Can digital expertise save globalization in instances of disaster?
Ever since I picked up a copy of Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree almost 20 years ago, I’ve been convinced that globalization will continue. But the idea has been under fire lately, blaming everything from job losses to income inequality to immigration – a backlash that has flared up before (think Brexit or other previous nationalist movements) that But now with the coronavirus and fears raging about it, when supply chains are blocked, public events are canceled and governments switch to closing borders and restricting travel.
Is that the end of globalization? And is the technology to blame? Or is it the unintended consequences of politicians and decision-makers who are often a step or two behind the latest innovations or who think short-term? (“Hey, we can find out about that after the next election.”)
As I lead our digital transformation research team, my perspective is business and technical, not political. So I have to think about it: if digital technology makes globalization possible – or at least massively accelerates it – can it also save it?
Certainly, the use of digital technologies has helped companies create global trading networks, new ways to work and play, and more data than we can begin with. Digital technology is also bringing us together in new ways (think mobile apps, video conferencing and rich media), enabling us to gain never-before-possible insights (think Internet of Things, visualization and AI-powered predictive analytics) and enables massive disruption of the demand and supply chains of several industries (think of the rise of platforms like Uber or global online marketplaces like Amazon or Alibaba). All of this offers many advantages, of course, but often at the expense of others, such as steel workers who are losing their jobs to a cheaper competitor abroad.
Digitization thus contributes to globalization, but it is not the only cause. Digital can reduce friction in global commerce by scaling online B2B commerce or even transforming shipping with blockchain. But it also takes oversight and a solid strategy (policy) to be implemented effectively – just like globalization.
As Peter Goodman recently noted in a recent New York Times article discussing the backlash to globalization, “. . . The moral of this story, economists say, is not that globalization is inherently dangerous: it is that market forces left unattended are dangerous. “
How collaboration, open data and (more) transparency are part of the solution
Just because you can start a new app or wire up the nearest data feed doesn’t mean you should. We already suffer from information overload in our everyday work, while some consumers also suffer from digital addiction, which becomes a major problem in times of crisis when we cannot sort the signals out of the noise.
We also have digital platforms that are not entirely transparent in how they work and do not always serve all participants equally (do you really think that the users – or advertisers on Facebook come first?), Although digital platforms actually make it a lot easier to get around Reaching and getting in touch with colleagues, customers or trading partners.
This duality has always been the nature of technology. It only becomes more visible in election cycles or in the event of a data breach or a global crisis like the coronavirus. But as we adjust our routines and think about what’s next, it becomes clear that digital technology can be part of the solution in obvious ways, for example by allowing us to work virtually and behind the scenes thanks to tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, which enables new ones Opportunities to test patients, analyze and share data, and even help obtain the materials or information you need.
But global efforts require planned collaboration and shared goals, just like large-scale corporate technology initiatives. You also need clear communication based on accurate, actionable data. Once officials in China share the coronavirus genetic code, scientists around the world could start working on a vaccine and treatment plans. That is the power of globalization at work.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19 in different regions and the spotty reporting in others, it is also of paramount importance to have a simple, visual overview of global cases and trends. Aside from government websites like this one of the European Union’s ECDC, it’s encouraging to see a number of other parties advocating providing free, digital dashboards and maps based on open source data, like that of Johns Hopkins, the university from Virginia and the University of Washington.
And as digital channels like marketplaces continue to open new global markets for many sellers and give buyers more options, they also offer alternatives in times of crisis when your local store is closed or out of stock. For companies looking for a second source for direct supplies, emergency supplies, or even specialist knowledge, there is likely a vendor on one of the hundreds of industry-specific marketplaces we track – many of which are based in emerging markets.
Even if globalization deserves a fresh start (along with heated discussions about the viability of walled gardens and how the more open technology platforms can be regulated, perhaps as “attention utilities”), the globalization spirit is not going to be put back in the bottle – especially with digital advancement the distance between us all continues to shrink.
This post was written by Vice President, Research Director Allen Bonde, and originally appeared here.