The COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying the opportunities and challenges of the digital transition. In this regard, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published the OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020, which examines trends and analyses emerging opportunities and policy options in the digital economy.
The report discusses the steps required to build resilience and bridge digital divides in a post-COVID world. Through comparative evidence, it informs policymakers of regulatory practices and policy options to help maximise the potential of the digital economy as a driver for innovation and inclusive growth.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year, much of the world moved online, accelerating a digital transformation that has been underway for decades. Meanwhile, mobile apps have been developed to help “track and trace” the development of the pandemic; and researchers have employed artificial intelligence (AI) to learn more about the virus and speed up the search for a vaccine. Internet traffic in some countries increased by up to 60% shortly after the outbreak, underlining the digital acceleration that the pandemic unleashed.
While these activities demonstrate the enormous potential of digital transformation, the pandemic has also accentuated the gaps that remain. Although some digital gaps have narrowed rapidly in recent years, others have not followed the same pace, leaving some behind in the COVID-induced digital acceleration. Moreover, the increased reliance on digital solutions has added new urgency to concerns about digital privacy and security.
This presents countries with a major challenge. Economies and societies are unlikely to return to ‘pre-COVID’ models; the crisis has vividly demonstrated the potential of digital technologies and some changes may now be too profound to reverse. Faced with a future in which jobs, education, health, government services and even social interactions may be more dependent on digital technologies than ever before, failing to ensure widespread and reliable digital access and effective use risks deepening inequalities and may hamper countries’ efforts to emerge stronger from the pandemic.
The OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020 highlights the growing importance of digital technologies and communication infrastructure in our daily lives, and reveals that governments are increasingly putting digital strategies at the heart of their policy agendas. As countries work to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 crisis, now is the time to ensure an inclusive digital transformation, with coordinated and comprehensive strategies that build resilience and close the digital gaps for a post-COVID era.