Digital transformation and then what?

Digital transformation and then what?

Every segment of society – in India and globally – is obsessed with the pace of digital transformation and its intended and unintended consequences. On the positives – the potential to transform education, health, agriculture, financial inclusion, transparency, reach and speed, make every other side effect worthwhile, more so in developing economies.

Is there a downside to this obsessive and all-pervasive digital transformation – the role of automation, computers, internet and increasingly artificial intelligence (AI)?

An observation of trends and predictions highlights three broad areas to watch out for. One is the future of work, the second is security and the third is big data and analytics – each of them have implications for life as we know it currently.

On the future of work, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that partial automation (where only some activities that make up an occupation are automated) will affect almost all occupations to a greater or lesser degree. As an example, Siddhartha Mukherjee, in The New Yorker recently, suggested that radiology may be the first medical specialty segment that could be entirely serviced by AI. McKinsey finds that about 60 per cent of all occupations have at least 30 per cent of activities that are technically automatable, based on currently demonstrated technologies. This means that most occupations will change – and the world currently worries about how human beings will adjust to being replaced by robots and machines. This has implications for individuals and their careers, incomes, organisational structures and societal norms, and there is little insight on how to prepare for this change.

In terms of security, there are concerns around the vulnerability of large digital networks and its implications for individual, organisational and national security. Even the FBI, Pentagon and NASA are no longer out-of-bounds for hackers. Those with malintent seem to have the upper hand, and the challenge to stay ahead and secure seems insurmountable, so far.

Finally, there is the world of big data that is created every nanosecond that people engage on digital platforms and what it can unleash in terms of potential uses. While targeted marketing is a nuisance, and receiving information on your feed almost as soon as you use a search engine for something innocuous, is spooky – what we hadn’t bargained for is our digital presence and persona being used to influence political outcomes and election results! Media reports around Cambridge Analytica and its role in helping Donald Trump win the US elections or in the UK voting in favour of Brexit – based on psychometric profiling that is possible on the basis of FB likes was till recently, beyond the realm of one’s imagination. Clearly, protection against such ‘misuse’ is a far cry, for now.

An increasingly digital world, like any other technology impact, can be a boon or bane based on its ultimate usage. However, the focus should be on maximising the advantages and minimising damage – whether through policy or regulatory frame­works – as opposed to questioning the growth and potential of digital transformation. We must warn our­selves against throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

That’s my opinion, but what do you think?

Anuradha Das Mathur, Editor, CFO India