The digital revolution offers a great many benefits: enhanced productivity, new jobs, improved access to health and education, and a cleaner environment.
As one of the world’s leading technology hubs, the UK and Ireland is well placed to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution. Northern Ireland has strong foundations for the digital economy, with ninety-five per cent of the population within three kilometers of fibre broadband (Digital Northern Ireland, 2020).
Digital transformation holds the promise of economic growth and improved productivity, vital in the current climate. By 2035, Artificial Intelligence is forecast to increase labour productivity in the UK by 25%, and the Industrial Internet of Things is predicted to add £244 billion to the UK’s GDP by 2030.
Digital is already creating new jobs. As an example, Northern Ireland is the number one location in the world for cyber security inward investment and the number one global destination for US cyber security companies with an eye for international expansion (FT fDI Markets 2013-16).
And yet, the digital transformation of business and society brings with it unintended consequences, which have yet to be sufficiently addressed. For example:
Accenture is working with Business in the Community to better understand the opportunities and to address the challenges of our transformation to a digital economy. Further details can be found in our report, A Brave New World?, which was published in November, 2016.
We believe that business has a unique chance to use digital technology to drive growth and fairness. This April, Business in the Community kicked off the next stage of our partnership at Responsible Business Week. Responsible Business in a Digital Age identified four clear business priorities:
Priority 1: Protect, support and empower customers
Business needs to rebuild trust in technology, ensuring that customers will continue to participate. The first step should be to simplify data practices, making data sharing and privacy clear and visible from the start. Providing this protection and support is vital in keeping people safe online. Businesses should then help customers with digital access, capability and confidence so that all may benefit from digital transformation. In May 2017, BT and Choice Housing association launched their ‘Get Connected’ digital project, a twelve-week digital training course to be held at the Skainos Centre in Belfast. The scheme aims to build digital confidence among those taking part, to improve employability and social mobility. The final action within this priority is for business to help people to make better choices on their health, education and finances. Here, technology can deliver social benefits while also embedding brands more deeply in the lives of customers – a clear win/win.
Priority 2: Embrace the changing nature of work
Businesses must prepare their employees for life in a digital economy, by providing them with the relevant digital skills and access to learning. People in all professions will need to continually develop new skills, to ensure they can adapt. Further, businesses should start working now to create new roles (where technology complements humans) as well as to support communities to manage the transition where roles are automated. Finally, employers need to help stop precarious employment by extending job security, protection and benefits to the growing ‘gig’ economy workforce.
Priority 3: Deliver products and services that serve society
Business now has a unique opportunity to transition to new business models that cut waste and increase the productivity of assets. Technologies such as 3D printing, sensors and artificial intelligence can enable this shift. Balancing the need for growth with the need to be sustainable will be tough, but it is possible: companies that transition to circular economy business models, for example, could together create an estimated £3.5 trillion by 2030 (Waste to Wealth, Accenture Strategy, 2015). Companies may find it helpful to partner to design and scale solutions. An interesting example is Tinder, which collaborates with the NHS to raise awareness among young people of the importance of organ donation. The partnership has achieved global reach with over 24 million impressions on social media, boosting both awareness of organ donation and Tinder’s profile.
Priority 4: Drive a transparent, inclusive and productive value chain
More transparent business practices will improve stakeholder trust. All businesses should be looking to do three things:
First, suppliers need to be empowered through digital solutions and training to achieve social and environmental best practice across the value chain. Second, companies must commit to minimizing the environmental impact of operations, committing to renewable energy and zero e-waste. Finally, businesses can use technologies such as blockchain and RFID to manage the risks of complex, global supply chains, addressing corruption, exploitation and environmental harm. With 63% of consumers saying they refuse to buy products and services from companies they do not trust, this priority makes good business sense.
These priorities serve as a call to action to businesses in the UK and Ireland. It is only through collaborative and innovative approaches that our economy, society and environment will benefit fully from the opportunities of digital transformation. We still have it within our power to act and ensure that the digital revolution works for all of us.
To get involved or to explore this further, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org