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2 Development trends and challenges

Over the past 20 years, the internet and digitisation have fundamentally changed society. Initially a technology for a small group of specialists, digital technology is now a universal technology and platform for communication that permeates all areas of society and the economy.

The internet gained 50 million users in the first three years as a commercial network. Today it has around 3 billion users, and is the world's most important arena for communication, with a vast potential market. The internet is connected not only to people, but also to 'things', sensors, different types of equipment, and even clothing, hence the concept 'the internet of things', a fast-growing global network of 15 million devices.

Another important driving force for the growth of internet users is the high use of mobile phones. According to the Economist1, in 2015 around half of the world's adult population owned a smartphone. This proportion is expected to rise to 80 per cent by 2020. This means that 80 per cent of the global population are potential users of the internet, with all the possibilities and challenges this brings with it. Other estimates2 suggest that 90 per cent of the global population aged over six will own a mobile phone by 2020. Simultaneously, the global mobile network is being developed to have the capacity to deliver data traffic increasingly faster.

Widespread availability of high-capacity broadband facilitates convergence of different media. Audiovisual media (audio and video), conventional broadcasting, and a whole host of other digital services are merging together.

Simultaneously, ICT-based innovation is forming the basis for automation that lead to some jobs disappearing and new ones being created. This situation also presents opportunities. The Productivity Commission3 points out that automation of case processing and the possibility for communication between IT systems may affect how public-sector tasks are organised and designed in the future.

The development of big data is possible due to the increasing capacity of computers and networks and to the vast stream of data flowing from all devices connected to the internet. New analytical methods lead to new insights and business opportunities at the same time as they challenge data protection in new ways.

Personal data has become a new means of payment online. Many users seem to accept this development in exchange for 'free' access to social platforms and other services.

Cloud services are becoming the dominant method for delivering ICT services, particularly to consumers and businesses, and the public sector is following suit. The scalability and the pay-as-you-go model can be good solutions for ICT buyers looking for cost-effective solutions.

Climate change is one of the major challenges the world faces today. Developing and using new technology is a precondition for achieving climate goals, both nationally and globally. ICT offers important opportunities to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment. For example, smart use of digital technology can provide more efficient ways of exploiting resources and consuming energy.

The dramatic growth of social media is another important trend. By extension, we have the sharing economy and popular services such as the accommodation service Airbnb and the taxi app Uber. Revenues from the global sharing economy are estimated at NOK 40 billion and are said to be growing by 25 per cent annually. The sharing economy often represents a competitive challenge for established businesses, but it also offers users more choice and represents a significant opportunity for innovation and new jobs.

Net-based platforms (such as Google, Facebook and Amazon) are playing increasingly important social and economic roles. The sheer size of these platforms give their owners significantly dominant positions and influence on the competitive conditions for other service providers on the internet. This situation poses challenges for regulatory authorities, as does the fact that these platforms are used all over the world.

The issue of net neutrality concerns challenges related to non-discrimination of communication and content distribution online. This is a topic that becomes increasingly relevant in line with the growing trend of media convergence when around 150 websites (such as Netflix and YouTube) account for most of the traffic.

Most critical infrastructure and functions today are digitised. The level of complexity and interdependence of ICT systems is constantly rising. This is creating new types of vulnerabilities to be managed. These challenges are exacerbated by a growing gap between the supply and the demand of advanced ICT competence.

The priorities stated in the national ICT policy are affected by international trends. ICT policy therefore constitutes an important area for international cooperation. Norway's efforts are particularly directed at the EU, OECD and Nordic cooperation. In Europe there is consensus that many of the major challenges in ICT policy are common ones and can best be resolved together. One example is EU's efforts to promote a digital single market in Europe.

Technological developments create organisational and governance challenges, but also opportunities. Technological development and digitisation of the public sector drive administrative and service development. Digitisation changes the relationship between public service providers and the public in many ways, such as the emergence of new forms of collaboration. Changes in information flows challenge established areas of responsibility between agencies and sectors and create governance challenges.

The Norwegian economy is facing significant challenges. The decrease in demand from the Norwegian continental shelf is impeding economic growth. The decline has been exacerbated by the sharp drop in oil price. Unemployment has risen, particularly in the counties associated with the oil sector. This also has consequences for other industries. Although the oil sector will remain an important sector in the Norwegian economy, over time Norway will have to restructure to more knowledge-based industries. Meanwhile, productivity growth has fallen. The crisis involving asylum-seekers and refugees is putting our restructuring and productivity abilities to the test. Economic challenges are being faced all over the world. Technology development could help resolve these types of challenges. If we are to achieve this, we need to find new ways of working, processing information and resolving tasks.

Box 2.1 Blockchain

The blockchain protocol is a method of securely transferring value over the internet. The method was developed to support a digital currency, the Bitcoin, but can also be used in many other areas such as finance, insurance, public administration, contract law and administration of copyright. A key feature of blockchain technology is that it can ensure confidence in digital transactions through the use of advanced cryptographic methods without having to rely on a third party. Further expansion of this technology depends on a number of regulatory and policy challenges being resolved, including regulation in the areas of finance, tax policy and crime prevention.

Footnotes

1.

Planet of the phones. The Economist. 28. February 2015.

2.

Ericsson Mobility Report. Ericsson. November 2014.

3.

The Productivity Commission was appointed by the Government in 2014 to investigate the causes of weaker productivity growth, and to promote concrete proposals that can strengthen productivity and growth potential in the Norwegian economy.
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