Next week the participants of the Digital Cities Challenge Project will meet up on the Aegean Sea in Thessaloniki to discuss the work done so far, but, particularly, to move from the strategy development phase towards the implementation and monitoring phase. That turning point is also a moment of reflection for all the participants. There are quite few unknows to face, some good lessons to learn for other cities wanting to be part of the same journey, but, also some phenomenal stories to tell. Here, I will put aside the lessons and the unknowns and tell a story. The story is not specifically about an individual, a company or a piece of technology. But, it is about the unknown world of digital champions living in the periphery of Europe. Those are people that for one reason or another have resisted the temptation of the large city deciding to be innovative professionals of digital technologies in their own place.
At L’Aquila, I have met quite few of those. They are not easy to spot. They are shadowed by big organisations that, so often, do not have the ability and the will to look down and spot them. They develop their own software platform. They have 3-4 patents registered at the US patent office. They have done Industry 4.0 applications before we started hyping about Industry 4.0. They are tiny intelligent dwarfs walking in a land of giants unable to see them. The giants cannot really bother to look down and see what they are almost stepping on. And this is not just the case of L’Aquila. At Avellino in the South of Italy, for another project, I met a software company of 10 people developing cutting-edge mobile applications and immersive experience. A couple of years ago, they opened an office in London because the majority of their clients were London-based. Their clients are very well known brands, but, they are still dwarfs where they are coming from. But, despite that they resist because “this is my place”. And then, I went to Galati in Eastern Romania, almost at the delta of the Danube. I found there another two guys running a software company of 30 local and young developers doing blockchain, running a software cluster, running an IoT marketplace, working with Chinese and Japanese companies. “Yes, we would love to open an office in London, but, here is and will be our base.”
L’Aquila, Avellino, Galati and many other rural and peripheral areas of Europe live in the contemporary times because of these tireless professionals. They link their places to the time we are living. Those are the champions that the European Commission should look for, celebrate and support. Those are the ones that will develop that digital culture necessary for a project like Digital Cities Challenges to really be successful. Those are people at the forefront of thinking, the ones that can drag and drive the city towards the adoption and the use of digital technologies.
Do not bother with the giants, find the digital dwarfs in the European periphery. Those are the ones that will really shape an ubiquitous and pervasive European digital space.