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Digitising and transforming European industry and services: digital innovation hubs and platforms

27 October 2017


Call summary and aims

It is expected that this call will continue in 2020.

Drawing on the success of actions of previous work programmes leveraging cascading grants to enable agility and reach out to new or key actors in the innovation chain (such as SMEs and mid-caps) not necessarily involved in standard EU R&I projects, part of the budget allocated to digital innovation hubs as well as to platforms and pilots actions under this call will be dedicated to the support of experiments and smaller projects funded through financial support to third parties (in accordance with article 137 of the Financial Regulation). While their size will be small in comparison with standard Horizon 2020 actions, in line with article 23 (7) of the Rules for Participation the budget to be allocated per third party may exceed the default maximum amount foreseen in the Financial Regulation. Specific limits corresponding to the specific objectives to be addressed, and to the consequent expected scale and duration of the activities to be carried out by third parties are provided for the topics DT-ICT-01-2019, DT-ICT-02-2018, DT-ICT-07-2018-2019, DT-ICT-08-2019, DT-ICT-10-2018-2019, DT-ICT-11-2018-2019.


In April 2016, the Commission issued a communication[[COM(2016)180 final – 'Digitising European Industry - Reaping the full benefits of a Digital Single Market']] outlining its strategy for allowing the European Union to fully seize the opportunities offered by digitisation across industrial and services sectors. Beyond the support to key technological areas, an essential aspect is to foster the uptake of digital technologies and innovations, as well as synergies with other key enabling technologies.

The 'digitising and transforming European industry and services' focus area ambitions to support Horizon 2020's contribution to the implementation of this strategy, through projects cutting across technological boundaries and reinforcing links between LEIT and Societal Challenges.

To that end, the focus area will be mainly implemented with the two following types of activities:

  1. digital innovation hubs, which provide easy access to the latest digital innovations and experimentation facilities to potential users,.
  2. cross-sectorial and integrated digital platforms and large-scale pilots for experimentation and co-creation with users.

For more details about the impact of the focus area, please refer to the annex 1 of the general introduction to the work programme.

Support to Hubs

The following information is relevant for the entire 'Support to Hubs' section of the Work Programme, i.e. topics DT-ICT-01 to DT-ICT-06 inclusive.

The Digitising European Industry Strategy aims to ensure that any business in Europe has access to a Digital Innovation Hub at ‘a working distance’. A Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) helps companies become more competitive by improving their business/production processes as well as products and services by means of digital technology. DIHs offer services to test and experiment with advanced technologies, to manufacture innovative products or act as broker between user companies and technology suppliers.

Many components of Digital Innovation Hubs already exist supported for examples by Member States, regions or the knowledge and innovation communities (KIC) of EIT. Through the focus area on 'digitising and transforming European industry and services', the European Commission is adding value to these investments by supporting highly innovative experimentation with a cross-border dimension. To qualify for support, the following is required:

  1. Consortia participating in the call should demonstrate that they are deeply rooted in innovation ecosystems that offer digital transformation services to companies in their proximity. They should provide a clear analysis how the proposed project will add value to an already existing service offer, and how it is aligned with the national or regional digitisation of industry initiative .
  2. Every project should support a critical mass of dedicated highly innovative, cross border experiments bringing together technology suppliers and users. At least 50% of the budget should directly benefit SMEs or slightly bigger companies. For grants awarded under topics DT-ICT-01-2019, DT-ICT-02-2018, DT-ICT-03-2020, DT-ICT-04-2020, DT-ICT-05-2020 beneficiaries may provide support to third parties as described in part K of the General Annexes of the Work Programme. The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The respective options of Article 15.1 and Article 15.3 of the Model Grant Agreement will be applied.
  3. Activities should aim at long-term sustainability and include a business plan for the digital innovation hubs, a plan to attract investors, to address training and skills development needs and dissemination. Established networks reaching out to SMEs like the Enterprise Europe Network and the NCP network should be used.
  4. Selected projects are expected to collaborate on building a network of Digital Innovation Hubs, covering most regions in Europe.

    In addition to the topics described underneath hubs will also be called in the topic DT-RUR-12-2018: ICT Innovation agriculture – Digital Innovation Hubs for Agriculture [Topic published under the Societal Challenge 2 Work Programme "Food Security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and the bio economy".].


Platforms and Pilots

The following information is relevant for the entire 'Platforms and Pilots' section of the Work Programme, i.e. topics DT-ICT-07 to DT-ICT-13 inclusive.

The Digitising European Industry initiative includes the launch of a set of initiatives supporting the building of the digital industrial platforms of the future [COM(2016) 180 final, 19 April 2016]. European industry needs to come to agreements on functions and interfaces for those platforms, reference architectures and interaction protocols that have the potential to create markets and market opportunities leading to ecosystems and standards.

