• Through investment in digital transformation, businesses can lay the foundation for long-term resilience to future crises.
  • From modernizing supply chains to prioritizing cybersecurity, organizations must act to keep pace with digital transformation.
  • The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic affords a huge opportunity for the world to prioritize digital transformation to future-proof the global economy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools, hospitals, businesses and governments have depended on technological innovation more than ever before to keep their operations afloat. As nations work to rebuild and reinvigorate the global economy, recovery plans must focus on creating jobs, investing in infrastructure and driving innovation with sustainability at the very core.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bolster our economies so that industries can keep pace with rapidly changing technologies and are more resilient in future crises. Our collective success depends on the public and private sector’s ability to keep up with the never-ending journey that is digital transformation.

An executive survey from Deloitte suggests more “digitally mature companies” – companies where digital strategy and infrastructure is embedded in all parts of their business – are more resilient and agile in a crisis. They also perform better financially. There are a few crucial areas in which we can invest to lay the foundation for long-term resilience to crises:

Expediting business transformation through digital inclusion

The next generation of connectivity is 5G and it will continue to transform the way we work and live. It doesn’t just mean faster internet; 5G is a deeper level of connectivity that lays the foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create more efficiency in all industries. As of 2021, however, almost half of the world’s population is still offline with the pandemic emphasizing the digital divide as communities still lack the high-quality broadband access needed for remote work and virtual learning.

An open 5G network – wireless, software-based and automated rather than built on legacy systems – will provide more job and learning opportunities and create a more diverse and digitally agile global workforce. Open 5G networks are vital to providing all communities – urban, rural and tribal – with access to affordable, high-quality internet capable of supporting remote working and learning. This type of connectivity will create better economic opportunities and job security, provide academic support for students and reinvigorate local businesses. It can also open the door to new innovative technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, energy-efficient cities and smart agriculture systems.

Deployment of 5G globally
The Americas and Europe are on the forefront of 5G implementation
Image: Statista

Modernizing supply chains to withstand future challenges

Since the start of the pandemic, 94% of Fortune 1000 companies have experienced supply chain disruptions from COVID-19. A year and a half after many companies made cuts to stay afloat, industries are facing a similar problem because they can’t keep up with demand as the world reopens.

The pandemic uncovered inefficiencies and vulnerabilities in many supply chains, so organizations need to address these issues to prepare for future disruptions. Businesses should invest time and resources into re-evaluating their supply chains to find and address weaknesses. Once they find vulnerabilities, they can use advances in technology, like automated systems and data-driven insights, to modernize their supply chains and be more resilient. For example, real-time data can be used to uncover supply chain problems across inventory at speed, predicting future disruptions and modelling solutions. By using technology to improve supply chains, companies can continue to serve their customers, employ their staff and grow their business.

Prioritizing cybersecurity is a critical part of digital transformation

Both public and private sectors are victims of a surge in ransomware attacks. With cybercrime set to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, businesses need to view cybersecurity as an integral part of their digital transformation strategies. Not only are cyberattacks dangerous as they expose confidential data, but they’re also costly and time-consuming to mediate. By protecting their data, organizations can focus on innovating and staying operational.

Innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning can help organizations predict and mitigate security threats before they happen. Companies and nations need to secure their infrastructures end-to-end, from supply chain to services and devices. We’re seeing many companies invest in cyber-vaults – holistic recovery solutions that protect the end-to-end IT system to protect their data. By securing every part of their business, businesses will lower the risk of attacks and be more cyber-resilient in the long run.

Upskilling and reskilling workers for a transforming economy

There’s a skills gap in the tech industry. According to a recent CIO survey, 65% of technology leaders said hiring challenges are hurting the industry. The pandemic widened this gap as companies and their workforces needed to quickly adapt to working and running their business remotely.

As our economy transforms, people will need to learn new skills. Governments and businesses both need to upskill and reskill the workforce to keep up with the pace of digital transformation. At the same time, the shortage of tech talent means we need to incentivize people early in their careers to pursue jobs in critical tech roles, such as cybersecurity. Businesses and organizations can do this by collaborating on curriculums with universities to prepare students for the jobs needed in the digital future.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

We should prioritize investing in infrastructure technology and skill-building for schools to ensure the future workforce has the tools they need to succeed in a digitally transformed world. This includes ensuring students learning in blended environments (at home and at school) have affordable, reliable digital learning tools and connectivity.

As we shift from response to recovery, there’s a huge opportunity for the world to prioritize a digital transformation underpinned by sustainability to future-proof the global economy. Every government and industry have a vested interest in strengthening their infrastructure and economy to be ready for the next disruption. This requires more than just allocating funds and resources or buying new hardware; it's ensuring the right programmes and digital infrastructure are in place to mature our economies as the world continues to evolve.

With people, planet and prosperity placed as the core pillars for the G20 meeting in Italy, the success of a global vision to protect and enhance these three areas must be underpinned by a robust approach to economic resilience. Laying the digital building blocks today will drive the transformation of tomorrow.