Investment in digital infrastructure: Why and for whom?


In the last decade, digital has become part of almost every debate and discussion around strategy and often, the central focus. The reason is simple. Powerful and interconnected technologies today, including the cloud and AI, mean any business going through digital infrastructure transformation will be considering lucrative opportunities. The possibilities for new products, services and business models promise to substantially impact almost every sector of the economy even those where digital has already brought important changes.

However, whilst new digital economy (DE) business models have created enormous wealth, that wealth remains held by a very small number of countries, companies and individuals. Governments face the challenge of creating policies that allow the potential benefits of the DE to be realised by more people.

Recently published research in this area gauges the attitudes of different stakeholders who influence DE policy. This is important because if influential stakeholders, academics, and/or policymakers diverge in opinion, or believe the benefits of DE investments are reducing, the existing inequalities linked to digital accessibility will inevitably increase.

Findings from the study uncover the perceptions, process, needs, and priorities associated with DE, using key stakeholders, academics, and policymakers across New Zealand. New Zealand is a particularly relevant case study it leads the world by the focus of their national budget on delivering population wellbeing - with many of their policy initiatives focussing directly on DE.

A key finding from the study is that whilst there are important differences in stakeholders' perspectives, overall they currently remain sufficiently aligned to support investments in digital infrastructure and training. Stakeholders see internet access as a means to support the social economy, with concerns raised that parts of the population will be left behind if digital access is not prioritised and rolled out uniformly. However, as with any alliance, this alignment may splinter in future as stakeholders disagree over who prospers, who is most at risk of being left behind, and crucially, who should pay for upgrading digital skills. Further differences are also notable in terms of how investments in DE connect to wellbeing and identity, whether ‘fake news’ is significant, and the long-term impact of DE investments.

The research shows that whilst the reasons behind policy recommendations and decisions made by governments may be justified by very different narratives and understandings of the world, great care is also required to understand these narratives as a mean reinforce the importance of digital inclusion in delivering broader prosperity in the future. Although the long-term impacts of DE promise to be deep and far reaching, the path to this future for industries, companies and consumers is proving far from linear or predictable. A carefully considered, strategic response is invaluable in approaching digital transformation so that the widest possible eco-system of interests remains sustainable and agile in this ever-changing environment.

To access the full paper, read ‘Investment in digital infrastructure: Why and for whom?’, Region: The Journal of ERSA,