B.C. Business Matters:
Ken Peacock >>
Digital Infrastructure will continue to transform the Way People Work and Interact
By Ken Peacock
The internet and wireless communication networks have become an essential part of society’s infrastructure in the 21st century. It has altered the way people work and interact and the way businesses operate and serve customers. And the transformation has been very rapid considering that in less than two decades the commercial internet has become fundamental to business operations. Already about 2.5 billion people are connected to the internet, a third of the world’s population; projections point to 4 billion users by 2020, equal to more than half of the global population.
Some estimates suggest the digital economy is growing at more than 10% a year, significantly faster than the economy as a whole. Continuous access to commerce, communications, and entertainment has become a part of daily life for billions of people. Just how large the internet now looms as part of the economy’s infrastructure backbone is reflected in the fact that the UN and a number of countries have declared internet access to be a “fundamental right” of all citizens. Countries like Finland and Spain have gone so far as to mandate connection speeds of at least 1 megabit per second for everyone.
Most businesses today across multiple industry sectors rely on telecommunications services and information and communications technology [ICT] infrastructure to operate. ICT should be viewed as core enabling infrastructure, akin to transportation networks. Just as transportation infrastructure allows trade and other forms of economic activity to take place, the Internet and other ICT infrastructure makes information flow much more efficiently and in ever greater quantities.
Here in BC, the importance of ICT was elevated when the Premier’s Technology Council (PTC) identified infrastructure, on-line government services, and the knowledge-based economy as pillars of the contemporary economy. The government was successful in cooperating with private sector providers to deliver improved broadband communications across the province and to connect education systems, research centres, and university facilities.
Looking ahead, digital service delivery has the potential to revolutionize fields such as healthcare and education, where much technology-driven change and disruption is already apparent. Governments can lead by example, realize substantial cost savings and improve service delivery by adopting digital delivery in the areas of education and training, health care, and public services. Denmark, which many see as a world leader in this area, has set out a new public-sector strategy to achieve full digitalisation of the Danish Healthcare Sector by 2017. Online applications are transforming the way people get training and study at all levels of education. The challenge for most institutions is not whether to use the internet in education but rather how to do so effectively and in a way that does not detract from quality.
As more people and businesses come online, more companies invent innovative ways to serve their needs. Cloud services, machine-to-machine communications (M2M), and the Internet of Things are all new and fast-growing phenomena that will push the volume of digital traffic to continue growing exponentially. Making sure communication infrastructure can keep up with the steady increase in traffic is a top priority in a society that relies on the seamless flow of information. The internet and electronic communications more generally need to be recognized as infrastructure and services that are at the heart of the province’s future economic success.
 World Economic Forum, “Delivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy” (April 2014), p. 7.
 World Economic Forum, “Delivering Digital Infrastructure: Advancing the Internet Economy” (April 2014), p. 12.
 See National Strategy for Digitalisation of the Danish Healthcare Sector 2013 - 2017.