The concept of a digital society centres on the interaction between governments, businesses and citizens via digital technologies, accompanied by social and economic benefits around efficiency and productivity gains, as well as the improved well-being and living standards of citizens.
At a more advanced level, citizens living within a digital society are connected to disparate industries, institutions and infrastructures simultaneously over a digital platform, and are able to interact with them in new ways that create value for all the parties involved.
This relies on individual access to digital technologies by citizens and businesses, which enhances convenience, flexibility and user engagement, particularly for personalised solutions, compared with shared access in public outlets such as Internet kiosks.
As outlined in the Building Digital Societies in Asia report from GSMA, digital services have the potential to help solve key challenges faced by Asian countries; many countries are struggling to cope with mounting social and economic challenges occasioned by rapid population growth, lack of access to essential services, inefficient utilisation of available resources, increasing pressure on existing infrastructure and services, and huge humanitarian and economic costs from natural disasters.
Digitisation enhances access to various services for underserved citizens and creates new growth and expansion opportunities for businesses within a digital society. However, the region’s digital society landscape is very diverse, both in the level of connectivity of citizens and in the evolution of digital services.
GSMA have grouped countries in the region into three categories of a digital society – advanced, transition and emerging – to reflect the evolution of digital services. Generally, the highly connected countries have a wider range and higher uptake of digital services, underscoring the need for adequate connectivity for a digital society to function effectively.
A digital society relies on a number of interdependent enablers to function effectively. These are;
- a critical mass of digitally literate citizens that can access and can afford various services and devices,
- a variety of relevant content and applications that address local challenges,
- a robust infrastructure on which digital services can be created, distributed, stored and utilised, and
- an environment that supports innovation and investment.
Given the importance of connectivity, there is a clear need to make sure that the technology and infrastructure, particularly mobile infrastructure, in a country meets the demands of a digital society. This will be achieved by eliminating barriers to investment around access to spectrum and the imposition of tax. Key stakeholders, including governments and operators, also need to work together on awareness building campaigns for digital services, which should be easy to use and accessible via multiple channels and languages that meet the requirements of local users.
The role of the government in establishing a digital society does not stop at creating an enabling environment. It should also include an assertive push for the digitisation of public services, which touch all individuals and businesses within a country and, therefore, can serve as a catalyst for the uptake and usage of digital services by citizens across different demographics and income levels.
Using the digital society initiatives and/or economic aspirations of six countries in the region – Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Thailand – GSMA highlight the main factors that need to be in place to establish a digital society and the socioeconomic benefits thereof.