A digital economy is central to our post pandemic recovery, but those who lack digital skills or easy access to technology will be left behind.
Unquestionably, technology played a critical role in Australia’s ability to respond so swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic; changing business models, remote working and vaccinations. As we watch digital advancements play a critical role in getting us through the crisis, it becomes clear that our society has become ‘digital first’ and the way forward will be in a digital economy. Those who are left digitally disconnected, whether due to lack of infrastructure or digital literacy, will become marginalised and unable to benefit from the evolving advancements and opportunities.
In Australia, the digital divide accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with low-income households, CALD communities, First Nations people and older Australians more likely to be impacted by the skills gap or have lower levels of digital literacy.
As we build this digital economy, global leaders and technology giants have an opportunity to ensure we address the risk of exacerbating the digital divide and intentionally create a digitally inclusive society that affords everyone access to the latest technology. As we move through what we hope are the final stages of the pandemic, I see an opportunity to bridge the digital divide in three key areas: connectivity, digital literacy, and access to insights.
Connectivity – the fundamental building block
For people living in urban cities, it’s hard to believe that half the world remains offline. As COVID-19 swept the globe, forcing workplace and school closures, the digital divide has only worsened. In Australia, home internet access and technology became a major barrier to online learning for school students across the country.
We must provide connectivity that is seamless, ubiquitous, affordable and secure. The reason is simple – the lack of internet connectivity doesn’t just limit children and young people’s ability to connect online; it prevents them from competing in the digital economy. It isolates them from the world.
Digital literacy – the essential skills
Technology and education have long been considered proven channels for economic advancement. But the barriers are increasing. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 60 per cent of adults lacked basic digital knowledge and skills when workplaces and schools suddenly closed due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
While government and policymakers play a critical role in formulating rules and processes to bridge the divide, businesses, especially technology companies, can directly impact individuals’ digital literacy through upskilling training and STEM programmes. Many countries have already partnered with technology providers — including HPE — to develop innovative STEM programmes such as Cyber Squad games, which help children learn computer science and build necessary ‘digital muscles’ to brave this new world.
Critical insights – beyond data
Today we have left the ‘information age’ and are living in the ‘age of insight’. In order to compete and excel in the digital economy, businesses need to move beyond simply capturing data, to be able to analyse and draw insights from the vast amounts of data captured by billions of devices. Those seeking solutions and breakthroughs in areas like healthcare, climate change, agriculture or food security will require access to and skills to work with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. To build an equitable global society, these technologies need to be more accessible to businesses that are currently too small, underfunded or underequipped to access and benefit from these advancements.
In a digitally divided world, entire populations could miss insights from medical records, lack critical climate data or suffer from inefficient food systems. The good news is – new business models are enhancing our ability to make the latest technology available to more businesses, regardless of their size or geographic location. By focusing on creating an accessible digital infrastructure, HPE and other tech companies can bring about an equitable age of insight that can ultimately drive solutions to society’s toughest challenges.
Looking ahead, we must first address a stark reality: unless we radically rethink how we make decisions and who benefits from the outcomes, we risk reducing the chances of participation in the digital economy for billions of people. Technology must be applied in meaningful ways for the benefit of all, and it’s time that we make it a reality.