Proposal for a New Digital Society in the New Normal
“Re-Design by Digital: Using Digital Technology to Build Back a Better Society”

NTT DATA INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT CONSULTING, Inc.

NTT DATA INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT CONSULTING, Inc. (headquartered in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; Keiichiro Yanagi, President & CEO; “IOMC") continues to hold various discussions regarding a new vision for society to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of these activities, IOMC has compiled a proposal for a new digital society in the “new normal” era.

Since March 2020, IOMC has conducted a variety of studies on a new vision for society, examining what will be required to overcome the societal issues that have arisen from the global pandemic. Leveraging the power of digital technology is critical to enabling an effective response to this crisis. IOMC is continuing these discussions, drawing from our diverse digital technology expertise.

Based on these discussions—at the Info-Future Research Society, whose members include IOMC, NTT DATA, and outside experts—IOMC has compiled the following proposal for a new digital society in the age of the new normal, "Re-Design by Digital: Using Digital Technology to Build Back a Better Society.”

IOMC will continue striving to provide useful information to society, as a consulting firm guided by the concept of “IT-BRAINS for Info-Future (envisioning a new society and building an ‘information future’ together).”

Proposal: "Re-Design by Digital: Using Digital Technology to Build Back a Better Society”

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed daily life, but we have been able to extract some lessons from this experience. Continuing to carry out our activities in society amid the constraints of social distancing has revealed to us what is truly necessary and important. At the same time, much of what we had previously deemed important has turned out to be less meaningful than we had thought. In this we can see a further indication that the current era of shifting paradigms has begun to erode the supplier-driven, efficiency-first societal structure that formed during a period of rapid economic growth.

The arrival of the new coronavirus, an extremely rare event, may be viewed positively as an opportunity to make fundamental changes to society. By dismantling the functions of our established society, we can tackle changes that we were aware of but had put off addressing until now. We can build things back in a form that is better suited to the current environment.

The goal we should pursue is that of ensuring the quality of life (QOL) of all members of society. Turbulence and volatility will likely persist into the future even beyond the pandemic. To adapt to this environment and maintain QOL, we must create a resilient society that can continue to evolve with agility. In this mission to build back a better society, digital technology will be a powerful ally.

This proposal develops upon a concept previously set forth in “Online-First Society and the New Normal,” a proposal that IOMC published in July 2020—the idea of freely leveraging both the real, in the conventional sense of the everyday activities of people, and the new real, the online (digital) world. We addressed this concept from three perspectives: the direction for the digital society; the information systems needed to support the digital society; and the talent needed to realize a digital society. Based on this, we have compiled the following list of seven guiding principles for concrete action.

The direction for the digital society

1. A society in which everyone can participate and interact (Inclusion/Participation)

The societal issues that will emerge in the future will likely prove difficult to resolve. Finding solutions depends upon discussions that include diverse values and perspectives rather than a single standpoint. To achieve this, we must build a society in which everyone can participate and interact.

This is not just about making the digital environment accessible through means such as the user interface. It also requires creating an environment that empowers everyone to take part actively in society—where the disabled and elderly do not feel disadvantaged, or where those with nursing care or childcare commitments are not made to think of these responsibilities as hurdles.

There are many possible ways in which people can participate in society using digital technology. There are also forms of civic tech, in which people themselves create the services that they want, using open data released by the government. It is possible that members of the public will be directly involved in solving societal issues just as has been seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, when individuals created their own face shields using 3D printers.

Digital technology enables a wide range of individuals to gather together, free from the constraints of time and space. It will be important to facilitate discussions between these stakeholders and the entities that comprise society (industry, government, academia, etc.). Such communication is key to finding a way forward for society.

2. A society whose decision-making is guided by sensing environmental changes (Sensing & Decision)

The high levels of uncertainty that characterize the present global environment will likely continue beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) era, we can no longer afford to view the future as simply an extension of the past. We cannot expect to be able to continue implementing the theories that we relied upon before. We must understand the reality of our present situation and grasp, objectively and in real time, subtle changes as they germinate. That is the only way to look ahead into the future amid such a lack of visibility.

As soon as possible, we must develop a platform for sensing environmental changes and aggregating them as data. Such data is vital for the development of better services. Government agencies need to grasp and understand the movements of society as a whole. Companies need to grasp and understand changes in the behavior of business and customers. These platforms should be smoothly interconnected to allow for broader and deeper data collection in the event of an emergency.

In addition, each organization should conduct its management based on the collected data. Instead of relying on experience or intuition born of past successes, it should implement evidence-based management that enables new actions based on the results of objective data analysis.

