The technological leap of the last five years has turned digital sovereignty from a purely technological issue into a real strategic challenge. Here, Fabien Aufrechter, Head of recently launched Havas Sovereign Technologies, explains why we need to get a head start by making technological sovereignty one of the great causes of the years ahead.
In an increasingly complex world, the pace of innovation is accelerating. Data are expanding in volume but slipping out of our control. Social media are places of interaction but also reflect the divides that separate us. Algorithms are changing the world but attract mistrust. New technologies are improving our lives, but the sheer speed of their advance raises fundamental issues. Digital governance is no longer solely a matter for states. And it brings new imbalances in its wake.
So how do we wrest back control? How do we restore the magic of technology to recreate trust? What kind of governance will innovation and the digital world demand?
The state no longer has the monopoly on sovereignty
The current crisis has illustrated just how much a resilient economy depends on a powerful, integrated production system. States have realised this: the concept of independence takes on its full meaning when shortages of basic necessities emerge. This independence invariably has two aspects: economic and technological.
For the first time, however, a grasp of this reality is no longer confined to states. The emergence of “digital giants” followed by new, non-state actors (corporations, NGOs, etc.) was already shaking up the old order established with the Treaty of Westphalia. Now more than ever, though, it is increasingly apparent that sovereignty is no longer the sole preserve of states.
Economic and technological independence is now an issue that affects corporations and organisations of every kind. The proof, if proof were needed, is that such structures have now become equal prey for cyber-attacks. All of them now need to factor the new technological environment into their strategies.
Towards a New Tech Deal
In the global race now being run, every organisation, public as well as private, must take on board the fact that a command of technology is the key to future power. This is the new technological order: the horizontalization of actors has led to an equal sharing out of responsibilities in terms of appropriating new technologies. The roles may differ: public actors must now take responsibility for the collective ownership of technological issues, whereas private actors are forced to innovate and to onboard new technologies in order to survive. One thing is sure, for public and private actors alike: all must urgently engage with the issue of technological sovereignty.
But what does that actually mean? It’s not simply about digitalising your business: the key issue is no longer ‘just technology’, as it was at the end of the last century, but ‘the right technology’. Every organisation, public or private, needs to inject meaning and heart into their core vision of technology, the better to appropriate its realities and, above all, the better to ensure their own development. Because every modern and innovative business is, and will henceforth be, technological. Equally clearly, technology encompasses social, reputational and strategic realities that forge the identity of a business and that must be perceived through the prism of a very real sovereignty.
Businesses and organisations no longer have a choice: they must take back control and, rather than setting purely technical objectives, draw up strategies accompanied by a code of ethics. In this world of Pegasus, Wikileaks and the upsurge, not only of cyber risks but also of laws regulating the use of technology (GDPR, for one), risk-taking is no longer an option. Far better to bank on reigniting the enchantment of technology rather than risk the nightmare of a loss of control.
Towards corporate technological responsibility
Technological sovereignty is the linchpin of the new world order that is taking shape. The difficulty, however, lies in understanding what is at stake: it would be too easy to turn to the engineers and technicians, arguing that this is primarily a technical matter. Its import is primarily strategic: the managers of tomorrow can no longer afford to leave these issues to the engineers, they need to fully understand them (with help, if needed), to master them and to appropriate them in their own right.
The stakes are all the higher given that technological sovereignty will soon be everyone’s business, even if today’s citizens are not yet fully aware of the fact. And if CSR has become such an essential issue because businesses have a duty to grow increasingly greener, it is only logical that businesses will shortly be required to build the logic of technological sovereignty into their business models, given the vital importance of what is at stake. The technical governance of tomorrow is being shaped today: let’s get a head start by making technological sovereignty one of the great causes of the years ahead!