The pandemic has led to major changes in the daily lives of many people on the entire globe – from improving hygiene habits to reducing face-to-face interactions and transitioning to work from home. Not only individuals, but businesses as well, had to adapt rapidly in order to limit the negative effects generated by the crisis. In this process, much of the global economy has come to a standstill. But there is at least one industry that had a special response to the pandemic. Even though the IT industry had a fast reaction to the sudden demand for remote work and collaboration solutions, it also went through some difficult times, facing various challenges that were afterwards turned into meaningful changes.

The Balkan, Baltic and Black Sea Network of ICT Clusters, in which Cluj IT is a proud founding member, was reunited this week in an excellent event that brought in the limelight the impact that the pandemic generated within the IT industry across Eastern Europe, as well as what the future holds for clusters active within the macro-region. On June 22, Regional Talks: Challenges and opportunities for the IT Industry from the Eastern European macro-region – Balkans, Baltic and Black Sea gathered together key players from the ICT industry, from clusters representatives and their member SMEs to large IT companies from the macro-region.

The COVID-19 outbreak caused widespread concern and economic hardship for consumers, businesses and communities across the world. As the negative effects of the pandemic were started to be felt last year, the technology sector was highly impacted, affecting the way companies organize their internal activity and relate to external partners, how they innovate products and services provided to customers, causing significant changes in the market. However, our industry experts coming from European IT clusters highlighted that similar to the economic and financial crisis that broke out in 2007, during the COVID-19, the IT sector continued to grow, despite of the general unfavorable conditions.

Most traditional companies did not have a business continuity plan that integrated the use of ICT services, being at a high risk to not fully address the fast-moving and unknown variables of an outbreak like COVID-19. The European IT industry was supportive in this sense, providing free alternatives (tools, licenses, subscriptions etc.) for non-IT sectors, allowing businesses to remain productive, while minimizing physical interaction among employees. At the same time, in these difficult times, the absence of technology has left some industries at a loss.

However, there are concerns regarding the sustainability of this accelerated digitalization because many organizations have taken up digital tools as they were forced to do so and not as part of a long-term vision. We must also realize that with all this digitalization come many risks that should be taken into consideration from the beginning. The need of surviving pushed several companies to integrate WFH, from one day to the next one. Very few companies have invested in securing equipment and communication channels, often choosing the fastest and cheapest solutions.

Our event was also a great opportunity to understand the European perspective on the topic. Delegates coming from European Commission and European DIGITAL SME Alliance highlighted the important role of Europe and the need to keep its principles and ethics so that we all create together a pan-European platform of trust, where technology is used for the benefit of people and communities. The new focus on European industrial ecosystems allows better support to the recovery of the EU economy, betting on the innovation of SMEs.  Europe should consolidate its internal market and create opportunities for European companies. The real and effective access of small and medium-sized companies to the opportunities offered by the single market is one of the main priorities that will allow resilience and reinforce the European economy. Clusters are an essential component of this process of recovery.

Fortunately, in last period, there was an increase in the strategic approach of organizations from other sectors than digital and clusters are playing an important role in this effort. During the COVID-19 crisis, we, as clusters organizations, aim to be strong and resilient partners to reach the goal of the resilience of our ecosystems and we can bring valuable knowledge to the drafting of the recovery plans. On this note, the 3B ICT Network strives to become a trustworthy partner for decision makers and other sectors from across our regions.

The first edition of the Regional Talks series was a great occasion to discuss important topics relevant for stakeholders from the industry across the macro-region, as well as to reflect hot developments within the represented markets and establish premises for new and fruitful directions for collaboration. On behalf of the 3B ICT Network we would like to extend a warm thank you to all the stakeholders for the outstanding contribution and excellent input during our event. We look forward to the next event and opportunity to collaborate towards the development of the regional IT industry!

The Cluj IT Cluster team