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Wed 1 Jul 2020 04:51 PM

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Why the digital economy needs to shift from value debating to value sharing

What is really needed in the Middle East is a comprehensive assurance framework that respects local regulatory values in each market, writes Charles Yang, Huawei Middle East

Why the digital economy needs to shift from value debating to value sharing

Charles Yang, president, Huawei Middle East

In recent months, the discussion of values regarding connectivity, data sharing, and network access has been especially pronounced.

Overall this is a very encouraging development. The hosting of various new summits and forums across the Middle East in 2020 - many of which have been done virtually - is but one testament to how regional governments, telecom service providers, and technology vendors are taking a co-operative approach to how ICT investments can boost socio-economic competitiveness.

These discussions also come at a time when nations across the Middle East are pursuing digital transformation as a core component of their national development visions.

The world today is more connected than at any point in history. It is one of the extraordinary benefits of advanced digital technologies. Equally significant are the values by which such connections are built and nurtured. These values have become all the more important in 2020 as more people now work, learn, and share more of their lives online due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, there has been an unfortunate heightening of tensions in the ICT community as a result of wider political agendas. Some would argue that these disagreements are due to differences in fundamental values more than politics. Yet upon further inspection, that reasoning holds little substance. 

One of the dangers of entering this values debate is that social values are often expanded over time. New ideas and values often emerge at different stages of economic development. It would also be a disservice to individual nation’s sovereignty to assume there is a universal concept of “Western” or “Eastern” values. Even within these relative geographies, perspectives can vary widely with regards to economic subsidies, environmental protectionism, social welfare, and many other issues.

IT infrastructure spending

As IDC forecasts global IT infrastructure spending to still grow by almost 4% this year , we are all trying to find the right approach to governing the digital world. In this process, we are all learning from each other how to drive the prosperity of the digital economy.

We thus need to shift from these wider value debates to look at the values—and indeed the challenges—that we all share. That requires all nations to review and define their principles for the future. Today, we see this happening on two strategic fronts in the Middle East and globally.

The first major challenge is with regard to existing digital governance laws. Many rules today lag behind technological advances. Scandals and covert programs exposed by whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have brought this issue to the fore in recent years. There are unfortunately many examples of data breaches, unauthorized data licensing, and the manipulation of people’s personal information worldwide and in the Middle East.

This challenge becomes harder to address as high-level decisions about security principles must be supported by both public and private sector stakeholders.

What is really needed in the Middle East is a comprehensive assurance framework that respects local regulatory values in each market, and which transparently manages the risks associated with all telecom operators along with the equipment and services of all vendors. Today there are simply more stakeholders involved in these decisions than ever before. But it is a challenge the region can and must overcome.

The second challenge we all share is that the value-distribution model of the digital economy needs to be reshaped. Value creation in the digital era is increasingly reliant on connected data networks and applications.

However, in the Middle East and abroad, the value distribution model being used for the digital economy is still stuck in the industrial era. This did not establish data as a property right or provide sufficient legislation around digital taxation, data ownership, and the right to benefits. This remains a major concern for governments around the world. It is also an issue that can only be truly addressed through open, international cooperation.

Fixating on value debates will not help address these challenges. If anything, it will only damage the trust and collaboration within the global ICT community. Given the current environment, economic recovery and sustainability should be a priority, and digital applications can play a pivotal role in this process.

So how can we strike a balance between technological application, a flood of new data, and cybersecurity? How can we draw a fine line between globalisation and economic or technological self-reliance?

The answer is better rulemaking. With well-established rules, advanced technological applications across all industries can become more widespread. This will in turn boost all societies and economies’ welfare as per the unique requirements of each country. Moreover, stronger rulemaking will help the ICT ecosystem to strengthen the existing recovery efforts being pursued in the Middle East and beyond.

Charles Yang is President, Huawei Middle East

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