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The economy of the digital transformation: a question of value

Venice, 12/10/2018 - 14/10/2018, Aspen Seminars for Leaders

The linchpin of discussions at this Aspen Seminar for Leaders session was the notion that digital transformation has become the driving force behind a new and constantly developing economy. Adding to the billions of smartphones that have brought people across the world in touch with each other are billions of sensors that remain connected all day, every day, without interruption. This is generating an immense amount of data that requires proper infrastructure and analytics skills.

It was suggested that, when viewed against the backdrop of this scenario, Italy exhibits various economic, infrastructure-related, and even cultural shortcomings. In addition to the level of digital illiteracy, which is much higher than in other European countries, there are difficulties associated with the country’s industrial base, comprised mainly of small and medium-sized enterprises that are lagging behind in terms of skills and culture when measured against the transformations underway.

Indeed, digital transformation is a paradigm that is profoundly changing the economic system forged in the twentieth century, revolutionizing production, distribution, and the very concept of value. Held up as a case in point was the success of platform enterprises, which has eclipsed the distinction between producers and consumers, culminating in co-creation that generates value.

This was also seen as the reason underlying the current prevalence of mixed feelings among users of technology. Weighed against the considerable daily benefits of the transformations in progress is a sense of anxiety, linked to the lack of control over new technologies, owing both to the exponential speed of the changes, and to the fact that key processes in everyday life – starting with the storage of data – take place in far off locations or even in the cloud.

It was noted that there are two types of responses to the concerns generated by the dynamics of technology. The first focuses on rules, with an insistence on the need to manage the transformation. A key element in this approach is allowing traditional operators of physical production and distribution channels to compete fairly with online businesses, which, owing to virtualization, are able to pick and choose between the most advantageous tax regimes in the world.

The second way of responding is to put the focus back on people. In this regard, it was deemed crucial to gauge what new skills are needed to cope with digital transformation – not just in the workplace, but also in everyday life. Even so, it was stressed that any such change of mindset, though inevitable, should bear in mind that technology – however game-changing – is not an end unto itself: it is one of a range of tools and should be treated accordingly.