To drive innovation, we need to put technology in the hands of every worker, organization, and public-sector agency around the world.
To more evenly spread economic opportunity and resilience, we must democratize “tech intensity,” a combination of tech and people skills—including among citizen developers. This so-called intensity is made up of three dimensions: the adoption of technology, the capability of individuals to use it, and their trust in the organizations deploying it. Tools from cloud computing to AI should be in the hands of every knowledge worker, first-line worker, organization, and public-sector agency around the world.
The next decade of economic performance for every organization will be defined by the speed of its digital transformation, with tech and skills together creating competitive advantages. As such, tech intensity, like electricity, will fade into the background, becoming part and parcel of society.
Research conducted by Microsoft and Keystone points to the critical role of investment not just in tech but in creating an architecture that can enable anyone to access opportunity across divides and barriers, developing the capabilities required to drive the innovation desperately needed to rebuild.
For the past several years, the business and technology industries have spoken of empowering citizen developers, defined somewhat narrowly as legions of individuals who are empowered to drive innovation from data, technology, and tools that are easy to create and deploy. These citizen developers don’t replace professional software developers, but rather augment them and build on top of their innovations. Citizen developers are crucial because the potential of data and software-based innovation is enormous in any organization.
Conducted across more than 130 leading companies, our research shows that those with a more integrated technological and human resource architecture enjoyed more widespread innovation and outperformed the others, in industries as different as manufacturing, health care, retail, and financial services. In fact, companies with high tech intensity have doubled the growth rate on average of those with low tech intensity. In essence, those winning companies broke down traditional barriers, innovated more, and grew faster.
The impact of this approach could scale far beyond the private sector. Dartmouth economist Diego Comin and economist Bart Hobijn developed the Cross-Country Historical Adoption of Technology data set, examining the time frame over which 161 countries adopted 104 different technologies, from steam power to PCs. Based on this analysis, Comin argues that differences between rich and poor nations can largely be explained by the speed at which they adopted industrial technologies. But equally important, he says, is the intensity they used to put those new technologies to work. Even countries that were slow to adopt new technologies could catch up if their people had access to them and were taught to use them to solve the problems they were closest to. Are the technologies just sitting there, or are they available and easy to use for a trained workforce to get the most productivity out of them? The difference is tech intensity.
We need public- and private-sector leaders to embrace these aspirations and break down the divisions that isolate capability across our economy. But of course, this will not work unless we equip people with the skills they need to be successful in our digital future.
By the end of this decade, we will have failed if the tech industry is the only beneficiary of tech intensity. Its purpose is the democratic ideal of opportunity for everyone.