An interview with Brian Mikkelsen, CEO of the Danish Chamber of Commerce
Making sure that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are not left behind in the digital transformation currently undergone by the Danish society at large has remained a case near to Brian Mikkelsen's heart during his many years in politics. An MP for the Danish Conservative Party for 24 years, Mr Mikkelsen held a ministerial office for 12 years, and in January 2018, when he was still Minister of Business, Industry and Financial Affairs, the Danish government presented the new 'Digital Growth Strategy' with 38 initiatives that aim to secure and enhance Denmark's position as an attractive digital hub:
"An example is how we founded an organisation that collects information from private enterprises and universities and shares it with smaller businesses, because we can see a correlation between being digitised, being productive and earning money – which in the end creates more jobs in Denmark," Brian Mikkelsen explains about the digital matchmaking hub which is among the initiatives in the intended boost to the Danish tech ecosystem.
Helping businesses make the most of new technologies remains a top priority for Mikkelsen at the Danish Chamber of Commerce too, where he took over the corner office in June 2018:
"I see mainly opportunities when you talk digitisation – for individuals, for companies and for society. For the individual, it means you can have a much easier life – in your communication, in your way of living. You can have more help – for example, as you get older, telemedicine makes it possible for you to be diagnosed and treated at a distance using telecommunication. For companies, it means some of their costs will be much lower – you can communicate a lot better, you can use AI and 3D printing which could help move production back to Western Europe, and so on. For society, it will lower the cost of everything you do because it will be more efficient. It will be a win-win-win situation," says Brian Mikkelsen.
SMEs face global competition
Not everyone sees it that way, though. As companies face global competition, some may feel they are falling behind technological advances:
"At the Danish Chamber of Commerce, we believe in competition. Obviously, e-commerce consumers can buy goods anywhere in the world and not just at the butcher's or clothes store around the corner, and that means competition. But competition is healthy – it means our members will be more productive, more efficient, and it will also help them because they will be much more competitive towards their consumers in Denmark, so it's a good thing that we open the markets," Brian Mikkelsen says.
He senses some reluctance among some of those not yet digitised, but remains optimistic:
"Some are of course sceptical, both among the population in general and among companies, but I think most companies see this as an opportunity to go out into the world with their products. To Danish companies, it's more of an opportunity than a threat – Denmark is an old merchant nation. We're a people of creators and have been trading for the past 500 years, and we have a very large trade surplus," Brian Mikkelsen asserts, adamant that we will see a lot of innovation coming out of Denmark in the future:
"For sure: when you talk about AI, when you talk about 3D printing, when you talk about blockchain, we have lots of start-ups working in that area right now, and Danish companies are very quick and fast to adapt to the new technologies because we're very digitised in Denmark," he says, although he does note a difference in the levels of digitisation between SMEs and larger enterprises:
"Unfortunately, SMEs are lagging in comparison with large companies in terms of digitisation, which is why we are working on a digitisation agenda."
New skills required
In his mind, going digital will enable SMEs to become more productive and profitable which again will create more jobs locally:
"Definitely more jobs, but different kinds of jobs with different skill sets. You'll see a big change in the workforce in Denmark from unskilled workers to more skilled workers, with engineers, IT specialists, but also generalists who are adaptable, " Mikkelsen explains, noting how the inclusion of those less tech-savvy or in other ways marginalised is a serious challenge to society as a whole:
"People who are becoming marginalised tend to create polarisation in countries. Polarisation creates turmoil and instability. It's one of the biggest challenges and the biggest tasks for the establishment and the government, the political system, to be sure that everyone can see what's happening in society," Mikkelsen explains, recalling how a woman once came up to him when as a minister he addressed a group of unskilled workers, asking emotionally: 'what about my job when you introduce robots?':
"In hindsight, we were not good enough at telling her that robots could save her from strenuous work that could wear out her back. Instead of having to push a heavy vacuum cleaner, robots could do it, instead of lifting people in need of care, instruments could do it. So, we need to get better at explaining the opportunities, also for unskilled people, in using robots and new technology."
Did you know?
Brian Mikkelsen’s favourite digital solution right now is a parking app:
“Since I don’t have a minister’s car anymore, it’s Easy Park, because then I can park anywhere and pay very easily – it’s a very good idea,” he says, adding that his goodbye to politics has also been a goodbye to flow TV:
“For the past two months, I’ve only watched the news on flow TV once,” Mikkelsen concludes smilingly.