A Digital Society on the fast track
The Digital Society is all around us. The challenges posed by the current health crisis, along with the radical responses they prompted, have added enormous momentum to an already vigorous process of digital adoption. Now, by force of unprecedented circumstances, we have embraced all-encompassing digital services almost overnight; this remarkable transformative event we have all lived through will be the catalyst for more wide-ranging and powerful change stretching far into the future.
This is more than simply an acceleration of digital adoption. It is rather a full-on turbo-charge which is seeing organizations, industries, policymakers and society at large re-envision human interactions and ways of working through the prism of digital. Elements of this new setting have been long anticipated, but the steps that led to change appeared to be graduated years into the future. Now that we are on board this superfast train, fundamental questions need to be asked: how can we support our fellow passengers on this white-knuckle ride? And how can we ensure that this rapid transformation plays out with respect to democratic values, delivering equitable benefits to all?
Engaging with and helping shape the Digital Society to bring out its true value is a necessity for organizations and society at large, and we must anticipate how we as a society should navigate this process of change. However, the ongoing COVID-19 experience has brought into sharp focus the real-life technical and societal challenges that we are all facing, with a set of critical themes that will, in their own ways, help determine the course of the Digital 20s.
Our work on productivity will continue to build on key insights from the recent Unleashing Great British Enterprise campaign, while focusing now on the urgent challenges of rebooting and reframing our economy as new methods of working become commonplace. Innovation will, as ever, prove crucial – taking place through the pressures of necessity and pace, but also driving the setup of new partnerships between sectors and industries that may not have formed before. The application of ethics must not be lost in our newfound haste, as we continue to leverage the immense power of artificial intelligence to model vast amounts of personal data, particularly relating to health indicators.
I expect the focus that society has placed on the importance of sustainability to be retained and enhanced, accelerated by an emerging narrative that reflects the positive consequences we have all experienced during the lockdown period – which has made even more apparent what there is to be gained and can be achieved by protecting the environment. With greater acceptance of the need for behavioral change, we will see a renewed drive to approach sustainable growth and industrial models as integral parts of the new normal.
Fundamentally, the COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the vital importance of investing in the digital infrastructure that will be required to take part in virtual engagements via digital platforms while ensuring that geography is not a barrier to businesses, individuals and communities. As previous generations built the transport infrastructure and public services that have made today’s prosperity possible, we must now establish the basis for personal, corporate and public digital ecosystems that operate seamlessly together, enabling digital connectivity at every step of the way – from personal devices to cloud-based platforms, data centers and telecommunications infrastructure.
Future historians may look back to find a society split between pre-Covid and post-Covid eras. An entire generation is being made to embrace a new form of education, having to learn new ways whilst unlearning the old. This will not be the case for those who follow, who will only know a world that has moved beyond offices – with their traditional, perhaps outdated desks, meeting rooms and desktops – as regular places of work. Our existing models of what work means and where it is undertaken, which have evolved over centuries, will be alien to the next generation. The future skills that we, as the post-Covid generation, will require must be curated now.
The Digital Society is here to stay. COVID-19 has refocused minds and efforts, making clearer than ever the need for reliable digital infrastructure, capable of supporting novel ways of working, learning and engaging socially.
Learn more on the Atos UK Thought Leadership programme that will shed light on these and other critical themes, contributing toward an important public debate on the role of digital technology as a critical and inescapable cornerstone of our future way of life.