Country digitization takes nations on the pathway to prosperity FEATURE

Addressing digitization efforts strengthen economic, social, and political benefits.

Rahaf Harfoush

Is a New York Times best-selling co-author of the Decoded Company and co-founder of Red Thread, a digital Think Tank and Special Projects agency based in Toronto and Paris. She is currently working on her third book entitled "Hustle & Float: Balancing inspiration and execution in a constantly connected world."

As a Digital Anthropologist, my research focuses on how technology is changing the way we live, work, and govern. The web is continuing to dissolve boundaries, giving rise to a connected global population and it has been interesting to see how governments are rising to meet this challenge. The recent country digitization partnership launched by the French government and Cisco is one way nations are tackling the rapid pace of innovation.

Cisco defines country digitization as "the process of planning and ultimately building, a sophisticated and forward-thinking IT network ecosystem that will allow for greater connectivity, productivity, and security." The company has pledged an investment of $200 million to promote French start-ups and incubators as a way to foster digital transformation- a move that could create over one million jobs and an Internet of Everything market that's valued at $719 Billion. 

I believe this initiative is an indicator that both the private sector and policy makers are expanding their efforts in digitization beyond simply investing in ICT infrastructure. They are recognizing the complex adjacent elements that are needed to create a healthy, thriving digital ecosystem at a national level.

The prioritization of programs that focus on developing and strengthening the digital national economy, signals that world leaders are acknowledging the importance of digital culture as a foundational part of economic competitiveness and citizen engagement. In a recent interview of Fox Business, John Chambers, Cisco's Executive Chairman and former CEO, stated that digitization could help increase France's GDP by 1% to 3% over the next three to five years.

Digitization within a global context: A pathway to prosperity 

Countries that are addressing digitization efforts as a part of a national strategy are reaping significant economic, social and political benefits including an increase in GDP, the creation of more jobs, and an efficiency in services that will create cost reductions. A strong digital economy provides the opportunity for more people to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, and creates a marketplace for high value technology based careers.

To understand why digitization is so important to the continued prosperity of a country, it is important to note that the roles and purpose of governments are evolving in the face of a powerful global economy. Our traditional view of government as a nation-state created to protect the welfare of its citizens, is shifting towards what Philip Bobbitt, author of the "Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, describes as a "21st century market state that focuses on expanding opportunities for its citizens."

If the continued turbulence of disruptive technology is any indicator, it is becoming more obvious that governments are struggling to protect citizens against the upheavals of a global economy, driven by a lightning fast pace of innovation and the rise of a global online population. Countries like France are using digitization to provide new opportunities that empower their citizens and create new markets, an important move as old markets struggle to survive in this new environment. 

The rate of the digital transition is also accelerating. According to a recent Strategy& report entitled "Maximizing the Impacts of Digitization," countries like the United Arab Emirates and Estonia are making the move from emerging to transitional digital economy much more quickly than countries just a few years before. Emerging countries are not only pursuing digitization, they are learning from those who have successfully made the transition and are taking advantage of best practices and mature technologies and markets.

For the Hollande administration, the announced partnership with Cisco is a welcome step in the right direction. Several initiatives are already underway including (from Cisco's press release):

  •  Le Défi (The Cisco Challenge) This is the second year running that Cisco has sought to identify and promote the next generation of digital entrepreneurs. Bringing together people from many backgrounds with various skillsets, teams of students are invited to pitch their ideas for a new IoE enterprise focused on social and environmental innovation.  The winners will receive €35,000 to go towards making their idea a reality.
  •  NUMA Partnership Cisco is the network partner for the seventh season of NUMA Sprint. Through this partnership with one of France's foremost accelerators, Cisco will support 22 chosen start-ups with equipment and expertise to help bring their business ideas to market.
  •  The Camp The Camp brings together researchers, teachers, businesses and start-ups in a single location to create the city of tomorrow through discussion, reflection and innovation. The project was launched on July 5, 2015 in Aix-en-Provence by its co-chairmen Emmanuel Macron, the Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, and Jean-Hervé Lorenzi, president of think-tank Le Cercle des Economistes.
  •  Partnership with Actility Actility provides smart energy management, Machine to Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things services. Its ThingPark Wireless solution for long-range and low-power sensors connects cities, buildings, homes and factories together. Cisco is proud to view Actility as a key partner to accelerate the deployment of IoE infrastructure and services.
  •  Investment in 6WIND Cisco Investments has made a direct investment in 6WIND (a Parisian start-up), whose software solves performance challenges for network vendors in telecom, enterprise and cloud infrastructure markets. 6WIND creates new market opportunities for NFV (Network Function Virtualization) and SDN (Software-Defined Networking), and creates industrial applications and IP-based communications systems. Cisco is directly supporting start-ups by providing infrastructure solutions that deliver high-speed broadband and smart grids throughout the country.

Moving forward: Metrics and optimism

When evaluating a country's digital ecosystem, I look across a variety of factors including government policies, ICT infrastructure, the start-up ecosystem, knowledge and IP creation, private sector innovation, and the technology habits of the general population. The Cisco partnership was particularly interesting to me because it covered several of these categories in terms of delivered benefits: it's helping promote France's growing start-up ecosystem, reflecting the French Government's investment in digital culture and increasing collaboration between private and public sectors. I'm particularly interested in how the government will measure the success of these initiatives, considering that digitization will require rethinking some of the current metrics that are used to measure economic health. I'll be following this issue closely, especially tracking job creation and GDP impacts.

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