3 steps toward a more digitally inclusive world
As the world becomes increasingly digital, we look to a future that's bright with possibilities.
The pandemic's impact on societies globally is profound, particularly as it relates to equality. Long-standing gender, race, income, and age inequalities worsened during the pandemic, and these disadvantaged groups had lower resilience to its effects. The disparities in well-being—including access to healthcare, education, technology, and financial security—made them more vulnerable to the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, we look to a future that's bright with possibilities. But 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.
In The Global Risks Report 2021, published by the World Economic Forum, digital inequality ranked as the fifth most concerning short-term threat to the world. The report recognized a "growing gap between the technological 'haves' and 'have-nots'—amid pressures on public and private finances that could limit critical investments [that] will impede individual economic mobility."
That is not an acceptable outcome. Everyone deserves access to quality and affordable education, healthcare, and other tools that will allow them to participate and prosper in the digital economy. Technology must be applied in meaningful ways for the benefit of all.
As we move through what we hope are the end stages of the pandemic, I see opportunities for growth in three key areas: connectivity, critical insights, and digital literacy.
We cannot claim digital inclusivity until we create a digital infrastructure that supports all organizations – from rural hospitals in Uganda to farms in Kansas.
Solving connectivity issues is the first step in closing the digital divide and addressing digital inclusion. As COVID swept the globe and schools closed a year ago, we heard stories of students without distance learning resources huddled outside fast-food restaurants because their families lacked Internet access. Companies—including Hewlett Packard Enterprise—responded by offering Wi-Fi hotspots in buses, stadium parking lots, and even a passenger ferry. While effective, these are all temporary solutions. Longer term, we must provide connectivity that is seamless, ubiquitous, and secure.
Access to WI-FI connectivity is the foundation for digital inclusion, which is the gateway to critical services like remote learning and telemedicine. It is fundamental to life in 2021 and beyond, which is why I argue that connectivity should be considered an essential service, like electricity or water. We have the technology today to solve this challenge and can make connectivity for all a reality.
As technology adoption accelerates, we are nearing the end of the information era, which focused on generating and collecting massive amounts of data—the output of our digital world—from wearables and smart devices to health records and scientific research. That brings us to the age of insight, characterized by data analysis that generates insights that lead to discoveries not possible today.
Governments, hospitals, nonprofits, and others should eventually have access to tools that analyze their petabytes of data—data that historically has been undigitized and stagnant. By digitizing these organizations, people can make important discoveries in areas like precision medicine, population health, food security, and severe weather events. Of course, insights are only as comprehensive—and useful—as the data. If entire populations lack medical records, if entire regions lack climate data, if entire food systems lack digital tracking, our insights are compromised and solutions to these problems will continue to elude us.
We cannot claim digital inclusivity until we create a digital infrastructure that supports all organizations, from rural hospitals in Uganda to farms in Kansas.
New business models are enhancing our ability to make the latest technology available to more organizations, 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.
Technology and education have long been considered proven channels for economic advancement. But the barriers are increasing. Sixty percent of adults lacked basic digital knowledge and skills when workplaces and schools across the world suddenly closed due to COVID-19, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
As education systems continue to adopt online learning tools, and as more jobs become remote or digitally based, students and workers who lack the tools, online access, and knowledge to participate risk losing out. STEM is a critical component of digital literacy, inspiring a rising generation of diverse tech innovators as well as smart digital citizens. For everyone to participate in the digital economy, they need not just the right technology but also the skills to use it.
Looking ahead, we need the innovation and digital transformation that the global pandemic accelerated to act as a catalyst to reset how companies, societies, and governments work together to drive adoption of new digital technologies, inclusively and democratically. We need to take personal accountability to ensure digital literacy in our communities. And we need to ensure that the insights we are gathering drive advancement for all.
We cannot continue to invest, create, and innovate in ways that improve the lives of only a select few. We must bring balance to our world and rethink a new path forward.