Dr Chris Yapp has been working for some time with UK government on its Digital Inclusion agenda. As the digital economy expands, and its inter-relationships with the ‘real-economy’ deepen, the issues raised present important macro factors for our industry, the clients we serve and society at large. They also create some intriguing possibilities to enhance the general perception of the IT industry in this moment of downturn. I hope you find the read as thought-provoking as I did.
Digital Inclusion – guest post by Chris Yapp
A couple of weeks ago – Friday 24th October to be exact – saw the second “get online” day organised by the UK Online Centres.
I had the great pleasure to be there at Holborn library to see Paul Murphy, MP and Minister for Digital Inclusion launch a consultation document, the “Digital Inclusion Action Plan” as part of the day.
It has been a privilege to have contributed to this document and it lays out many challenges for all of us who believe passionately in the potential of IT to enrich society and the economy.
It is easy to glibly slip into such claims as “the internet is ubiquitous”, “everybody’s on the net” or as in Clay Shirky’s book title “Here Comes Everybody”. The problem is that sadly it just isn’t true.
In the UK alone 17 million people are not enjoying the benefits of digital technologies today.
For those of us who shop, bank, communicate and play online these technologies have become common place and part of the fabric of our lives.
The work of the UK Online centres has shown over the years that these technologies can benefit all the sectors that make up the major parts of that 17 million. On the first Get Online day 10,000 people made their first step into the digital world. We will shortly know how many have taken that step this year.
This isn’t just about Government. The private sector and the third sector (charities, NGOs and social enterprises) have a major part to play in ensuring that everyone who can benefit from digital technologies is in a position to do so.
And this is not just about social justice but has a hard economic edge. Many of the digitally excluded are in hard to reach and expensive to serve communities.
Let me illustrate with a few examples. There is now the first cohort of people retiring who have used computers at work but become excluded in retirement. We have tended to see inclusion as a one directional process. As the economy slows we will see others become excluded through loss of employment.
The challenge for us in industry is that if we can make these technologies pervasive then new business model innovations and innovative applications can contribute to areas such as learning, telemedicine and telecare, access to benefits and employment, entertainment, banking and shopping just to name a few.
There is another hard economic edge to this too. Social policy may in the end mandate digital inclusion and this could then see some of the assumptions of current Web business models severely challenged. The trick, as ever, is to turn the problem into the opportunity.
Whether your perspective is economic, societal or both, I hope you will take the chance to read the document and reflect on the issues it raises.
In difficult economic times, our industry’s capacity to innovate will give us a chance to show our full potential for the economy and society.
Often we feel in IT as if we are not taken seriously or understood. On this agenda I think we have a chance to show what professional IT can really contribute. The question is, are we up for it?
The Digital Inclusion Action Plan
More on the UK Online Centres