The New Normal of an “Online First Society”
- Transitioning to a Society in which the Online and Physical Worlds are Fused -

NTT DATA INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT CONSULTING, Inc., an NTT DATA think tank, has prepared a recommendation detailing a new social vision for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. We present this as an innovative social concept to be envisioned and realized by NTT DATA.


An “Online First Society.” This is a society in which the “online” world has been seamlessly woven into all human social activity. Of course, physical human activity will remain important, and its value will remain unchanged. However, in an age when our vulnerability to COVID-19 can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future, conducting all activities in-person remains unrealistic. That is why we must take society into a “new reality,” where the online world has exactly the same value as in-person human activity.

NTT DATA INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT CONSULTING hereby proposes the early achievement of what we call an “Online First Society,” in other words, a society in which people fully grasp two key concepts -- the “reality of human physical activity” and the new “reality of the online world” -- and use both freely as the situation demands.

Our global business model produces human movement that is broad, fast, and frequent. In addition, the high concentration of resources in our cities has created a dense and efficient society. Nevertheless, it is a fact that these same factors intensify the impact and spread of COVID-19. Moreover, as everyone can easily observe, when we refrain from social activity as a means of controlling infection, the result is market contraction and economic recession.

In this situation, our mission is much more than enabling society to simply endure the pandemic and come to terms with the calamitous consequences of COVID-19. Instead, we can build the architecture for a better society, one that solves social and economic challenges based on the concept of “build back better” (BBB).

Looking back into world history, the Plague that struck 14th-century Europe was followed by a major social transformation called the Renaissance. Like then, now is a time to step boldly toward revolutionary social change.

Already, digital technologies are being used to maintain social activity without face-to-face encounters or contact. We want to accelerate this trend. Indeed, we want to realize a society whose first conceptualization of human activity goes something like this: If you’ll be holding a meeting, make it an online meeting. If you’ll be receiving medical treatment, receive it online. And if you have to complete a government procedure, submit your application online.

In the “Online First Society,” the business models of companies will be rapidly transformed by the power of digital technologies. Contacts with customers will be redesigned in all industries, regardless of whether they are B2B or B2C. The priority will be online technology, and robotics and telexistence*1 technologies will be used in factories. Even in entertainment and other industries that are based on in-person participation, new services will undoubtedly be created with the application of XR technologies.

Moreover, the Online First Society will help a variety of people continue to work, receive an education, and obtain medical care. Examples include those who must remain at home to provide child or nursing care, those living in remote areas due to their partners’ job reassignment, and those who have difficulty going outside because of a physical handicap. A society that brings better quality of life to all, one in which people can continue leading an ordinary life regardless of their circumstances -- this is what the Online First Society should be.

Disasters, when they occur, bring to light society’s weak points. Moreover, our present experience has led modern society to realize anew that digital technology’s power is not being adequately harnessed. Environments for utilizing digital technologies have not yet reached all corners of society. Many social systems and work processes used in companies and government are based on paper and face-to-face meetings. Society’s digital literacy is still insufficient, as is evidenced by misinformation being spread by social networking services, the dissemination of fake news, and the high-priced reselling of daily necessities on the Internet. Considerable time and effort are spent on the nationwide monitoring of infections, and for national governments to directly reach out to consumers and companies. Even information that would bring social benefits gets caught up in efforts to ensure privacy.

For the Online First Society to become reality, we believe it will be essential to do more than just promote technological implementation. We must also initiate fundamental transformations vis-à-vis the various hurdles that impede digital technology’s power, including systems, rules, and social customs.
In building a new society, it will be important to grasp the circumstances that gave rise to the problems and then incorporate approaches that take a different tack. One such approach would be to focus on “the optimum for society,” rather than simply pursuing what is best for individual organizations. Another would be to value the individual consumer’s viewpoint instead of the supply side’s perspective.

There is a term we want to apply to people who can design a society that does not yet exist, using their own sensibilities to steadily create a new society through these approaches. That term is “architect.” We believe now is the time to join forces ― as “architects” ― with people in systems planning and development, and digital technology application in all sectors of society.

Like Leonardo da Vinci, who survived the Plague and left us with so many great achievements, let us apply our strengths to build the Online First Society’s foundation, and thus become “preeminent architects” leading the way to a new society.

*1: “Telexistence” is a field of virtual reality. It refers to technology and associated systems for constructing an environment for performing operations in real time with a sense that distant people and things are very close by.

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