Priorities for a connected world

Danial Norjidi

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of the Connected World: A Roadmap for Mobilizing Global Action was recently released, highlighting five priority areas for collective action in 2021-2022.

It notes that in December 2020, the WEF released its inaugural report on the State of the Connected World, which “underscores the critical role that the Internet of Things (IoT) plays in our lives and the enormous potential that these technologies can unleash for the benefit of society.”

“Yet as we grow more dependent on these technologies, the risks associated with their misuse and the need for strong governance also increases with each passing day.”

The Roadmap proceeds to highlight that the challenge of shaping a connected future that benefits all and the responsibilities that come along with it cannot be left to any one government or industry.

“Coordinated global action is essential, but also increasingly hard to come by. Polarised and fragmented efforts have all too often become the norm as the public and private sector pass blame for governance failures and shortcomings.”

The Council on the Connected World, formerly known as the Global IoT Council, was established to help turn the tide and chart a course towards greater collective action and shared responsibility. The council comprises diverse and multi-stakeholder global membership, which includes public and private sector leaders representing more than a dozen countries on five continents, seven industries, and an equal mix of men and women. Its mandate is to define and advance a global agenda and action plan for tackling the most pressing governance gaps surrounding IoT and related technologies.

“This work commenced with preparation of the inaugural State of the Connected World report, in which more than 400 stakeholders and experts were surveyed and interviewed to better understand how IoT is viewed around the world and to establish clear priorities for action.”

According to the Roadmap, while there were some differences in how stakeholders viewed the opportunities and risks associated with these technologies, five priority actions emerged, namely: increasing education; improving security; driving positive impact; combatting inequity; and strengthening collaboration. It was shared that the five actions are part of the building blocks for a more sustainable, prosperious and connected world.

“To advance this global action plan, the WEF and Council on the Connected World identifies and helps scale the impact of leading initiatives on technology governance from around the world. Where gaps exist and as additional needs emerge, new initiatives and strategies will be developed.”

“In a world where technological change is a constant, transparency and ongoing public dialogue are critical to track progress, measure impact, highlight shortcomings, and keep sight of new challenges and obstacles ahead. This paper is the beginning of a multi-year process and journey.

“This action plan will continue to evolve based on new ideas and feedback from our community.”

Further elaboration as well as the vision and measures of success for each priority action are provided in the Roadmap.

The ‘increasing education’ priority action involves increasing public education and understanding of connected devices – including the responsibilities of technology makers, sellers, buyers and users – to empower individuals and organisations to make more informed decisions regarding design, adoption and the use of these devices.

“This action moves us towards a future where connected devices and systems are both trusted and trustworthy,” states the roadmap.

It envisions a future with increased uptake of trust by design guidelines; clear and easily understood trustmarks, labels and support; a culture of user protection and consumer rights principles among device manufacturers and service providers; and increased knowledge among the public in terms of how connected devices function and collect data, and how this data is used or disseminated.

Action taken so far includes the Digital Trust for Places and Routines, which is an emerging open-source communications standard for digital technologies that will enable more agency for people in public spaces; the formation of the Trustworthy IoT Coalition, a new initiative to increase public understanding of connected devices and build a more trustworthy system; as well as a session on Building a Trustworthy and Connected Future at the WEF’s Davos Agenda that convened more than 80 CEOs and executives to jumpstart a global dialogue on advancing trust across the industry.

Measures of success for this priority action include: positive gains in public trust and/or public education; the launch of new public awareness and education campaigns related to privacy and security of connected devices; creation and adoption of new decision-making tools or certifications; and the adoption of new industry norms and/or regulatory approaches to increase transparency and protections related to privacy and security.

Secondly, ‘improving security’ involves easing and incentivising adoption of cybersecurity policies, standards and best practices.

“This action moves us towards a future where connected devices and systems are secure by design,” states the report.

It adds that this future would see a more coherent approach to security standards development and deployment by governments and organisations around the world; increased uptake of secure-by-design practices for enterprises throughout the whole supple chain; and increased transparency of security risks and mitigations.

Measuring success will involve reduction in the global risk associated with cybersecurity incidents related to IoT devices and systems; creation, alignment and adoption of new assessment tools or certifications; adoption of new industry norms and/or regulatory approaches to establish minimum security practices that are able to change and adapt to the dynamic risks associated with emerging technologies; launch and/or expansion of capacity-building initiatives to boost cybersecurity capabilities in all organisations of all sizes; and initiation of global discussions about how to reconcile safety and security.

The third priority action of ‘driving positive impact’ entails increasing awareness of the positive and negative impacts of connected devices.

“This action moves us towards a future where we use connected devices and systems in more intentional ways to maximise social benefit.”

Envisioned is a future with wide adoption of measurement and disclosure frameworks; widespread use of incentive programmes and public indices to accelerate adoption of connected devices with societal benefits; and an increase in regulatory, procurement, financing and/or investment requirements to ensure that equity considerations and public benefit are incorporated into decision-making.

Success will be measured by: reduction in deployment of connected devices and systems that have harmful, unequitable, or unforeseen negative consequences for organisations, individuals and society; creation and adoption of new assessment tools; creation and adoption of incentive programmes, public indices and regulatory, procurement, financing and/or investment requirements; as well as the lauch of education campaigns or training programmes to increase awareness on positive and negative impacts of IoT and related technologies.

Meanwhile, the fourth priority action of ‘combatting inequity’ is about accelerating adoption of connected devices and systems among small and/or under-resourced enterprises and communities.

“This action moves us towards a future where everyone can equally access the benefits of a connected world.”

It calls for an increase in global collaboration on large-scale digital infrastructure initiatives; widely adopted support mechanisms for small- and medium-sized organisations; as well as a formulation of global agreements to help enable a more equitable distribution of the economic benefits associated with a more connected future.

Measures of success include: reduction in global disparities in access to the Internet and emerging technologies; increase in successful and sustainable adoption of IoT solutions among SMEs; launch and/or expansion of capacity building initiatives to boost technical capabilities in organisations of all sizes; and increase in funding and incentives.

Finally, the ‘strengthening collaboration’ priority action involves increasing cooperation and sharing of information across the IoT ecosystem.

“This action moves us towards a future where everyone benefits from a shared language and collaborative ecosystem for IoT,” states the Roadmap.

It adds that, in this future, there would be: broad collaboration between commercial players; greater understanding an alignment between policy-makers, consumers, advocates and commercial markets; creation of a common and continually maturing language for the IoT; and the emergence of a new era of interoperability and accessibility.

The measures of success here are: decrease in fragmentation of the IoT ecosystem; increase in collaborative partnerships within the IoT ecosystem; adoption of new cross-industry or cross-sector global standards; as well as increase in visibility and alignment of global policy perspectives.