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Switzerland has a thriving innovation ecosystem for businesses to exploit and drive forward digital transformation at scale

Article by Stefan Metzger

Digital strategy is business strategy

Switzerland is well-placed to be a digital leader with its proud record of innovation, top universities and a thriving digital ecosystem. Yet digital maturity varies across Swiss industry sectors. Critical success factors for digital success include exploiting this ecosystem of universities and technology companies, a digital mindset from the CEO down and preparing and educating society for the changes this will have on future jobs.

The digital shift has already happened in Switzerland. Organisations here have long understood that digital transformation and disruption will have a big impact on their core businesses.

That shouldn’t be so surprising given that Switzerland has a proud record of R&D investment and innovation in science and technology. Switzerland was once again ranked top of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s annual Global Innovation Index in 2017 as the most innovative country in the world. That’s the seventh year in a row.

The WIPO index ranks Switzerland top for knowledge creation, patent applications, university and industry collaboration, and high-tech manufacturing. That’s all in addition to a favourable business environment, financial stability and a skilled workforce. An OECD science, technology and industry scoreboard also ranks Switzerland as having the fourth highest ratio of business expenditure on R&D to GDP, at just under 2.5 per cent, behind only Japan, Korea and Israel.

Digital differences by industry and beyond

However, there is no room for complacency. The overall level of digitalization in Switzerland is 45 per cent, according to the scorecard by, the joint project of ICTswitzerland and economiesuisse. But the rate varies widely across different industry sectors. For example, the level of digitalization in the manufacturing sector for Industry 4.0 (29 per cent) and the healthcare industry (24 per cent) is still relatively low and in the early stages, compared to the more advanced energy sector where the level is higher (43 per cent).

Leading the pack are banking and pharma. Manufacturing is also starting to spread its wings, as well as the insurance sector. Unfortunately, the public sector is still lagging behind but that also means there are huge opportunities for digital transformation to be explored there.

The digital maturity picture varies by company size too. A study of 300 Swiss small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by digitalswitzerland found companies in the telecoms and media industry furthest down the road to digital transformation. At the other end of the spectrum, SMEs in the energy, utilities and healthcare sectors lag the furthest behind.

But Switzerland is well-placed to take advantage of the digital shift with the digital and innovation ecosystem available to support organisations on their journey. It’s critical to have companies, governmental bodies and top universities coming together to talk about the implications of digitisation.

In fact, digitalswitzerland is an important initiative. It’s a cross-industry association set up in 2015 to strengthen the country’s position as a digital hub and to project those benefits across the whole of Switzerland’s industries. The members launched several initiatives, focusing on key areas such as attracting outstanding digital talent, helping existing companies master digital challenges and significantly strengthening the Swiss start-up ecosystem.

Switzerland also benefits directly from the scientific work of the country’s top-class universities. For example, take Cognizant’s joint Digitization Laboratory project with the Hochschule für Technik Rapperswil HSR. Here, companies have full access to the expertise and the resources of Cognizant and its long track record in digitisation projects, along with economic and strategic knowledge from the University of St. Gallen and the technical expertise of 15 interdisciplinary linked professors of HSR – from computer science, electrical engineering, mechatronics, robotics, plastics and materials technology through to industrial engineering.

Digital transformation from the top – and for everyone

Another critical success factor for digital transformation is that it needs to be driven from the very top, by the CEO. It’s not about having a chief digital officer and it’s not the same as having an HR strategy or a marketing strategy. The digital strategy is the business strategy. Simply said, it’s a digital mindset and leaders must understand tech and the impact it will have on their core business.

Disruption has been here forever. What has changed now is the speed of this change. But there is no reason to be afraid of it. Digitalisation is not a threat and it will not lead to mass unemployment.

While work is changing due to automation and AI, it is not going away. A recent Cognizant report, 21 Jobs of the Future, outlines 21 new jobs that will emerge over the next decade and become cornerstones of the future of work – such as data detectives, AI-assisted healthcare technician or a genomic portfolio director.

There is a responsibility, however, on governments, companies and society – not just in Switzerland - to prepare people and educate them and create a culture of change so that they are equipped for the jobs this digital future will demand.

Prepare today for the 21 jobs of the future

AI and automation are transforming how we work and the roles we perform. Discover 21 new jobs that will emerge over the next decade. And understand how to get your business ready today.