#sdiE19: The digitalisation of SMEs and digital training, the keys to reviving the economy and creating employment after Covid-19

  • Digital Culture


This year has again seen us present the “Spain 2019 Digital Society Report”, outlining the main digital transformation indicators and trends that highlight the progress that the country is making in this area. Free download (PDF).


The “Spain 2019 Digital Society Report” presents a panorama which reflects the current roll-out of telecommunications infrastructures, the level of implementation of the most advanced technologies, the current state of digital life for Spanish people, and developments in this regard in Spain’s Autonomous Communities.

Spain is currently immersed in the fourth revolution which centres on digitalisation and data. This digital transformation, while presenting challenges and uncertainty, also has a very positive side which, in turn, offers real opportunities. As a case in point, the current Covid-19 crisis has forced us to rethink virtually overnight the way in which we live, study, work and enjoy our leisure time. In this regard, Spain’s high level of digitalisation has meant that the adaptation has been swift, ensuring the continuity of many essential activities.

In order to ensure this digital transformation and the digitalisation of industry, the ‘Spain 2019 Digital Society Report’ highlights the need to speed up digitalisation, above all for SMEs and the self-employed, with Spanish people given more digital training. These two factors are the keys to reviving the economy after Covid-19 and creating employment.

The launch of#sdiE19 was more digital than ever. The event featured Carmen Morenés, director general of Fundación Telefónica, Pablo Gonzalo, head of Digital Culture and Espacio Fundación Telefónica and the journalist Marta García Aller.

Spain is digitalising

Everywhere that we look, the world is ever more connected. In 2018, for the first time, over half the population of the planet used the internet. The number of broadband users has grown by an annual average of 22% over the past five years.

Spain is also making great progress in terms of its digital transition, with these advances based on solid foundations:

  • – In 2019, Spain stood in eleventh place among the 28 member states of the European Union on the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) with a rating that was comfortably above the average.
  • Internet access among Spaniards is already very widespread – nine out of ten people are internet users. Network connections are ultra-fast, with three out of four Spanish homes on a fibre optic network.
  • Broadband technology is experiencing the fastest growth, increasing from 63% to 77% in just two years. This level of penetration puts Spain first in Europe in terms of fibre optic coverage and number of customers.
  • – In the near future we will see the introduction of 5G technology, with faster networks which are much simpler and more secure, with lower latency and which, it goes without saying, are far more intelligent. 7 billion devices are currently connected, a figure which is set to grow to 21.5 billion by 2025.

Smart factories

The production sector is also undergoing a dramatic revolution with the emergence of Industry 4.0. This term refers to companies and industrial plants whose main source of income comes from information in vast quantities gleaned from network-connected devices. They have facilities which intensively combine the internet of things with artificial intelligence, big data, the cloud and edge computing, as well as other technologies, such as blockchain.

  • – Within four years, Spanish industrial companies expect that as a result of digitalisation, revenues will increase by around 11%, with costs reduced by around one-fifth.
  • – Nevertheless, SMEs still have a long way to go to toward digitalisation.For example, although 23% of large and medium-sized companies make regular use of cloud computing, this figure falls to 9% in the case of small businesses.
  • – To summarise, the 2018 PwC Industry 4.0 Global Digital Operations Study estimated that two out of every three Spanish businesses were lagging behind in the digitalisation process, with only 20% of income stemming from digital products and services.

Speeding up this digitalisation process for SMEs and the self-employed may help to kick-start the economy post-Covid-19 and create employment in one of the sectors that have been hit the hardest, along with tourism and services. The digital reinvention of Spain could have an annual impact equivalent to1.8% of GDP up to 2025.

A fundamental requirement in order to tap into the potential that technology offers is to ensure that people have sufficient digital training.

Educating the 21st century citizen

Now more than ever, digital skills represent an opportunity to counter the Covid-19 crisis. This will be a key factor in reviving the economy.

However, #sdiE19 highlights the fact that despite the most significant indicators in this regard, Spain is still a long way from reaching an optimum level:

  • – As far as the human capital aspect is concerned, as reflected in DESI, Spain has dropped to 17 in the table, 3.5 points below the European average.
  • – In Spain, nearly half the people aged between 16 and 74 have basic digital skills.
  • – Despite these low levels, the trend appears to be positive and users with advanced digital skills have increased from 32% of the population in 2017 to 36.1% in 2019. The number of users with basic digital skills also increased (from 28% to 32%), mainly as a result of new internet users coming online.
  • – The lack of digital skills is one of the main restrictions on the use of a number of digital services: 14.5% of the population do not make purchases online due to their lack of knowledge or skills.

In a society in which the growth in the digitalisation of all day-to-day activities appears unstoppable, a lack of digital skills can become a factor in social exclusion. Such a situation becomes more serious if the employability of somebody increasingly depends on their digital skills.

Promoting and encouraging STEM and STEAM studies and careers is a complex and urgent task, as according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, the number of students enrolled in technical courses such as Engineering and Architecture has fallen 28% in recent years.

However, these digital skills should not be solely technical, but should also be applied to humanistic disciplines and toward encouraging creativity. The greatest guarantee for a future marked by automation and robotisation is the development of that which sets us apart from machines: creativity, critical thought, social skills, emotional thinking, teamwork and the ability to inspire.

There is no economic sector nor social sphere that will escape the influence of artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence in our lives

AI is undoubtedly the digital technology that will most revolutionise the way that people, businesses, government administrations, NGOs, educational bodies and any other kind of institution relate to each other and interact.

