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Industry Trends: The Connected Economy

How innovations in technology, connected devices, and software will reshape how business gets done over the next decade

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.

Global Exchange

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. 

Gig Economy

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.

Digital and Environmental Safety

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. 

A Brighter Future

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.

 

Credits
Writer: Rachel Meyer
Editor: Shannon Helton-Amos
Digital Producer: Kelsey Harris