to Harvard Business Review, 33% of the Twitter users comment at least once a week a product. It will therefore prove to be profitable to be active on Twitter or other social media. However, it could be counterproductive for companies to be present in a passive way or to use Twitter for advertising. But it will be rewarding for a company to use Twitter to communicate with their clients or to offer them a better after-sales service. Some people even screen tweets with mention the name of their company in order to set up a proactive communication.
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