Comment: Bridging the digital divide

Mike Tuffrey


Posted in: Technology & Innovation

Comment: Bridging the digital divide

April 01, 2000

On both sides of the Atlantic, schemes are launched to help those left behind in the headlong race to a wired-up future. The information revolution is bringing huge benefits – and new responsibilities – to all of
business, not just the big name computer companies.

The Conference Board weakens its case by focusing attention only on ‘new media’ companies. As our stories show, that industry is moving fast to get stuck in with multi-million dollar global projects, often personally led by dynamic CEOs. The fact they have a direct commercial interest in wiring up the world only adds to their drive and determination.

Instead, the real question is what the rest of business is doing to address the digital divide. After all, there are more ICT specialists in the major banks, retailers and accountancy firms, for example, than in the computer manufacturers and software companies together, who are generally not big employers. Modern business depends on huge technology systems with in-house expertise and the question is how to apply this to the task of overcoming social exclusion.

The difficult issue is not the equipment but access to skills and inspiring confidence among dispossessed groups and generations. For instance, IBM has long stopped donating equipment without software, training and personal support from its employee volunteers. Companies like Ford, which is equipping every worker with a PC, recognise that ICT skills are increasingly vital at every level of the production process. Much early corporate social responsibility focused on simple literacy and then numeracy among workforce communities; now the challenge is computer capability and all industry sectors should be asking what they can do to help.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 51 – April, 2000