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Switzerland should boost computer education and cyber-security, says expert

Switzerland is doing well on digitalisation, says Marc Walder, but it could do more. Thomas Buchwalder

Head of the Ringier media group, Marc Walder is also the founder of digitalswitzerland, an association which aims to make Switzerland a world leader in digital innovation. Although he thinks there is still work to be done in the areas of education and e-government, he is pleased with the level of digital competitiveness of Switzerland.

This content was published on April 30, 2022 - 10:00

SWI swissinfo.ch: When it comes to digital innovation, where does Switzerland stand?

Marc Walder: I am optimistic, and I see the glass as half full. In international rankings of digital competitiveness of nations – like those of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the IMDExternal link – I am pleased to see that Switzerland regularly scores as one of the best ten or even best five nations in the world. I trust the reliability of these rankings, for they are based on a wide range of different criteria.  

SWI: What aspects need to be improved?

M.W.: First of all education in our schools, especially at primary level. I see this clearly in the case of my daughter, who is 13. The problem is that computer skills are still the poor relation of our school system. I would want children to learn to programme, as that is a basic way to understand digitalisation.

SWI: What about e-government?

M.W.: That needs to be improved, especially as regards the way in which we interact with our governments at federal or local level. I do accept that progress has been made here, such as with electronic patient files and electronic identity services (eID).

SWI: Is there enough investment in Switzerland in start-ups focusing on the digital field?

M.W.: Unfortunately that is not really the case, because the numerous "family offices" [private wealth advisory firms] based in Switzerland prefer to buy shares in mature companies based somewhere like Shanghai or Palo Alto instead of investing in local start-ups. And again, current legislation does not do enough to encourage institutional investors like pension funds to invest in start-ups.  

Marc Walder is the founder of digitalswitzerland and CEO of media group Ringier, He also advises the Swiss government on digital transformation. Thomas Buchwalder

SWI: What would you say is the level of digitalisation in the main sectors of the Swiss economy?

M.W.: It varies from one sector to the next. The press is one industry that has experienced complete disruption. I think the main Swiss media groups like TX Group or Ringier are now among the top ten most advanced media groups in Europe when it comes to digitalisation.

On the other hand, it can't be said that the big banks here are on the cutting edge of digital innovation. As regards mass retailing, I would say that Migros was lucky to acquire Digitec Galaxus. As for Swisscom, I think it sets a good example, especially in its willingness to work with start-ups. The pharmaceutical industry here is out in front as regards data intelligence; but digitalisation could speed up the approval process for getting new drugs to market. And here is a very good example: the success of Crypto ValleyExternal link, which got decisive support from federal government minister Ueli Maurer, is something very positive.

SWI: Let's get back to the media world. Does digitalisation mean the end of print media as we have known in the past century?

M.W.: I am afraid so. In Switzerland, about 70 titles have disappeared in the past years. Editorial staff are also being consolidated: for example, TX's editorial offices in Zurich and French-speaking Switzerland now cover several of the group's titles. With the shrinking of advertising revenue, these tendencies can only increase.

SWI: Not to mention competition from social media…

M.W.: Yes indeed, because with social media now, everyone can be a producer and distributor of content. As a result, the quantity of content available is just shooting up. With apps like Instagram, Facebook or TikTok, a star footballer can grab more audience share than the mainstream media that focus on the sport.

In order to set themselves apart from social media, mainstream media really need to be producing independent, quality information. To do that, editorial staff have to keep their critical mass.   

SWI: Part of the content being produced by the mainstream media is now accessible for free as well, thanks to search engines like Google…

M.W.: On this point, I really do think we need to change the rules in Switzerland, as European initiatives have been doing. In other words, mainstream media need to be compensated for the content they produce that is reused by companies like Google. Fortunately, the federal government is now planning appropriate regulation in the field of content producers' rights, to favour journalistic media.

SWI: Many jobs are threatened by computerisation. How can we avoid creating major social problems here?

M.W.: The heart of the problem is that continuing education is not taken seriously enough here in Switzerland. We should all devote at least ten days a year to acquiring new skills. Yet I am not too worried about the likelihood of social problems caused by digitalisation. In fact, a number of specialised reports, such as those from WEF, indicate that digitalisation actually creates jobs. It is not without reason that Google has created over 5,000 jobs in Zurich, which is a real digitalisation hub.

SWI: What about the security risks being run by companies and governments? Recently, for example, the Swatch group and the municipality of Rolle were victims of cyber-attacks that made the headlines.

M.W.: That is a basic problem. At Ringier, we talk about this at every management meeting. And I won't conceal the fact that the computer systems of our printing works just got hacked into! By the way, I am wondering if this latter incident was not politically motivated. But in general, I fear that the computer systems of the federal government and the armed forces are not safe enough.

SWI: Concretely, what can be done against these cyber-attacks?

M.W.: It's not a simple matter. Overall, three things are needed: specific skills, money, and innovation. On the latter point, it is crucial to stay ahead of the approaches being used by the cyber-criminals.

SWI: Is the federal government aware enough of what is at stake in digitalisation?

M.W.: The federal cabinet is now fully aware of what's involved, and that is largely due to the part played by federal chancellor Walter Thurnherr. The federal parliament, on the other hand, does not seem to have enough of a sense of urgency yet.

Marc Walder in brief

Marc Walder is the founder of digitalswitzerland and chairs the executive committee of the association.

The former professional tennis player is also CEO of the Ringier media group, a post he has occupied since 2012; under his direction, the group has resolutely engaged in developing digital ecosystems.

Walder is also a member of the federal cabinet's consultative body on digital transformation; and he has completed the Advanced Executive Management Program of the Harvard Business School in Boston.

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Translated from French by Terence MacNamee.

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