|Issue:||Europe I 2013|
|Topic:||Meeting the expectations and needs of modern societies|
|Title:||Vice President – Public Affairs|
Mike Short is Vice President – Public Affairs for Telefonica Europe. Dr Short is a past Chairman of the Global GSM Association and a founder Board member of the Open Mobile Alliance.
Mike Short is a Fellow of IET/BCS/RGS/ Royal Academy, a Member of the Royal Television Society, and a past President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
The revolution has started but we`re probably only 10 per cent along the digital journey. The next step is to use the data available from service providers to boost levels of insight and give consumers even more intuitive or personalised services. This in line with the biggest challenge facing the private and public sectors today: meeting the expectations and growing needs of modern societies.
We are at the beginning of a digital revolution, and for telcos it’s an important time to assess and reinvent the future in order to meet the needs of today and tomorrow’s tech savvy consumer. Industry has done well to apply modern technology to solving problems and creating opportunities in all walks of life: from banking to shopping, education to staff hire, or health and leisure as it has become available. There is no doubt the impact to consumers’ quality of life has been vastly improved as a result. Being able to order your groceries from the comfort of your kitchen or book a doctor’s appointment online has become commonplace – there is little left that the paper and pencil world can claim having a consumer group’s exclusive preference anymore.
But much more can still be done.
Digital touches every sector
Digital channels can transform all sectors in society: private sector enterprises such as banks and retailers are rolling out new capabilities and services to attract and please consumers; the public sector too is using modern technology to become as convenient and accessible as seen already in the private sector; consumers are rightly expecting more one-stop-shops, more self-service options and more intensive support for those who need it from this service delivery model.
The sectors that lead in the digital sphere tend to be from the media community largely because the benefits of adding content to the web are pretty obvious. Publishers and advertisers for instance get to reach wider (and new) audiences for less. They also tend to be more digitally literate. By contrast some other sectors need a little more help. The transport sector has its timetables on the web but not all tickets are yet available via this channel. For the energy world, smart metering is still a dream and it will be a while before it will be able to offer digital bills. In the areas of education there are also lots of examples where online is doing well : Kahn Academy in the USA or the Open University in the UK are two strong examples but there is still a lot more room to put more education and other support online. With 30,000 new books produced every day libraries will need to migrate to digital or cloud based provision soon.
Healthcare is another sector with huge potential to offer better measurement and information delivery to clinicians at a distance. There is little doubt the connected world will make a high impact through telehealth when clinicians, pharmacies and hospitals are not evenly distributed. Many people with chronic illnesses live with symptoms that don’t warrant hospital admission but do require careful monitoring. For a long time these types of patients simply either suffered in silence or spent days and nights in hospital and doctors’ waiting rooms. Telehealth technology that uses telephone or Internet enabled devices to monitor people’s conditions has proven revolutionary. Social media and applications will take healthcare onto a new level of personalised and shared care.
All these advances will change the face of healthcare and other advanced sectors to become even more orientated towards the ‘anytime, anyplace’ consumer. In all of these digital areas the sectors need to ensure that technology push is subservient to user-centred needs which embrace trust and privacy (and are seen to have this view) to make sure that the data not only stays in the right hands but that the consumer trusts the hands it is being placed in.
Data capture and trust
The process of data capture is rapidly changing. The phenomenon could be associated with the freedom brought by the Internet and where social media has shifted consumers’ expectations with real shared benefits. Many now interact online in an anonymous fashion without providing any personal information. It would be fair to say that the new generation which has grown up on the Internet has vastly different expectations as employees, consumers, and citizens. The Arab Spring protests and grass-roots ‘occupy’ movements in the West are visible manifestations of the power which ‘Millennials’ or ‘digital natives’ have to shape society and commerce. Therefore, the old certainty that individual data would be available, accessible and usable is being eroded by technology that has put consumers back in control. Building trust with the customer is imperative before asking for personal data. Only once engagement has taken place and trust earned does it become possible to start a real conversation and obtain information.
Role of the state
Consumers are usually responsible for looking after their own interests – rather than brands, or government or trade bodies. Industry needs to respond and show clear pillars of trust and benefits when collecting personal data. If it doesn’t, gradually more consumers will exercise their right to not share their information. Here is one area where government can and should have a key role as policy maker and often legislator. There is huge value in having a consistent approach to implementation as it can often set standards to help ensure that data is subject to international guidelines when kept and transferred across borders. Payments are a good example of this. Ensuring the regulation and enforcement of proper transaction methodologies when transferring payments has led to the UK being a frontrunner in e-commerce. It wouldn’t have got to this position without the right policy.
Longer term the government will need to have a multi-faceted role in many areas ranging from spectrum allocation, planning rules, rights of access to information and related policies. These are all examples of where strong dialogue is needed between the major players. Without a clear international information framework it will be very difficult to develop services or gain investor confidence to build solutions for the different flavours of demand.
These days you can’t talk about the web without referencing ‘The Cloud’. And indeed the arrival of cloud computing has led to better storage mechanisms and clearer ways of sharing be it tools, costs or information. As cloud services become more consumer oriented the benefits still need to be explained. With the web we already have one of the biggest libraries in the world and in this sense, the cloud computing revolution needs to be added to be part of and join the Internet and mobile revolutions. Enterprise or personal cloud computing needs to be made a strong partner in this three-legged stool where many sectors will want clouds that are accessible from any time, any place for better access and information sharing , under clear international rules, whether for closed or open source environments.
So are we closer to being able to claim a world made up of smart cities? Compared to 25 years ago, yes we are. But in order to be fully informed of the characteristics and activities of the city there needs to be a much more sophisticated level of measurement, information and communications; and connectivity between people and machines. The reality is that there are varying degrees of connectivity based on history, investment and demand. The EU backed Smart Santander trial will hopefully show how 30,000 connected sensors can make a real difference through partnership and an open research architecture during 2013.
While we are witnessing the evolution of voice to data it’s really all about information and services. Often the information doesn’t flow to the individual whether it’s to do with traffic congestion, accidents, energy management, entertainment or the environment. A truly connected city will be one that makes sure information flows much more smoothly into the hands of the people that need it whether that be location-based data or special offer interests or even an alert about your favourite band gigging at a venue near you.
Ultimately the benefits of connectivity and information offering real services to the citizen will be the measure of success.