Proposals are expected to make a significant step forward in platform building, interoperability between existing platforms, integration of relevant digital technologies such as IoT, AI, photonics, robotics, cloud and Big Data, and validation via pilots and experimentation facilities. Starting from suitable reference architectures, platform interfaces are defined, tested via piloting, supported via ecosystem building to prepare their roll-out, and evolved into standards.

Various platform development activities exist at EU or national level, e.g. the Reference Architectural Model Industrie 4.0 (RAMI 4.0) and the Industrial Data Space. To develop the next-generation digital platforms, proposals need to bring various initiatives together and act as linking pins. Proposals should build on existing platforms, pilot sites, testbeds, and experimental environments that have been developed in these various initiatives when applicable [Relevant ongoing initiatives at EU level include the set of Large Scale Pilots called for under the Internet of Things Focus Area in 2016 (IoT-01-2016) and the Factories of the Future projects under FoF-11-2016.].

Proposals need to address all of the following four activities, namely platform building, large-scale piloting, ecosystem building, and standardisation.

In platform building, proposals need to develop next-generation digital platforms, which build on the state-of-the-art, reuse what is available, and integrate different technologies, such as IoT, AI, robotics, cloud and Big Data. Platforms should aim at openness and interoperability between platforms to avoid lock-in, preventing dominant positions of individual players, and comply with standards and regulation. Proposals need to target solutions for SMEs and mid-caps, taking into account interoperability with emerging and future solutions. This may require the mapping of reference architecture models for integrating existing sectorial platforms. The interfaces of the platform need to be described via open specifications and reference implementations need to be developed. A major aim is to offer platform functionalities that can be generically reused in multiple contexts to support various types of applications and services.

In large-scale piloting, pilots are set up that make use of the digital platforms, develop prototype applications on top of the platforms, and validate the platforms in both reduced, controlled environments and in real-life use cases. Pilots may adapt platforms to specific application needs and validate their relevance for such needs, in order to foster take-up and large scale deployment. The pilots should cover innovative application scenarios with high socio-economic impact. Demonstration of cooperation between large-scale pilots in different domains and combination of services from different sectors/domains are welcome. The key need is to deliver interoperable solutions that provide an experience that customers or businesses require, to test them in complex regulatory environments, and to give guidance for secure and safe implementation.

In ecosystem building, the take-up of digital platforms is fostered by expanding the ecosystem of players involved and through opportunities for entrepreneurs by promoting new market openings allowing also smaller and newer players to capture value. For instance, small and innovative ICT players can develop services/applications with a clear societal and economic value, on top of the digital platforms. Moreover, additional small-scale pilots can be conducted by SMEs, validating the digital platforms and prototype applications. Experiments running on top of the pilots, under specific scenarios, will allow for the validation and acceptance by any actors in the ecosystem and users in particular.

In standardisation, contributions should be made to suitable standardisation bodies or pre-normative activities, as outlined in the Communication on Priorities of ICT Standardisation for the Digital Single Market [COM(2016) 176 final, 19 April 2016].

Projects for grants awarded under topics DT-ICT-07-2018-2019, DT-ICT-08-2019, DT-ICT-09-2020, DT-ICT-10-2019, DT-ICT-11-2019, DT-ICT-12-2020, and DT-TDS-01-2019 (located in the SC1-Health, demographic change and wellbeing part of the Work programme) should support a critical mass of large-scale piloting and ecosystem building activities. For these grants, beneficiaries may strengthen these activities by providing financial support to third parties in line with the conditions set out in part K of the General Annexes of the Work Programme. Consortia need to define the selection process of organisations, for which financial support will be granted (typically in the order of EUR 50 000 – 150 000 per third party [In line with Article 23 (7) of the Rules for Participation the amounts referred to in Article 137 of the Financial Regulation may be exceeded when this is necessary to achieve the objectives of the action.]). Maximum 20% of the EU funding can be allocated to this purpose. The financial support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants. The respective options of Article 15.1 and Article 15.3 of the Model Grant Agreement will be applied.

Proposals should contain an outline business case and industrial exploitation strategy. They also need to define clear business models and justify how the results support those business models.

Expected Impact

Projects are expected to have a high impact on citizens, industry, businesses or public services. In particular:

  • Increased prospects for future digital industrial platforms by validation of technological choices, sustainability and reproducibility, of architecture models, standards, and interoperability, as well as of verification of non-functional characteristics such as security and privacy.
  • Strengthened links with other, bottom-up programmes and initiatives, supported by regional, national and European policies and funds.
  • Increased number of services and applications operated by European companies, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Significant and measureable contribution to standards or pre-normative activities.
  • Increased number of platforms, applications, business processes and innovative business models validated via large-scale piloting.
  • Emergence of sustainable ecosystems around digital platforms.

Proposals should describe how the proposed work will contribute to the impact criteria above, in addition to the expected impacts under the specific topic addressed, and provide KPIs, the baseline and targets to measure impact.