By Dr. Yousef Al-Assaf, Dean of RIT Dubai, Co-Author of the Arabic Edition of A New Digital Deal, and Bas Boorsma, Co-Author of A New Digital Deal, Professor of Practice, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Disruptive technologies have often had a profound impact on our communities, our cities. Electricity and the combustion engine, to name just two, each resulted in a systematic shift which determined how we work, transport, educate, entertain, achieve security, provide care, create jobs and achieve desirable levels of social inclusion. Our cities, our communities, large and small, now face such a shift once again, and this time it’s powered by digital technologies and the network design of almost everything they enable. The shift itself has a name also: it has been labeled as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The new revolution is resulting in radically new organizational models, service designs, new businesses, new jobs, and new measures of economic growth, knowing the old paradigm is on its way out. If your city, company, organization or your community faces an unprecedented shift, powered by new technologies, do you think you have a choice to not proactively take that leap into the future, gain the competitive edge, and achieve new levels of social, economic and environmental sustainability?
Oddly, the choice isn’t being made as proactively as perhaps one would expect, where most let digital ‘happen’ – without a clear plan. This applies to many communities around the world, and it applies to many cities in the Middle East. Yet to harvest the full potential of digitalization, and the new industrial revolution it empowers, a strategy and plan are required. A full harvesting requires a great coming together of leadership, resources, investment, forward-looking education, inclusion and a civic debate. This is what we call ‘A New Digital Deal’. This is what is being called for around the world, and in our book, we call for leadership in the Arab world to rise to the occasion and carve out no less a plan than such a New Digital Deal.
Where do Arab cities stand as they face this huge transformation? What challenges do they have? Are we doing everything that must be done? Are we scratching the surface? Do our cities have a full-fledge plan to truly prepare ourselves for the shift that is now imminent? Are our communities getting involved? Are our citizens being engaged? Do they trust it and embrace it? Considerable work is being undertaken in some of the Arab cities, articulating strategic, innovational agendas that seek to prepare the current and future work force. This work is done through means of education, experimentation, pilots and scaled solutions in domains as diverse as physical security, mobility, air quality, street automation and energy management. However, are these initiatives sustainable, scalable and socially embraced?
In our book, the Arabic Edition of ‘A New Digital Deal’ [عهد رقمي جديد], in addition to reporting on these attempts, we have interviewed leaders across the region, obtained their point of views and set forth a framework detailing how to prepare for community digitalization and innovational strategies, guided by 20 building blocks, paving the way for more comprehensive success.
Let us prepare a New Digital Deal for our communities. Let us prepare for a resilient and successful future, enabled by fully embracing the next industrial revolution. The choice is clear, and the time is now.