Computer chief warns Europe over technology deficit

Europe is suffering from a serious "technology deficit" which if not urgently addressed will weaken its competitive position and put it at the mercy of fast-growing emerging economies, Andrew Grove, president and chief executive of Intel, the world's largest computer chip company, warned yesterday.

Business and political leaders were urged to take advantage of Europe's substantial investment in communications infrastructure as a competitive tool in the race to globalisation. Failure to adopt and encourage the use of PC-based technology as a fundamental part of business and education would leave future generations of Europeans with a "technology deficit".

"There is a growing divergence in terms of competitiveness between Europe and the rest of the world. If young people are entering the workforce without these skills you put them at a serious disadvantage. A technology deficit is being built up which, like a budget deficit, is very hard to overcome once established," Dr Grove claimed.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Dr Grove conceded that usage of advanced computer and communications technologies was higher in the UK than on the Continent. However, set against the US it was still low. Many emerging economies were showing such growth in PC and Internet usage that they could soon overtake Europe.

Dr Grove cited figures showing that PC shipments to Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe were growing at a much higher rate than to EU countries and he predicted that computer consumption in emerging markets would this year overtake that of Europe.

"In modern business speed is the difference between success and failure - speed of decision-making, speed in meeting customer needs and speed in delivering products when and where the market wants them.

"The data shows that Europe, while rich in infrastructure, is poor in terms of technology utilisation. Over the long term Europe is forecast to lag behind emerging markets in deploying and utilising the new technologies," Dr Grove said.

Per capita PC consumption in the US is twice that of Europe and usage of e-mail and the Internet is 10 times higher.

Dr Grove said governments and businesses should be "very concerned" at the findings of a recent survey of IT managers which showed a poor understanding in Europe of the way the Internet was transforming the global economy. Even in Britain only 30 per cent of IT managers were incorporating the Internet into their IT strategies. In Germany it is just 12 per cent while in France the figure is a barely credible 6 per cent.

Bill Gates, head of Microsoft, echoed Dr Grove, saying that in the US it was taken for granted that to be effective in business you needed to be at the forefront of technology. That was not yet the case in Europe.

"We are only just at the beginning of what these technologies can do to improve the efficiency of business and the way people work."

He predicted that in three years every business card would carry an e- mail address and further afield portable computers would be as common as telephones.