Why We Need a Digital Social Contract

CIOs should consider how their digital initiatives help their industry’s “bigger picture” story

Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional and EU testimonies about Facebook’s privacy breaches brought to light how digital technologies don’t only have business impact, but lead to societal disruption. Europe’s recent Global Data Protection Regulation shows how governments are now thinking about digital regulation.

“Many technology choices and digital business models have societal impacts, such as big data on privacy and AI on jobs. CIOs should make their ‘big-picture’ story, describing their contribution to society, part of developing their innovative business models,” says Frank Buytendijk, Gartner vice president and fellow.

Digital technology affects society at large and digital technologies are used to address larger societal issues

Gartner predicts that through 2023, more than 50% of CEOs of leading digital businesses will openly discuss the impact of technology on society. In fact, 100% of companies leading in digital business will have a societal impact.

Technology has become the main story in many industries. Agriculture is about using technology to feed a growing population. Healthcare is about using technology to let an aging population live independently longer. Financial services is using technology to drive greater socioeconomic participation. The public sector sees technology as a way to drive new forms of democracy and smart cities.

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What is a social contract?

The social contract consists of the implicit and explicit set of principles that describe how residents want their society to look. The American social contract can be described as “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The French social contract reads “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” And the 20th-century Japanese social contract stressed the “iron triangle” between government, business and the workers.

As the use of digital technology affects society at large and digital technologies are used to address larger societal issues, we are moving to a #digitalsociety. As societies are based on the idea of a social contract, it’s time to establish a digital social contract.

The digital society is not designed — rather, it is the result of all digital interactions between businesses, all governments and people. As every business contributes to the emerging digital society, each must determine what the digital society should look like.

Develop the digital society social contract

The digital social contract looks at how people (and things) relate to each other in society, based on three core concepts: Connections, contributions and community. CIOs who tie digital transformation programs to one or more of these pillars are well on the way to generating new levels of value.

  • Connections: Current society is mostly aimed at property and individuals, but the digital society focuses on how people, business and things. From a digital business perspective, if you are not connected, you don’t even exist.
  • Contributions: Digital ecosystems and platforms exist, grow and flourish due to the parties contributing to them. In return, digital ecosystems and platforms enable businesses to operate. The main indicator of value for all parties is not how much one can get out of the ecosystem, but how much one contributes.
  • Community: Technology has already made a huge difference in how people and business can organize themselves — not by being bound by a region or an organization chart, but by offering the tools to self-organize in the forms of communities based on being like-minded.

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