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The societal impact of cloud
Deloitte on Cloud Blog
The cloud’s effect within the business world may be relatively clear, but its impact on society is just starting to be understood. Leaders have a responsibility to recognize the implications and help ensure they are addressed.
The world today is increasingly cloud-enabled, and the implications for businesses and consumers alike are far-reaching. Not only does the cloud offer new ways to access computing capacity and data quickly and inexpensively, but it can also boost innovation and put companies on a fast track to leverage disruptive practices and technologies as they are invented and matured. DevOps, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, edge computing, cryptocurrency—all typically rely on the scalability, efficiency, and ubiquity of the cloud. In many ways, the term cloud has come to mean much more than just cloud technology, per se; rather, it’s redefined how technology is embedded in everything we do and changed the way it’s built and delivered. Of course, few pervasive disruptions come without potential challenges, and the cloud is no exception. Viewing this new era through a societal lens, three stand out:
Ethics in the cloud. Data can help businesses make more personalized and informed decisions, but there are big ethical questions surrounding it, particularly in the context of AI and machine learning. Vast quantities of consumer data are being amassed into centralized cloud repositories and analyzed for a multitude of purposes. Besides the inevitable security and privacy risk associated with data repositories, the bigger issue may be who draws the line in terms of how the data gets used. The temptation to provide increasingly customized services can very quickly start to push against ethical boundaries and privacy concerns—not to mention regulations. And when decisions are made by machine learning models or other similar technologies, they can reflect and even exaggerate the biases of the people who built those systems, with potentially negative consequences for affected consumers.
A new digital divide. When the concept of the digital divide first arose, it generally referred to a gap between those with and without access to technology. That’s shifted over the years as global smartphone penetration has brought tech to even the farthest-flung reaches of the planet, but the notion persists when it comes to skills and talent. As cloud-enabled technologies become increasingly pervasive in today’s largely software-driven workplace, necessitating ever-more-frequent human-machine interaction, many workers will have to learn new skills or adopt new roles. Forward-thinking leaders are already preparing for the needed reskilling through training programs and continuous learning models. When workers don’t have access to the right learning channels, the divide can only get wider, affecting employment opportunities and earnings potential—often with significant implications across generations.
An uneven playing field. By making computing power more accessible to people around the world and lowering the barriers to entry for businesses, the cloud is in many ways a great equalizer. At the same time, however, with the growth of larger cloud players, companies may need to consider more nontraditional ecosystem relationships. It’s also not difficult to imagine a world in which, whatever the industry, the company with the most data and resources wins. Are cloud-enabled technologies really a democratizing force, or will they end up creating a more monopolistic or oligopolistic society?
Opportunities and Responsibilities
There’s no end in sight to the cloud’s growth: By 2024, the global cloud computing market is expected to surpass $1 trillion.
As beneficiaries of this new era, business leaders have an opportunity and a responsibility to help address the associated challenges by considering the impact on the bigger macroeconomic issues facing humanity today. How can the cloud be leveraged to support leaders’ expanded roles as entrepreneurs, technologists, corporate culture standard-bearers, and social activists? The answer may include developing new products and services to help solve key issues, leveraging cloud and internet technologies to provide educational opportunities around the globe, or taking a far-reaching view on ethics and social responsibility. Collaboration with some of the big technology companies on socially minded efforts can often produce magnified results.
C-suite leaders can begin by thinking about which issues affect their own businesses most and then starting small, with a team of passionate employees focused on a well-defined vision. From there, they can publicize successes and expand their efforts. Cloud technology may be at the heart of some of the challenges facing society today, but it can also be part of the solution to those and many more, helping business leaders build a world filled with promise and opportunity for everyone.
This article first appeared on the Wall Street Journal.
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