After decades of growing economies, digital technologies have this past year helped preserve them, acting as a bedrock of resilience during the pandemic. They helped many people work effectively from home, and they helped businesses reach new customers and colleagues to communicate internationally. But as digital development will be increasingly transformative, how do we make sure the use of new technologies are at the heart of fair and sustainable growth?
This was the key question asked of business leaders in the run up to – and during – the B7 Summit. And as business is ahead of government in their use of technology, their response – and their recommendations – could ultimately help shape international policy that comes out of the G7 when it meets in Cornwall in June.
So what were the key points discussed?
1. Harness digital to lead global recovery
There was a common sense of just how much digital could help drive growth. From facilitating international travel in the COVID-19 era through data sharing, to boosting trade by digitising the 4bn paper documents used each year for shipment of goods. From powering SMEs and improving their access to finance, to driving productivity and supporting innovation for companies big and small. Digital platforms can cut through the complexity of reporting on climate change initiatives and fuel collaboration on greening supply chains too.
2. By 2022, 60% of GDP will be enabled by digital technology
It’s a powerful statistic. But it highlights the importance of bringing everyone along with digital developments. There are too many gaps in digital literacy – not just among people, but companies too. Investment needs to be supported.
The past year has also made the consequences of the digital divide very real, starting with the uneven access to education. A digital ready, inclusive society demands urgent action on reskilling, business leaders said.
And if digital is to be trusted, multi-lateral agreement is needed to help regulate new technologies in a way that doesn’t inhibit innovation, but fosters fair competition and protects its users. Businesses and governments need to collaborate to quickly find out what works and what doesn’t.
3. The importance of data in trade has been underestimated for too long
Global alignment on issues such as data privacy will also be crucial to promote trust. Get that right and it could help drive cross-border e-commerce and better support trade in services too. In fact, trusted and free data flows could have a larger impact on international trading potential than the current value of trade in goods.
4. As our use of digital has grown, so too has our vulnerability
Collective cyber resilience has never been so important – and with our increasing reliance on digital comes an increasing awareness that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. While governments can increase security by diversifying their supply chains on critical infrastructure, greater resilience can only be achieved in partnership with business and governments.
5. We’re only at the beginning of the journey
As digital technology continues to evolve at pace, businesses and governments need to be agile in their response. But there is already an appetite for the collaboration required and a lot of consensus around the action needed. The recommendations on digital from the B7 have already been closely reflected in the G7 Digital and Technology Ministerial Declaration. And beyond June’s G7 meeting, the UK will host the Future Tech Forum in September, and the G20, the OECD and WTO have vowed to keep up momentum on progress towards global recovery with digital at its heart.