Governing tomorrow’s world: The challenge of creating policy for a connected future

As governments look at how to shape tomorrow’s world, the key element will be connectivity.

By Gary Comiskey EY

Government officials, like senior executives in every sector, no longer just want to discuss the immediate challenges they face. They are far more concerned with where countries should be in 10-15 years, and what they should do to get there.

They invariably recognise that among the many factors shaping tomorrow’s world, the key element will be connectivity.

The world is quite literally at our fingertips

People can now communicate with each other, buy things, organise their lives, influence public opinion and run a business with just a mobile device in their pocket. Thanks to improved broadband and 5G mobile networks, by 2030, 90% of the 8.5 billion people on earth will be connected to the internet and technologies we’ve seen only in science fiction movies will become a reality. #

Ireland’s national broadband plan is a major step in positioning Ireland to capitalise on the benefits from a connected world. However, governing such a hyper-connected world will be an extremely challenging affair with policy change required to truly futureproof for the life of tomorrow.

Connected citizens have increased expectations as consumers and governments are being challenged to keep up with the private sector. Citizens already measure satisfaction in ways that aren’t linked to widely used economic indicators like GDP.

More and more citizens will expect their dealings with governments to have the flexibility and responsiveness that they experience in other sectors via digital means. This means that significant changes in health, education and social services, in particular, are required.

Future cities

We’ve recently seen Dublin Bus use advanced analytics and machine learning to bring about better transport solutions for Dublin City, but mobility is just one element to consider as more people migrate to urban areas. Service accessibility, hospital waiting times, housing and climate change are all key citizen concerns.

To tackle these issues, it’s imperative that governments use new technologies like connected cars, smart power grids, energy-efficient buildings, Internet of Things (IoT) networks and open data portals.

Trade

As we have seen in recent trade wars, trade tariffs and barriers are constantly changing and new global supply chains and a redesign of customs operations will arise. Leveraging disruptive technologies will be key here.

Trade analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can improve the ability of governments to manage vast amounts of data and modernize their services.

Economic development

In terms of economics, governments will need to increasingly deploy elaborate tax schemes to entice investments targeting economic growth. In the US, for example, opportunity zones give tax incentives to businesses that set-up in economically disadvantaged areas. But while lower corporate tax rates are attractive, they can add to the public debt.

At a time of unprecedented global transparency and legislative change, tax authorities must invest in sophisticated data analytics systems to mine even more data to help increase tax collections and target compliance initiatives.

Work – now and in the future

In this increasingly connected world, AI will gradually take away repetitive, structured and manual jobs. In the not-too-distant future, robots will be running fast-food restaurants and we have already seen self-driving cars being tested. Factories could even move from developing countries back to developed ones – only this time, robots are likely to do most of the work.

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Therefore, economic growth, social cohesion and equality of opportunity rely on a country’s workforce being skilled and ready to embrace the needs of 21st-century employers.

A recent OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report has shown that Irish 15-year-olds are performing above average in science and maths, two key areas for developing the talent required for future-focused skills like data analytics, AI and design thinking.

However, we are still faced with a notable shortage in this area and further preparation of the population must be planned and implemented.

Regulation of technology

With more of life taking place online, the number of attacks (government-to-government, industrial espionage and identity theft) is growing and governments must start redefining their roles in protecting themselves, their businesses and citizens.

All of these issues are all intertwined with the need for adequate regulation of technology and in finding better ways to protect consumers without handicapping the growth of technology companies.

Addressing these pressing issues of our time is, in fact, not so easy. Government alone won’t be able to tread the way forward. A collaborative effort to create solutions by governments, corporations, NGOs – and people – is required.

Gary Comiskey is EY Ireland’s government and health director

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