Ideas & Debate

Digitalisation megatrend for future economy


Some technologies like blockchain will change the laws of contract and require that the layers adopt. FILE PHOTO | NMG

In the past 10 years, we have had tremendous productivity improvements as a result of what we refer to as expansion of the information and communications technologies (ICTs).

These improvements are created by an aspect of ICTs called digitalisation (increased use of digital technologies), which is a product of digitisation (conversion of analogue data to digital) to impact how work is done or transform how organisations interact with their customers. For example, M-Pesa transformed payments leveraging digital currency.

The impact of digitalisation is just beginning to be felt, especially now that coronavirus is disrupting socialisation across the world.

Just last week, the US introduced tough measures to slow down the spread of coronavirus by closing institutions of higher learning.

Immediately, most universities simply informed students that they are reverting to online learning. Professors will now teach from their offices to students who may well be scattered all over the world.

Some conferences were cancelled or moved to video conferencing. All these will not have happened without digitising the information for participants to share.

Google, for example, advised all its employees in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to work from home as a strategy to mitigate against coronavirus.

Several other companies have followed suit by asking their employees to work remotely.

The megatrend of digitalisation will certainly influence the future of work. It is often said every cloud has a silver lining and if there is anything to learn from the spread of coronavirus, it is the fact that work will always continue if organisations are digitised.

Most developed economies have attained the status of the digital economy (based on digital computing technologies).

If developing countries like Kenya hope to build a digital economy that is future-oriented, they must invest in the digitisation of all the records such that they can be accessed remotely and shared to improve efficiency in the workplace.

Virtually every country is seeking to shift towards a digital economy that boosts productivity and competitiveness.

There are positive signs in Kenya that we may at last embrace digitisation. Last week, I participated in three different professional gatherings discussing digitalisation and emerging technologies.

The first was a professional insurer gathering organised by Liaison Group to launch their first digital product that will enable its customers to purchase insurance cover conveniently without having to spend time and resources to renew an insurance policy.

Not to be left behind is Kenya’s Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA). The shift by IRA into digital will create a ripple effect.

The police will be forced to move into the digital world by using their smartphones to read the insurance sticker in the form of code. This will lead to the creation of a new business model that is sustainable in the face of increasing multinational platforms that render old business models useless.

The second conference I participated in was organised by the Law Society of Kenya to discuss the impact of emerging fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies. Such a conference was overdue in Kenya where technology adoption is on the rise.

The shift of the country into 4IR is very important for Africa because the continent missed all the other three industrial revolutions. The rapid changes happening in the financial sector where technology has changed the rules of banking, and now in insurance, will require judges and lawyers who understand tech disruptions.

Some technologies like blockchain will change the laws of contract and require that the layers adopt.

The third meeting was organised by the Open Society Initiative for East Africa, a human rights organisation to discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence in their pursuit of protecting human rights, the rule of law and equal access to justice and protection of the rights of the marginalised.

These discussions are necessary to understand the envisaged digital economy. While many human rights activists may see the advent of 4IR technologies like AI as a necessary evil that drives inequality, these technologies are at the nascent stage. Their use is inevitable.

The role of stakeholders now is to question the algorithms (software) that drive the technology to incorporate the required ethics and ensure equality. The benefits of digitalisation are enormous. This megatrend is imperative, as it will provide new opportunities to mitigate emerging crises like coronavirus, improve productivity and competitiveness of nations.