The current pace of Digital Technologies is radically changing the way business is done. The World Economic Forum calls this wave of new technological development the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Perhaps even more so than with previous revolutions, the technologies of this revolution have the potential to fundamentally change power relationships between businesses and citizens, for better or worse depending on how they are used.

For business, embracing the digital revolution is no longer a choice. The longer elements of business and society wait to focus on digital, the more marginalised they will become.

In the Northern Ireland context, more people are online than ever before, with people spending 18.6 hours per week online, and 63% of adults accessing the internet via a smartphone (OfCom, 2016). People also expect omni-channel integration from companies – wanting the same level of experience from a company, whatever the communication method.

This revolution is causing what many term ‘digital disruption’. A survey in 2016 by MIT Sloan Management Review showed that most executives realise that their companies are not adequately preparing for the industry disruptions they expect to emerge from digital trends. 90% respondents in the survey anticipate that their industries will be disrupted to a great or moderate extent, but only 44% feel adequately prepared.

Digital technologies bring the significant potential to drive growth and prosperity for business and for people. However, according to 2017 report A Brave New World? Priorities and actions for an inclusive digital revolution, the challenges are of equal, or maybe greater significance. Fully utilising digital technologies could see an increase in electronic waste; billions still remaining unconnected, and the prediction of millions of job losses due to automation. Many jobs are predicted to be lost due to digital, but research shows that talented, creative people will still be needed to make digital work.

Digital technologies have the power to be incredibly divisive; those with digital knowledge having more power than those who do not, and the gap between the rich and poor could grow even further. However, if businesses could collaborate, using digital technology, creativity, knowledge and resources together, and using it well, many solutions could be developed for the benefit of all, and indeed, to make profit where ethical.

What is Business in the Community doing?

In 2015 we formed a Digital Assist Steering Group which is made up of representatives from the public, private and voluntary sector. This Steering Group focuses on how it can, collectively, encourage people to get online and use technology. In 2017 Citizen’s On-Line carried out a unique baseline evidence research study on the digital landscape in NI. A number of recommendations were put forward and the Steering Group is working in partnership with key agencies to deliver on these pathfinders.

For more information, please email Hilary Hanberry or call (028) 9046 0606.