Ignorance isn’t bliss

A digital economy can’t be attained truly without digitally skilled citizens
Citizen awareness, CYBERSECURITY, Data age, Digital economy, Digital era, Education, Hacking, Ransomware, Security awareness, Technology education, Training, Wannacry, Columns

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While right now it might seem even impossible to imagine a world without smartphones, such a time did exist, and not really ages ago. Would any of us go back to that time before internet and smartphones became mainstream? Needless to say, things back then were simpler, choices were lesser, and life was more about human to human interactions than machine to machine or human to machine interactions.

However, no matter how strong advocates of those times some of us might be, none of us would actually wish to experience that scenario for longer than a specified duration possibly. The fact is we are used to this life, the myriad web of technologies, the ease and comfort of a virtual world. The baffling question here is how much we really understand this online world where we spend a major chunk of our hours awake. If we were to make a fair estimate, majority of the people who are online don’t understand much of the technical nitty gritty of it. Do we need to? The answer to that will be completely subjective depending on an individual or an organisation. But one thing can be said with certainty- when it comes to digital, ignorance isn’t really bliss.

It’s not been really long since that day when the weekend peace was suddenly disrupted by mentions of the WannaCry ransomware attacks from several parts of the world. Once the initial panic settled down a bit, the reason was out there in the open- the systems affected were the ones which hadn’t applied security updates. No brainer, is it? Sadly, big enterprise systems got attacked, and privacy was compromised. Leaving the obvious impact to the affected systems, the incident reiterated the value and importance of having regular security checks and updates.

A few days into the incident, I got another jolt when I got an email from the IT team of a popular online food delivery app, saying that the system had been hacked, hence revealing names and email information of all the users. Given the fact that the platform allows for online payment and saves credit/debit card details; though the company assured users that payment details were safe, the trust issues that sprung from the incident would take time to resolve.  One thing which becomes clear is the fact that technology is a blessing which has the potential to turn to a menace without any warning. So, what’s the solution? Stopping to use technology is not a feasible option- the only way out is by increased awareness, education and vigilance.

Recently, I had the chance to speak to Bocar A. BA, the CEO of SAMENA telecommunication council and Dr. Robert Pepper, head, global connectivity and technology policy, Facebook, both of whom emphasised strongly on the need to educate and train the people. People need to be trained both at work and otherwise- about the benefits, as well as the risks of the online maze. Policy makers, regulators, telcos, private sector companies, an individual’s- all have a role to play in making this happen.

The more the number of people who go online, more will be the data used and definitely more the revenues for operators and all other stakeholders of the connectivity ecosystem. However, the positive impact will be more than masked by the perils, if technology is not used in the right way. Hence, organisations have to make a collaborative effort to remove the gaps in knowledge.  The education and training has to happen at different levels. We can’t really enable smart cities  in the real sense unless the citizens become smart.

A lot has been said about the need to train the workforce with the latest digital technologies- that definitely has to become more intense, and compulsory so that organisations can embrace transformation in a holistic way. A short term investment in digital skills training will result in long term reward - empowering an organisation and its employees, maintaining their competitive advantage and ensuring they don’t get left behind. Digitally empowered employees will not just have an improved work efficiency, but also they tend to be better at customer relationships, they tend to understand and learn things better, and bring more value to their workplace as well as the economy in the long haul.

The other aspect of education will be about educating the end-users. Digital services wouldn’t attain their expected results if  people don’t make widespread use of the same. A company which calls itself a digital player must take the effort to engage and educate the existing as well as potential end- users. There should be direct interactions wherever possible, and in addition, they should engage in ongoing conversations on digital best practices through various media- be it the traditional media like newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV; digital media like websites, social media , and popular apps.

The digital era is defined by data. More the online interactions, more will be opportunities for monetisation. The unconnected have to be connected, the connected need to be provided higher speed connections, and all of these people then need to be imparted digital skills- then only the true meaning of digital will be realised.

May the Holy Month be an enlightening celebration for all of us.

Ramadan Kareem!

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