DIGITIZING THE ECONOMY: the role of people and culture

Patrick George QUANTSON

Conversations about the effect and impact of technology in transforming societies have almost become commonplace these days. The world has witnessed the power technology in human interactions either with themselves or their environment.

In the business environment, rapid advancement in technology has fundamentally changed the environment of firms, the competitive dynamics within industries and consumer demands of goods and services.

But for technology, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic would have had a much more disturbing impact on the world than has been so far felt. Although the pandemic changed the way of doing things, social distancing was easier because people were still able to keep in touch because of the many avenues provided by technology for business meetings, social calls and other human interactions. Technology and its impact has become so commonplace that for most people, it is impossible to imagine life without technology.

Its impact notwithstanding, the benefits of technology has not been evenly realized across different countries of the world. This can be attributed to a myriad of things ranging from infrastructure to policy to investment. In this article, however, we will consider one critical element that influences technological innovation and its impact in human societies. It has been argued variously that to fully leverage the benefits of technology, the implementation of it needs to be accompanied by a certain level of cultural transformation.

For technological innovation to have the desired impact, there has to be a certain culture of acceptance and adoption by the users of that technology. Digital transformation exceeds the mere digitalization of products and services to include the whole gamut of people’s lifestyles. The mindset of people and cultural change are perceived as essential for successful digital transformation, especially for people who have to cope with disruptive technologies. This, amongst other things, has accounted for the differences of the adoption and use of technologies among different countries.

As has been said several times in conversations about technology, technology in itself is of no use except it is used for the benefit of society. Within this context, the users of any said technology must be ready and willing to accept the use of that technology before any conversation about impact could be had. Technology must therefore take into serious consideration socio-cultural and economic specificities that informs the different needs and priorities of the beneficiaries of the technology.

It has been argued that digital transformation should not be superimposed on cultures and people otherwise the rate of rejection and/or the optimization of such transformations will be minimal. People are similar but very different depending on the geographical locations, socialization, nurturing, education and life experiences. It is for this reason that the wholesale and blanket implementation of technology might not achieve the same results across these different human elements and factors.

If technology has to be effective, it has to address the specific and felt needs of the people who will use the technology. There is within this framework talk of the inclusiveness of technology, meaning technology must emanate from the people and not imposed on them. When the latter is the case, there will be a sure incidence of resistance, which will defeat the entire purpose of technology, which is to transform society. It is therefore important that in the conversation of technology, we do not lose sight of the critical role of people and culture in its impact.

One other critical area of interest in the conversation about people and culture within the context of technology is education. If people will appreciate technology and inculcate its use in their everyday lives, technology has to be part of the socialization and education. Throughout their education process, whether formal or informal, the use of technology and digitalization must feature prominently. Without this, technology will exist without social and human relevance.

The writer is the Head, Technology & Operations, Stanbic Bank

Leave a Reply