- By Jamie Shea
If there is one incontrovertible lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that we can’t go back to business as usual. True, the last three decades have been outstanding for the tech industry, but the disruption caused by the pandemic will trigger a deeper transformation.
As the old saying goes, ‘every crisis is an opportunity in disguise’. By that measure, since COVID-19 has brought a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, what we have on our hands is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This gets accentuated when you think of how the pandemic has placed technology front and centre in our lives and changed businesses forever.
The adoption of digital technologies, in particular, has taken a leap: we have reached a level of digitisation for every aspect of business – including customers, supply chain, and internal operations – that would have otherwise taken years to achieve.
It is safe to say that if there is one sector that has helped the global economy rally and resume functioning, it is technology. In the last thirty years, global prosperity has been driven by trade in goods and services; in the years to come, it will be a lot more about the flow of technologies, information, ideas, skilled manpower, and of course, capital.
Here is our chance to reimagine the world using digital tools
While the world is nearly 90% physical today, it is bound to become far more digital and social going forward. These changes will help the world make the leap from “WILD (wasteful, idle, lopsided, dirty)” to “CLIC (circular, lean, inclusive, clean)” according to Lombard Odier.
Technology can reinvigorate existing businesses. Here is our chance to reimagine the world using digital tools. This opportunity, however, comes tinged with a tale of caution. The European Union is the third-largest contributor to global GDP, with a share of more than 15%. But this is a declining trend; the rest of the world has been growing faster.
Yet there is a clear way for Europe to catch up. The fact is that many great technological ideas germinate and take their first ginger steps in the continent but get scaled up elsewhere. Inevitably, their full economic benefits also accrue elsewhere. Reports show that the market value of the US tech sector exceeded the combined market cap of all of Europe’s stock markets in 2020. For context, Europe had four times the amount of tech stocks as the US a mere 13 years ago.
The heartening part is that no technology is permanent or everlasting. It is, on the contrary, ever-changing. Zoom, which has almost become synonymous with video calls, did not exist seven years ago. Now is the time to invest in advanced technologies, be it cloud, artificial intelligence, or biotech.
In this new world, we must compete around innovation
Tomorrow’s technology may be germinating somewhere as you read this, and we must give it the right opportunity, talent, and ambition to scale up.
The path that emerges from the tunnel of 2020 is one that has innovations as its milestones. In this new world, we must compete around innovation. For that, it is important for Europe and Asia to move closer: the digital transformation presents the biggest opportunity for the two continents to come together.
Just as Europe has the power of economics, markets, and industries, Asia offers an ocean of workforce whose talent, ideas, skills, and entrepreneurship are limitless. The two continents can be complementary, as amply demonstrated by how Asian enterprises have matched with innumerable customers and partners in Europe. Companies such as HCL Technologies enable organisations unleash their potential through technologies and help them converge the physical and digital worlds to benefit from their natural position in the markets.
For this trend to grow, the role of industry is as critical as that of governments. There is a pressing need for more dialogue between the tech industry and policymakers so that technology can underpin the future trajectory of growth and shared prosperity.
We need to promote the free flow of data, with obvious safeguards in place
Regulation should be designed in a way that promotes innovation and cooperation. We need to promote the free flow of data, with obvious safeguards in place. This should take the form of self-regulation as well. And we also need to increase connectivity between Europe and Asia: sustainable and rules-based connectivity will enhance shared prosperity and development for the two continents.
Connectivity has an obvious human dimension. While machines get smarter on the back of exhaustive algorithms, human intervention remains critical to how they work. The human perspective of problem-solving and decision-making will remain not only relevant but also essential.
That brings us to the ocean of skilled people in Asia and the technology infrastructure. This spans the entire gamut of development, research, and innovation, especially the elements of digital transformation. From simple coding to high-end chip making, Asia has it all. Estimates say India alone accounts for an overwhelming percentage of the global digital talent pool.
The digital world is in the process of being created. The next few years could see great organisations, technologies, and platforms emerging from Europe and Asia. The COVID-19 crisis has given us the opportunity to not just to focus on the battles of today but also to create the tech of tomorrow.
- By Ben Wreschner
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