Digital transformation of society | Sunday Observer

Digital transformation of society

5 September, 2021

No economy, no company, in fact no individual can develop its full potential today without embracing two fundamental trends – globalisation and digitalisation. They will dominate for quite some time to come.” – Zhang Xin (CEO-SOHO China)

It is not easy to avoid the words “global” and “digital” in everything we experience these days. Even school children understand that their right to go to school the next day can be taken away by a global condition like a pandemic that has long-term effects on the health of the people and of course the global economy.

People are beginning to understand how connected their lives are to all kinds of different activities around the world and how one monopolistic company can literally bring the whole world to a standstill.

Studies show that over ninety percent of the CEOs around the world believe that the digital economy will impact their industry, but less than fifteen percent are conduct their businesses based on a digital strategy. With such a low interest in digital strategies in the “for profit” industry, one can only imagine the extent to which such strategies would have been considered, by the government officials in countries around the world.

Unavoidable digital transformation

Though almost all the digital applications used all over the world to facilitate working and studying from home, producing vaccines, contact tracing and managing resources during the Covid-19 pandemic, existed prior to the pandemic no government or industry was keen on using them until they were forced to do so by the disaster.

The words and phrases such as: “Digitisation”, “Digitalisation”, and “Digital Transformation” are being used interchangeably without paying too much attention to subtle differences in their definitions. Digitising is converting analog data into digital form and that means the information is turned into bits and atoms basically which opens up an infinite variety of possibilities of handling them.

However, nothing will happen if there are no strategies and plans of digitalisation of the process or the system where that digitalised data is being generated and processed. Digital transformation is the paradigm shift in role, responsibility, attitude, and the intentions of maintaining the connectivity with the rest of the world. That is perhaps why the digital anthropologist Brian Solis said: “Digital transformation is more about humans than digital.”

The world is seeing more and more innovations in the digital world with all types of applications running on numerous algorithms on a daily basis. Yet, studies show that, less than one percent of the data in businesses is analysed and turned into benefits. That means that the people who have access to that data either are not interested in doing anything more with the data, they have not seen the real value of it, or they lack the knowledge of how to handle the rest of the data.

That certainly brings up the question: Are we losing the race with technology? Throughout the history technology has fueled economic growth which improved the standard of living. Nevertheless, with all the advances the industry has made in artificial intelligence and machine learning the world is struggling with more problems than solutions, though it may seem the other way around on the surface.

Gordon Moore, co-founder, and the Chairman Emeritus of the Intel predicted in 1965 that the overall processing power of computers would double every year, which was considered by the industry as the “Moore’s Law”.

But if the humans, who are handling the machines and the data coming out of them, have not improved their knowledge and skills at a similar rate then most of what those machines produce will not be used in any meaningful manner.

Life driven by data

One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic will certainly be the infusion of data-driven services into more and more aspects of industry and everyone’s life in general. One’s ability to adapt to a digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills and closing the gap between talent supply and demand.

People will have to “future proof” their potentials. While every job requires “on the job learning” to a certain extent, most of the employees would try to hold on to it with the minimum amount of learning. Though experienced employees can perform their jobs well in the autopilot mode, if they let go of this opportunity to learn the applications of new technologies, they might lose the chance of discovering their true potential. As Winston Churchill once has said: “we should never waste a good crisis”.

Education systems will have to study this evolutionary process carefully and adjust their curricula and methodologies to facilitate the younger generation as well as reskilling and upskilling the existing labour force. It might be helpful if the systems study the transformations the world has experienced through major technological revolutions such as printing, radio, photography, television and video recording and automation.

Technological development recognises no barrier before it. Though technology will be in constant progress, different human societies will be at different levels of intellectual and spiritual development and therefore the impact of technology on those societies will be different from one another. Education systems catering to different societies should be able to recognise those conditions before they introduce “one size fits all” curriculum or teaching and learning methodologies in the name of “using new technology in education”, just because the other countries and societies use them and market their products to support their industries.

Oblivious to the world glued to screen

While the effects of digitalisation on manufacturing and financial sectors and science-based fields such as engineering and medicine may easily be seen, it will be the responsibility of the governments to educate the citizens about the impact of technology on less apparent areas such as: literacy, law and order, health, sports, politics, and all other aspects of civil society.

The way the world has conceptualised the sustainability of “human” life on the planet is to have a growth-driven economic development producing and supplying to fulfill the limitless needs of consumption of everyone.

The world population is expected to be reaching nine billion by the year 2050. What would be the effects of digitalisation on global warming and protecting the environment for all living beings on the planet? Will we have a digital world that helps everyone succeed and prosper while working together without looking for newer technologies to find ways to kill each other faster? Will the new digital technologies allow people to see how their ignorance and daily actions contribute to global warming, depletion of natural resources including fresh water and increasing income gap by diminishing the middle class with increasing youth unemployment and underemployment? Many no longer believe today’s leaders can guide the world towards such an understanding, though they will use all available technologies to increase their power and digital surveillance on anything and anyone that may be a threat to that power.

Majority of the world population spends their time glued to a screen irrespective of whether they are studying, working, or entertaining themselves. Even if one is not looking at a screen at a given time, it is highly likely that he is carrying one in his hand, pocket, or his bag.

Chances are, there is a screen next to one’s bed even while one is sleeping. What if all these screens in the world could communicate with each other in a two-way network making the earth one big digital room where everyone had access to the world’s resources, knowledge, the best products, and services while everyone’s intention is to contribute to the system so that others can succeed?

The writer has served in higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected] )