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Shaping the Future of the Digital Economy    

Davos, Switzerland - “Connectivity is the key to enabling a digital future for all, an inclusive future that connects all citizens to the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) heard on Tuesday, the Forum’s opening day.

Marissa Mayer, panel moderator and co-founder of Lumi Labs, kicked off the discussion at the “Shaping the Future of the Digital Economy” session by noting that one of the things that defines technology is its ability to disrupt.

Dan Schulman, President and CEO of PayPal, said the world will see more changes in the next five years than we have seen in the past 30 (and we’ve seen quite a bit over the past three decades), as technology continues to change lives and disrupt. As a result, “we are seeing the physical and digital world blurring together, and we’re having to redefine how we think about business models for example”, he said.

This technology shift is likely to continue playing out for many years, said Keith Block, co-Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce. Block added that the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR as it is commonly called, was introduced at WEF four years ago, which feels like just yesterday. “This race has a long way to go.”

Block added that we will see technologies emerge and that these are “exciting times in every industry”. The innovation has implications beyond just digital transformation but affects cultural transformation. “Every CEO has the obligation to become a digital CEO,” he emphasised.

However, as the world changes, trust and values will be vital in the years ahead, said PayPal’s Schulman. This is especially true as connectivity intensifies, and people ask questions about where their data is going, and what it is being used for.

Lauren Woodman, Chief Executive Officer of non-profit educational organisation NetHope, added that the question of trust, transparency, predictability, and ethics will challenge all people in next decade, as 5G becomes universal.

Schulman felt that part of creating trust was for all platforms owners to take ownership of what is on their platform, which is not easy to do. “We can’t abdicate responsibility of monitoring what goes through our platforms,” he added, referencing decisions that owners often have to make about controversial content on their platforms.

Block added that, “if a company does not have trust, it has nothing. Organisations have to evolve to value-based organisations”, he added.

Connecting it all

However, before the disruptive nature of technology, and the benefits that it brings can have a universal effect, we need connectivity. Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm told the panel that connectivity is critical, and the future will be driven by connectivity. He said 5G, “is super exciting … it will bring many benefits, including much faster speeds, less latency, and the ability to connect more devices to a single tower”.

Ekholm added that connectivity is driving disruption in itself as the disruptive shift is moving from consumer applications to industrial use. This, he said, is an exciting time as manufacturing can move closer to customers, as well as being more flexible.

Woodman added that as connectivity happens in the non-profit sector, this expands people’s ability to access services, and to be included financially. However, this also changes the way everyone needs to think about development, especially when it comes to partnering with businesses and rethinking what works and what doesn’t.

However, as technology increases in use and reach, we all have to think about the implications of its use, especially artificial intelligence (AI), on the workforce, the organisation, and the community, said Block. “There’s a lot of disruption, and AI seems to be at the forefront of that.”