Connecting the UK and creating a more inclusive society
In the next instalment of our special UKREiiF blog series, we share Craig Stockton’s thoughts on delivering a digital Britain. Craig is Digital EMEA Lead for GHD and was among the guest speakers at this year’s event.
Creating inclusive digital connectivity was the focus of Craig’s session, which highlighted the fact some areas in the UK are currently well connected and thriving. Rapid technological developments have resulted in the average household going from having dial-up to using a 1 GB internet connection in less than 25 years; however, many remain in digital poverty.
Current benefits, opportunities and challenges
Connectivity, or lack of it for some, was recognised as one of the main culprits for digital poverty, with pockets of communities across the UK still without devices, signal or digital connections. At the same time, legacy systems and processes dominate many industries; they have been slow to shift, with so many still reliant on manual completion of documentation.
Craig discussed the need to digitise process operations, particularly through automation, to make work more streamlined and efficient. It was acknowledged that analysing existing ways of working and how they impact businesses and communities is essential to identifying opportunities and demand to unlock and harness targeted technology.
While it is widely acknowledged that streamlining services will take the pain out of many processes, a reluctance to implement change often stands in the way of progress. Beyond technology, a cultural shift is key to achieving true digital inclusion. Access to digital technologies will need to be supported with the right change management for the communities that have been excluded from accessing platforms and using them.
Putting the right efforts into education, training, and creating the right environment for our communities to access, use, and leverage the potential of technologies will be as important as equipping our communities with the connectivity and platforms. The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards technologies; however, it has made vulnerable communities more prone to exclusion. Designing for technological shifts with people at the centre and inclusion at the heart of the approach will be fundamental to bridging this gap.
AI and the future digital landscape
The role of AI in shaping the future digital landscape and whether it is the way forward to ‘building’ better communities was explored. This highly topical question was posed in light of numerous digital platforms, such as ChatGPT and Bard, which now exist and are thriving, especially among the younger generation. This whole community of switched-on AI users, who are building digital worlds and shaping what is on the digital horizon from within the comfort of their homes, could be transformative in shifting mindset and transforming the industry.
Given the vast amount of data available, making sure AI and digital technology are used effectively and safely to support and transform lives is essential. Collaborative working, domain knowledge and technical know-how are key to understanding communities and their needs and how they are adapting to and using AI. It was noted that private- and public-sector partnerships can provide significant opportunities, especially where gaps in understanding communities exist.
What does the future look like?
We don’t know precisely, but we envisage a new future state. As digital development rapidly evolves, matching technology with people’s real-life needs and maximising the opportunities and outcomes remain a priority.