WENDELL RAMOUTAR, ACCA International Assembly representative for TT and partner PwC
Unless you have been in a coma for the past decade it is hard to ignore that we are in the midst of a revolution. A digital revolution that not only surrounds us but is transforming almost everything we do, from purchasing basic consumer items to playing online chess against someone in China, booking a vacation, taking a taxi or getting an online medical consultation.
As we approach 2020, it is important that we step back and take cognizance of where we are in the history of the world. In a June 2018 IMF article, Martin Muhleisen commented that digital transformation results from what economists who study scientific progress and technical change call a general-purpose technology; that is, one that has the power to continually transform itself, progressively branching out and boosting productivity across all sectors and industries. Such transformations are rare. Only three previous technologies earned this distinction: the steam engine, the electricity generator, and the printing press. One thing is certain: there is no turning back now.
Digital technology will spread further and efforts to ignore it or legislate against it will likely fail. The question is “not whether you are ‘for’ or ‘against’ artificial intelligence — that is akin to asking our ancestors if they were for or against fire,” said Max Tegmark, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a recent Washington Post interview.
A lot has been said and written about the digital revolution. There are a host of savvy buzzwords to go with the phenomenon such as digitisation, digitalisation, digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, fin tech, digital disruption, big data, data analytics, cybercrime, cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, alteryx and tableau. Amidst the noise, plethora of information and rapid change, we need to be mindful of managing certain critical issues in the digital revolution to prevent it from becoming a runaway horse.
Some of the key issues, which I will discuss below, include:
- Embracing a digital culture and change management
- Policy, at the government level, institutional level and organisational level
- Education - digital literacy, upskilling the workforce
- Ethical issues
- Environmental impacts
Embracing a digital culture and change management:
If organisations are to adapt successfully, the tone at the top needs to drive transformation and digital culture needs to permeate the organisation. Change management is also vital. According to the IMF, many benefits come not simply from adopting the technology, but from adapting to the technology. Many of the world’s leading organisations have established digital strategies as part of their approach to managing their digital transformation. But culture goes even deeper. Our learning institutions from primary to tertiary levels have an important responsibility to not just educate but also inculcate a digital culture in a structured manner to effectively prepare our youth for a digital future.
Given the complexity and number of moving parts, policy and regulation are unavoidable. These are at several levels of policy; from global to national, regional, organisational and of course individual. There are numerous examples where governments, international bodies such as the UN and commercial enterprises have recognised this with articulated policy positions on digital. Well-written policies are of no use if they are not implemented, monitored and tailored as circumstances evolve. A robust regulatory framework is vital and legislators around the world have been busy at work in recent years with the enactment of legislation on data protection, anti-money laundering, competition, cybersecurity and so on. It is also important to note that we are collectively responsible for ensuring that no one is left behind and efforts are needed across all levels of society.
Education can be considered one of the pillars in the digital revolution. Educational institutions have a critical role to play in knowledge transfer, training in practical skills, conducting ongoing research and innovation. Programmes on offer must tie into the national strategy as regards digital. As mentioned above, educational institutions need to promote a digital culture and provide fertile ground for it to flourish. Observers from various corners have identified deficiencies in our education system to meaningfully address the requirements of a digitally enabled society. If one were to look at the public school system in TT, one would find that the methods of knowledge transfer have not adapted to incorporate digital or proactively plan for a digital future.