Why The Digital Technology Sector Needs To Tell Their Story

Greg Francis is the CEO of Access Partnership, a preeminent tech policy advisory.

Even while creating synthetic data, Worlds of Warcraft and whole metaverses, the digital technology sector is so unsuccessful at telling its own stories that one could easily conclude its impact is entirely malign. This is true for those who work in the sector and once bounced out of bed to meet their missions but have since slumped into a post-pandemic void that comingles lassitude with an indefinable longing for impact that won’t ease up. Psychologists refer to people feeling “stuck” for lack of purpose. Let’s borrow that shorthand while recognizing it’s an affliction that can be corrected with a lot of evidence and a little positive intent.

Individual Wellness

We understand some of the reasons for our colleagues feeling stuck: a hangover of lockdown powerlessness, Sisyphean pushing up a steep inflation curve, unmet climate targets, human catastrophe from Artsakh to Zaporizhya and a technology winter that has frozen thousands out of work while a dirge about digital technology driving ailments from ADHD to obesity plays in the public square. Who would leap out of bed for that?

A simple reframing should be able to reset perception and re-ignite excitement around digital tech. Burning tundra and flooded cities remind us that human advancement is measured in technological development, although it’s not always positive. Stakeholders—which include organizations, such as the World Bank and UNESCO, and the inventors themselves—can start by collecting bulk use cases, good and bad, and then measuring the delta between what was and what could have been. This is straightforward and compelling and yawningly absent from the debate.

Earthly Wellness

Is it easy enough to understand how data analytics paired with sensors and drones will conspire to leave a lighter carbon footprint on logistics? Perhaps it’s clear in general terms, but there is certainly a lack of storytelling around use cases, and to achieve this, credible conclusions need to be derived from the facts. For example, if California’s power utility is using digital technology to become climate-positive, is it widely understood how others can do the same? Why is it that when precision agriculture uses “agbots” on tractors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in pest control by 50%, the inventors remain largely unsung?

Equally, we should be excited by companies’ evolution from what used to be called “industrial” into technology companies: We think here of Nissan’s electric vehicles that succeed in extending grid services at trials in Denmark, or Solihull’s use of smart street furniture that has seen a 75% carbon reduction over five years. I believe some of the most scalable and impactful Net Zero solutions will derive from digital smart grids that mix AI algorithms, sensors and lots of embedded IoT devices, including electric vehicles.

If these hopeful contributions are not known enough among the digital economy’s workforce, at least the macro stories should be getting through by now. Accenture and the World Economic Forum agree that at scale, digital technologies that are on the market today will if deftly deployed, reduce carbon emissions by 20% in the next two decades just in the sectors that carbonize most (i.e., transport, energy and extractables). Access Partnership’s own analysis for the WEF shows that the nature-positive economy—a collection of business opportunities that change the impact of production on climate and the natural environment—can negate and reverse how these systems affect climate and biodiversity.

But if we do not propagate, replicate and build on such work, the sector will need to develop its own vehicles to correct this. These must include a regular and impartial impact assessment of projects, stewarded by a body with credibility and the convening power to inspire interest, and a regular announcement (even celebration) of the best-in-class opportunities for the best mix of digital technology and physical apparatuses. There’s a lot to play for, and what higher purpose will propel people out of bed?

Get Stuck In

Mikhail Lermontov told the original (and best) story about a hero who feels stuck with his novel, “A Hero of Our Time.” Lermontov lived in a world that creaked unsustainably under a state that crowded out the invention and rested on labor and scratch plows. Those who today invent and work on digital technology have fewer constraints and can be—should be—intensely proud of the measurable purpose they enjoy because that purpose is a no-failure-allowed necessity. If some improved storytelling is needed to remind you why you were drawn to the sector in the first place, it’s being written now. So, shake yourselves loose from the indulgence of feeling stuck and get on with the planetary deliverance—there’s no other word—that, by good luck or careful choice, you were born to.

Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?

Scroll to Top