Not so long ago, a generation or two, the economic structure of the world was fairly simple. There were prosperous industrialized countries – most of them in the West, with the one notable exception of Japan. And then there were all the rest, mired in poverty, still struggling to get off the ground.
Now the economic world had changed dramatically – and in spite of the global financial crisis, the change has been mostly for the better. Many countries have moved firmly into the prosperous group Many more are moving in that direction, and with increasing speed.
Iindustrialization in the old steel-driving sense has ceased to be at the cutting edge of economic development. We have learned to speak of a post-industrial era. And, alarmingly, some observers now are talking about an end of progress. After all, today's jetliners fly no faster than the 1950s-vintage Boeing 707. Personal jetpacks and scheduled Moon trips never materialized.
This dour image dismisses the digital era as good only for mobile telephone calls and video games. But information and communications technology (ICT) is transforming our lives and the world economy in ways we are only beginning to see. Digitization has become the driver of prosperity.
But the penetration of ICT around the world remains widely uneven. Some countries are making enormous strides in entering the digital era, all but bypassing old-style industrialization. Others have reached only the first stages of digitalization. Mobile phones have become common, but other digital technologies too often remain sparse on the ground.
Digitization is associated not just with industrial progress but with social progress. This should not surprise us, because the digital era is so largely about communications. The Internet went all but unpredicted in science fiction, because while it depends on computers, what it does is connect people.
To further the advance of digitization, for both the most digitized economies and those still just beginning to enter the digital era, we must learn to think more digitally. We need to think in terms of digital ecosystems. And while competition is critical, competition alone is not enough.