Where we once envisioned digital versions of traditional services and businesses, now we are thinking about the clean version of services and businesses and how we can use data and technology to transition to a cleaner, greener future.
Last week I had the privilege of sharing a stage with Ofsted’s fantastic digital programme director, Bridget McBride, at the Digital Leaders Impact Awards. We were discussing the impact of digital on society, its achievements, challenges and what might happen next. It presented a good opportunity to reflect on where we might direct the considerable expertise of the Digital Leaders community in the future if we are to continue to do good through the use of technology and data.
The 4th industrial revolution has been driven by digital and advanced technological developments that have radically transformed industrial value chains, business models, production facilities and society as a whole.
In 2018 at Informed we were thinking about how far digital had come and what great digital transformation looks like and should look like. At that time, the use of Machine Learning, data science and AI more generally was enabling an increasing proportion of our solutions and we saw this as the new wave in digital, building on earlier transformations in business models and citizen engagement and unlocking even greater growth in the process.
Since then, our world has changed. With the UK becoming the world’s first major economy to introduce a legal obligation to achieve net-zero by 2050 in 2019 and the subsequent pandemic of 2020/21 we have become ever more aware of the complex yet critical interplay between environmental, economic, and personal wellbeing.
At the same time, events such as the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, remind us that alongside the COVID challenge we will continue to face very real environmental threats to our individual wellbeing unless we can create cleaner growth and more sustainable places to live.
What does this mean for digital and us as a community of data and technology experts?
At Informed we are increasingly seeing our expertise being used to solve clean growth challenges. Where digital alchemy once promised growth through the delivery of better citizen and customer services at lower costs, now our alchemy must deliver that promise cleanly. Not just low cost, but low carbon and less polluting.
Where we once designed what the digital versions of sectors and services would be, now we are thinking about what the clean version of that sector or service must look like, and how we can use data and technology to transition to this.
So, in the energy sector where we once applied digital transformation thinking to creating digital infrastructure to make better use of hydrocarbons, now we are applying that same thinking to locate and manage wind and solar farms and to transform resource efficiency. Recent work at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for instance, is exploring how AI can be used to matchmake industry players that might share resources in a symbiotic relationship that reduces waste and extracts carbon from their value chains.
In mobility, where digital services once focused on making it easy for you to buy, drive and tax your car, now we are using digital services to increase our awareness of emissions and to encourage us to use cleaner forms of transport in city centres. Recent work by local authorities and the Joint Air Quality Unit is a great example of this.
If act one of the 4th industrial revolution has been focussed on digital transformation and the productivity gains it has unlocked, then act 2 must be focussed on clean transformation and the more sustainable growth that it can deliver. As a community of data and technology experts this is our new challenge and it’s great to see innovation challenges such as recent GovTech and CivTech initiatives already driving this agenda forward.
Returning to my conversation with Bridgit, she offered the wise reminder that whatever our smart application of technology and data in the future might be, its positive impact will be dependant on creating and maintaining inclusivity and trust. It’s not enough for our digital community to claim to use technology and data in ethical and inclusive ways, as an industry we need to be seen to be doing so. Only by building a platform of trust in this way will we be able to fulfil digital’s potential to deliver a more sustainable and clean economy that benefits us all.