Predictions abound about what technology will do to our lives over the next few decades. From self-driving cars to artificial intelligence, there is a great deal of public debate about what the impact of the digital revolution will be.
The digital economy currently creates jobs three times faster than the rest of the economy. Estimates suggest that artificial intelligence could boost productivity by 25% by the year 2035, giving us dramatically different ways to work and live.
Embracing technology will create significant positive change, such as innovations that offer better access to healthcare and education. But there is a dilemma emerging in our response to this brave new world: not everyone is equipped to benefit equally.
Technology has the ability to liberate people from low-skilled work and increase profit and efficiency for business, but in the UK as many as 6.2 million people lack the basic skills required to use the internet, and the digital skills gap is said to cost £63bn a year to the economy.
There is also a huge disparity in the geographical areas where opportunities related to new technologies are being fully realised and embraced.
Business has a crucial role to play in meeting the challenges brought by the digital revolution, and helping to address the unintended consequences of rapid change to communities.
As the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, Business in the Community (BITC) believes the UK should become a global leader in responsible business in a digital age.
To do this we need government to create the right environment for business, and for business to step in and do more.
We are calling on the new government to set up a commission involving both business and civil society, which should have a particular focus on parts of the UK where the local economy is most at risk from the impact of digital change.
Through collaboration between businesses, national and local government, and people in local communities, we can better identify issues where technology is having a negative impact and develop solutions that will offset that impact.
Four key priorities
To ensure business helps to create an inclusive digital revolution, we have identified four key priorities for leaders to take action on. By speaking to dozens of senior businesses leaders and with the help of Accenture, these priorities offer boards a way to start considering the unintended consequences of technological change:
1. Businesses should actively protect, support and empower customers as we increasingly buy products and services online. Business should make their use of data clear and simple, as well as enable customers to make more informed decisions about their data.
2. Employers must embrace the changing nature of work by providing lifelong learning and anticipate automation that may lead to job losses. Where technology complements humans, employers should create new roles and support communities to manage the transition by re-skilling and training.
3. Responsible businesses should use technology to develop innovative products that serve society. They should ensure that technology reflects human values and corrects for unconscious bias. They should move to new business models that cut waste and increase asset productivity.
4. Business should prioritise using technology to create more transparent and ethical supply chains, which minimise the environmental impact of their operations and address corruption, exploitation and harm such as human trafficking.
As the digital revolution transforms our lives and the businesses that make up our economy, I am optimistic that boards will step up and lead the charge to make things better for all.
By creating cohesive communities that can make the most of the opportunities that technology brings, business will also thrive.
Amanda Mackenzie, OBE, is chief executive of Business in the Community. The priorities for business can be downloaded from BITC’s website.