3. A society that creates new value (Innovation)

The pandemic has caused rapid changes in the economic environment that have begun to take a heavy toll on existing business models and even entire industries. Unfortunately, this difficult situation cannot be overcome merely by reforming existing businesses or increasing productivity.

What is necessary is to create businesses that deliver new value. Things that were previously impossible for individuals, companies, or society will be made possible through the power of digital technology. Where this occurs, new businesses will be created. In this way, it is through creativity that the power of digital technology can be truly harnessed.

It is not uncommon historically for innovation to be sparked when societies face adversity. We must face head on the societal issues that have arisen from the pandemic and that are shared globally. We must then create innovative solutions to solve these problems. We must use the power of digital technology to create experiences that not only survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but also lead to new dreams and sources of inspiration.

Driving continuous innovation requires a switch from a conventional management style that fears and tries to eliminate risk to one that instead tolerates risk. This will enable trial and error without fear of failure, which will in turn dramatically accelerate decision making in business.

Newton is said to have developed his theory of light and calculus and discovered the law of universal gravitation during the time he spent at home after his university was closed due to the plague. Taking inspiration from this, we too should elevate our “stay home" days into “creative vacations” for creating new businesses.

The information systems needed to support the digital society

4. An agile system that can adapt quickly to change (Agile/Bricolage)

Businesses and industry structures tend to take a long time to adjust to changes in their environment. However, implementing numerous changes in the short term is not difficult if digital technology is used effectively. Value chains can be reconfigured. Boundaries in various organizations can be redesigned. The services provided by society can be deconstructed and integrated.

Enabling such change, however, requires a change in our concept of an information system. We need to view such a system not as a rigid, finished product, but rather as something that can be changed and nurtured from day to day, in response to changes in the environment.

It is also necessary to accept that in an environment of high uncertainty, it is impossible to design a system that can accurately predict future needs. In an emergency, users on the scene create a simple program to will help them to cope with the emergency, in a kind of “bricolage” approach.*

We need to develop architectures and development methodologies to create systems that can change flexibly and quickly, or user environments that are easy to bricolage.

5. Safe and secure data management (Data governance)

Core information systems in government and the private sector are the foundation of the digital society. We must therefore ensure that these can operate more securely and safely than ever before, while maintaining their flexibility to respond to changes.

It must be ensured that data is accurate and up-to-date—particularly in the case of important basic data ("common data") commonly used in the course of business and social activities, such as customer data in corporate systems and data on residents, corporations, and land in administrative systems (the so-called "base registry").

It is also essential to enable individuals to control their own personal data that is contained in the common data. This will require the creation of an environment in which such individuals can decide and trace how their data is used.

Furthermore, common data needs to be managed in a robust environment where confidentiality, integrity, and availability are ensured against all internal and external threats. To achieve this, we must not only apply technology, but also establish an appropriate governance framework.

6. Redesigning trust in social systems (Trust/Reputation)

To develop a healthy digital society, it will be necessary to realize as soon as possible the governmental initiative of “Data Free Flow with Trust." For that to occur, we need to define and redesign "trust" for the digital environment.

How can we confirm the identity of an entity communicating online and the attributes of that entity (organization affiliation, etc.)? How do we check the accuracy and non-tampering of the data itself as it circulates around the network? We also need to examine how to guarantee the trustworthiness of individuals and companies on the Internet.

For consumers to have a choice, the trust assurance system should not be left to a single entity. Instead, it should be provided by multiple entities, including the public and private sectors, that can complement each other as a whole society.

The talent needed to realize a digital society

7. Fostering architects to build back society (Architects)

Building back a digital society will require the fostering of “architects,” people who are different from the traditional profile of an engineer.

An architect is a person who thinks about new value from a people-centric perspective. Architects take into account the standpoints of various stakeholders and create a new social mechanism that is supported by feasible architecture. Just as good architect envisions a city beyond the buildings he or she creates, this digital technology architect envisions a new digital society beyond the information systems he or she is designing.

Architects understand both business and technology, and have the ability to identify problems to solve and to explore the possibilities for better solutions. Architects also have a mindset of seeking to continually update their own capabilities.

Fostering architects would be difficult for individual companies to do in isolation. Society as a whole must instead create a mechanism for identifying and nurturing suitable talent. In addition to the training itself, we must also consider how to organize projects that are worthy of challenging architects; how to create an environment in which architects can play an active role.

People development is an activity that requires a long time before the effects become apparent. However, this is a theme that should be tackled proactively with a long-term perspective—precisely of the critical nature of the current situation.

"Re-Design by Digital: Using Digital Technology to Build Back a Better Society”

 

*Bricolage: Making things with one's own hands, using the tools and materials that are readily available; a concept described by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

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