With every new breakthrough in technology, from the wheel to the automobile to the cell phone, the world has become more interconnected. Throughout the coming years, this connectivity will continue to increase, providing greater access to additional markets for growth and stability, bigger talent pools, and more rapid spread of innovation and ideas. Here are a few ways that connectivity will continue to manifest in the economic landscape.
While Covid-19 sent global connectedness into a rapid decline at the beginning of 2020, the world has already begun to rebound and will continue to do so. By August, international trade in goods had recovered more than 75% of its drop, standing just 3-4% below its pre-pandemic level. Additionally, the globalization of information flows accelerated as the pandemic forced work, education, and recreation online. International internet traffic rose by 48% from mid-2019 to mid-2020, and international telephone call minutes climbed 20% in March 2020 versus the year before.
In fact, stronger global connections will most likely accelerate the world’s recovery from the effects of Covid-19, as countries that connect more to international flows tend to enjoy faster economic growth. According to Tim Brown, managing director of the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute at Georgia Tech, the supply chain field will also undergo an increase in connectivity, as transportation, warehousing, and contract manufacturing players become more interchangeable. Meanwhile, advanced computing, performance analytics, optimization techniques, sensors, and other technologies will support the needed level of visibility, planning, and execution.
Another effect of global connectedness is the rise of the gig economy, a free-market system in which organizations hire independent workers for short-term, temporary commitments. Such independent workers are often known as “contractors.” Due to the increased digitization of work, workers may look for job openings in a wider variety of locations, and companies, selecting from a bigger pool of applicants, are more likely to find workers interested in temporary positions.
The benefits of the gig economy include a more flexible work-life balance for workers and less investment for companies, such as in training, salary, and office space. However, the gig economy also presents a challenge for safety and health, and potentially leaves an ever-expanding pool of workers vulnerable and lacking in other traditional employment benefits, including retirement funding and health insurance. To combat this, "a push for new regulations to support these worker populations may be on the horizon," says Hilarie Warren, director of the Georgia Tech OSHA Training Institute Education Center.
While global connectivity opens the door to farther-reaching opportunities, it also poses greater risks. As the professional network enlarges, the events that happen within it will yield greater consequences, and organizations will be more susceptible to events that happen farther away. As a result, organizations will need to become more adaptable as connectivity increases, anticipating potential challenges and creating solutions in advance.
One of the most pressing risks caused by an ever-advancing global economy is its impact on the environment. As businesses expand, so do their operations, which often contribute to pollution, deforestation, and flooding. As the world becomes more connected, these crises will have wide-reaching effects, creating an urgent opportunity to develop more sustainable business operations and environment-friendly technologies. Potential innovations that may develop in the near future to address these risks include hybrid electric equipment, decarbonization and emission-reduction plans for oil and gas providers, AI-assisted energy efficiency, and recycled fashion materials. These sustainable innovations will begin to help curb and mitigate harmful environmental effects that could ripple rapidly through a connected economy.
Another growing area of risk is in the digital realm. As technology advances, so does the cyber-attacker. And, as the world becomes more connected, cyber-attacks will be able to inflict wider damage. One attack will trigger others like dominoes. Raheem Beyah, dean, College of Engineering, predicts that the next ten years could bring increasingly unique and invasive attacks. These attacks could target the integrity of cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as additive manufacturing systems, which are processes that assemble parts to produce a whole, such as 3-D printing. Attacks could range from immobilizing cars or programming them to behave erratically, to designing a printed object that changes shape while in use, such as a plane propellor in mid-air.
While a connected economy may come with risks, as long as those risks are properly assessed and addressed, we have nothing but a brighter future to look forward to. An increasingly connected economy will provide a larger array of work opportunities to people all around the world, enrich the ways that organizations may conduct their operations, and create a more collaborative work setting, allowing us to support and move each other forward.