  • – One of the fields in which we most notice the progress made in artificial intelligence is that of voice interaction through smart devices. The worldwide average is 43%, with China and India leading the way. In Spain, up to a third of those surveyed said they used smart voice recognition systems.
  • In the economic sector, the capital risk company MMC Ventures identified 1,600 start-ups in Europe that were directly AI-related. While in 2013, only 1 in 50 new businesses focussed their activities on AI, in 2019 that proportion had risen to 1 in 12. Forecasts indicate that over the next ten years, the majority of companies will have incorporated smart systems into their business processes.

This exponential growth brings with a challenge: Machines should be seen to work for the common good, ensuring that no individuals or groups are disadvantaged.

Digital leisure was the sector that led the way in the growth of the internet, with its use increasing further during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Living in a connected world

If artificial intelligence is the most revolutionary of digital technologies, digital leisure has been the driving force behind the dramatic growth in internet use. Along with working from home and distance learning, it is probably the sector that has seen the most increased use during the period of confinement.

  • – In 2019, access to music and multimedia, two areas closely linked to digital leisure, led the way in terms of internet activities. 63.1% of users listened to music, online radio programmes and podcasts, while 51.9% accessed multimedia content.
  • – In the audiovisual sector, one of the most significant trends has been the spectacular growth in those subscribing to pay-TV platforms: in early 2019, Spain had seven million pay-TV subscribers on various platforms (CNMC – National Commission on Markets and Competition – figures), representing growth of 25% since 2015.
  • – Another important field in digital life is that of video gaming, with a solid business base. In 2018, turnover increased to 530 million euros, up 12% on the previous year. Over this same period, cinema revenues totalled 585 million euros while income from recorded music came to 237 million euros. Spain was one of the countries which led the way in terms of eSports: 23% of users were regular consumers compared to those in countries such as Austria and Switzerland, with 6% and 7% respectively.

Nearly 41% of internet users feel that online security problems limit their use of new services.

Faith in the digital ecosystem

While Spanish society is increasingly more digital, this nevertheless brings with it doubts and concerns regarding the use that is made of technology. Phenomena such as cybercrime, the proliferation of fake news and deep fake and problems associated with privacy make us vulnerable, representing digitalisation-related risks that have to be tackled and eliminated.

  • – Almost 41% of internet users feel that online security issues significantly restrict the use of new services.
  • – In Spain, the National Observatory for Telecommunications and the Information Society (ONTSI) have said that the level of trust in the internet has remained constant over recent years: around 42% of internet users say that they have a lot or quite a lot of faith in the internet.
  • – Only 20.7% of internet users were very or quite confident when providing personal information via email or instant messaging, a figure that rises to 29.8% in the case of registering for online services.

As far as businesses are concerned, cyberthreats have become increasingly sophisticated, with both their volume and capacity to cause damage constantly expanding. Companies need to understand that cybersecurity should be at the very heart of all their digital transformation actions. The best way to combat such threats is to ensure that businesses are digitally aware in order to ensure a productive and responsible use of the technological resources available to them.

A digital future for everybody

One of the challenges inherent in this digital revolution is that of social inclusion. We need to ensure that our digitalised society is for everyone, that nobody is left behind in this process of change nor directly or indirectly suffers prejudice as a consequence of the technology. The transformation process has a direct impact on the economy, on democracy and on the effective application of people’s rights. As a result, social and fiscal policies will have to be adapted to the digital society in order to accompany people and lessen the impact of automation on the employment market and on tax contributions.

In April 2019, the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence set up by the European Commission published its Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. This trustworthiness is based on three key principles: it has to be lawful, it has to be ethical and it has to be robust, both from a technical and social perspective. Each component in itself is necessary but not sufficient for the achievement of trustworthy AI.

In February 2020, the European Commission published its White Paper on Artificial Intelligence in which it established that, given the considerable impact that such technologies might have on our society and the need to build trust, it is essential that they be founded on our values and fundamental rights, such as human dignity and the protection of privacy.

From a private perspective, Telefónica is fully aware of all the opportunities that the digital revolution offers and is committed to ensuring a fair, inclusive and sustainable digital transition in its Digital Manifesto. This manifesto seeks to define a New Digital Covenant, a new social contract in other words that ensures a wider, more open collaboration between governments, businesses and society in general, in which technology serves to improve everybody’s daily lives. The aim is to renegotiate, redefine and reaffirm common values in order to construct our digital future on the basis of principles such as equity and non-discrimination, responsibility, inclusivity and the right to choose, in which technology helps us to improve the day-to-day lives of everyone.

The Covid-19 crisis will open up new social gaps. The greatest challenge facing Fundación Telefónica is that of successfully managing this digital transition without leaving anybody behind. The benefits of digitalisation should not solely be enjoyed by a minority. We need to make sure that we can all take part in a connected world.

We therefore need a new policy and regulation paradigm based on accountability, transparency and self-regulation, one which focuses more on adapting to the digital environment of public policy and market supervision. Companies will have to adopt an ethical approach to their use of data and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and algorithms, assuming full responsibility for their impact on society.

#sdiE19: The digitalisation of SMEs and digital training, the keys to reviving the economy and creating employment after Covid-19
#sdiE19: The digitalisation of SMEs and digital training, the keys to reviving the economy and creating employment after Covid-19