Artificial Intelligence & Governance – How AI Can Become a Competitive Edge for SMEs?

By Volodymyr Leschenko

On Wednesday, June 16th SME Europe of the EPP organized the virtual debate on Artificial Intelligence & Governance – How AI Can Become a Competitive Edge for SMEs? A new chapter in the debate on AI development has started in light of the discussions on the Data Strategy, the new model for the Digital Single Market, the need for an industrial policy 4.0 and the passing of the Digital Services Act. The economic dimension and aspirations of the European digital advantage must be linked with societal, cultural, political and even psychological views of the future. All of the above-mentioned are necessary and key to the future of European competitive advantage. Artificial Intelligence is changing our world. We cannot afford not to utilize, nor do we have time to lose with regard to its development.

Moderated by Dr. Horst Heitz, Executive Director SME Europe of the EPP, the virtual meeting saw high-level speakers such as Eva Maydell MEP, ITRE Committee EPP Group Coordinator in the AIDA Committee, Vice-President of SME Europe of the EPP; Martin Lundborg, Head of Accompanying Research for Mittelstand Digital, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs & Energy, Germany; Martin Ulbrich, Senior Expert at the Artificial Intelligence, Policy development and Coordination Unit, DG CONNECT, European Commission; Dr. Michal Boni, The First Minister of Digital Affairs in CEE 2011-13, Member of the European Parliament 2014-19, Senator of SME Europe of the EPP; Françoise Soulié, AI Expert and head of the Pack IA, a program of the Region Ile de France dedicated to SMEs; Daniel Abbou, General Manager, KI Bundesverband; Jörgen Warborn MEP, INTA & AIDA Committees, Vice-President of SME Europe of the EPP.

In her opening speech, Eva Maydell MEP supports the importance of creating a regulatory framework that is easy to navigate. Basically, to make it not just easier but also more accessible for SMEs to deploy technologies and make them more successful, more prepared and future proof. Eva Maydell raises a few points that she thinks require attention: 

  • Lack of access to data (utilization of data is a necessity for boosting innovation)
  • The possibility to create national regulatory sandboxes to help AI development

Martin Lundborg also acknowledges that AI is the jet fuel for future innovation and economic growth. “Large firms can win over good experts”, which is why it’s much harder for SMEs to accumulate digital skills in the workforce. Therefore, it’s a good idea to create AI trainings targeting SMEs to increase their digital competence. Martin highlights the significance of an open access to data for SMEs, and so he promotes the idea of open data policies and data space, which may be very profitable and helpful for Europe. 

Martin Ulbrich on behalf of the Commission speaks about the all-european  AI legislation that they are currently working on. He says it focuses on the promotion on the investment on the support of AI and on the other hand it greatly focuses on the regulatory aspects. They have created a strategy document called “Coordinated Plan on AI”.

Dr. Michal Boni believes that the real challenges with AI is discussing the proper regulatory framework, supporting and boosting innovation, finding the best implementary tools, accessibility of AI, accessibility of quality data and understanding the importance of data. SMEs have to be aware of these challenges in order to actually take advantage of AI.

Françoise Soulié introduces her project which targets SMEs that are users of AI. The aim is to launch lots of different initiatives in the direction of companies to improve the development and deployment of AI. Many businesses are not well educated, sometimes too afraid to adopt new models as for example AI. In one word, the program helps SMEs who are unfamiliar with AI integrate into the digital world as seamlessly and safely as possible.

Based on his research, Daniel Abbou believes that the main barricade on the way to digital development of SMEs is the communication gap. He compares the dialogue between the up to date (in terms of AI) companies and old school businesses to people speaking different languages. Daniel and his team are working on a universal search engine that would help SMEs navigate through opportunities and understand AI much better.

 Jörgen Warborn MEP states “If you are interested in competitiveness, you have to be interested in AI.” Regarding the regulation of AI he strongly suggests to wait, observe and analyze which way AI is developing before implementing strict laws that could cut off its potential.