“Digitalisation will spread to all professions and jobs in working life, so there is no reason to waste time”

At the National Innovation Council meeting on 24 November, the Government presented the focus of the new digital strategy, which is intended to benefit citizens and businesses, and support the business sector and social development.

Ola Asplund is a member of the National Innovation Council.
Ola Asplund is a member of the National Innovation Council. Photo: Ninni Andersson/Government Offices

Ola Asplund, member of the National Innovation Council, how are industry and the business sector changed by digitalisation?

The capacity to collect, store and process large quantities of data makes it possible to optimise processes and use of materials on a completely different scale than before. New manufacturing techniques and automated processes are emerging at a rapid pace. This alters the logic of many operations and also creates a basis for entirely new products and services. This affects value chains, and creates new actors that traditional industrial companies must learn to cooperate with.

For many businesses, this is a threat to their existence. If they don't have their own resources to understand and use the possibilities of digital technologies, the rug can quickly be pulled out from under them. Smaller businesses, and probably some medium-sized ones, are at risk, because they react too slowly to technological developments.

Sweden cannot afford to stand back and watch if a large proportion of businesses do not keep pace with developments. For example, smaller enterprises are an important basis for our large, world-leading businesses, including as subcontractors. This is also where job growth takes place.

In your view, what are the responsibilities of central government and of the business sector in the transition?

Interesting and groundbreaking developments are under way in industry, and central government can really play a part there. In particular by facilitating cooperation, and making the research and laboratory resources of institutions and the research world available.

It is extremely important that central government takes the lead for a joint national strategy. Sweden is a small country with limited resources. It is therefore important to be able to set smart priorities. Someone has to take the lead, so that different stakeholders don't all pull in different directions at the same time. Industry is responsible for the focus and innovation, and central government is responsible for joint programmes and skills supply.

Sweden needs to reinforce education and transition systems to make it easier for individuals to adapt to these developments. Otherwise it will be devastating for the person concerned, and highly costly for everyone.

Considerable work is needed in the education system, both in terms of reviewing and supplementing the content of education programmes at all levels, but also to increase accessibility and methodology so that everyone really can benefit from the education boost. This is not just about the right skills for the work, but rather also utilising society's functions and possibilities, which are rapidly changing.

Do you have any good examples from industry of businesses that are taking on the challenge and want to lead the way in applying the possibilities of new technologies?

Sandvik is at the forefront of the development of technological systems to utilise data that can be collected directly from tools when materials are processed. The automotive industry has come a long way in the development of self-driving vehicles, and is looking increasingly at how transport can be made more efficient. Boliden is working with others, including Ericsson, on how 5G technology can be used for more efficient mining. There are also smaller enterprises developing interesting technologies, for example robots that can be used in smaller-scale industrial production; this is becoming an increasingly interesting niche for Swedish enterprises looking to keep production in Sweden.

How is the labour market affected by the fact that digitalisation is changing jobs, and does it pose a risk to welfare or society?

For people working in industry it is, on the one hand, a 'normal' structural transformation, but on the other hand it is a challenge to acquire the right skills to maintain their employability. Digitalisation will spread to all professions and jobs in working life, so there is no reason to waste time. The pace of technological development and fluctuations in market demand place pressure on people and businesses in a way that is not always compatible with decent working conditions, family life and leisure.

We want new jobs to be developed here in Sweden, but competition with countries where there is not the same focus on people's needs tempts businesses to take liberties with the regulations. We must not undermine the conditions for welfare and our economic prosperity. The way to do this is using creative and joint solutions. Sometimes it can be an advantage to be a small country where we enjoy proximity to each other and can cooperate easily. If you understand the needs of your counterpart, it is easier in the long term to meet your own needs, because you seek more realistic solutions.