On the occasion of its 51st General Assembly, Cigref unveiled the 2021 edition of its Strategic Orientation Report, « Digital Futures: which pathways? »
Based on a forward-looking reasoning method, this new edition is in line with the 2020 Strategic Orientation Report (SOR). In this sense, this document is both an extension of the previous report and an additional brick in Cigref’s strategic thinking to define its activities and work plan. It is thus structured around two complementary parts: one on forward-looking intelligence and the other on scenarios for digital futures.
This Strategic Orientation Report is the culmination of this annual reflection, which is steered by a Strategic Orientation Council made up of Cigref members and qualified personalities, under a mandate from Cigref’s Board of Directors.
Part 01. Foresight watch
This section offers a forward-looking examination of the five key digital transformation fields identified in 2020. By way of a reminder, last year, Cigref chose to focus its attention on five key themes, providing in-depth coverage of the various facets of digital technology and identifying their multiples underlying issues.
Without claiming to be exhaustive, this selection nevertheless hopes to present a cross-cutting examination of the constantly-evolving field of digital technology – not only to assist Cigref in its own work, but also with the ambition of informing its members about the major developments for which they will need to prepare. For this same reason, each of these themed fields has been updated in 2021. Once again, although this updated forecast makes no claim towards exhaustiveness, it is nonetheless based on careful observation and discussions with expert members of the Strategic Orientation Council, and seeks to represent the main concerns of Cigref members over the next 10-15 years.
Field 1. Technological challenges and new applications
The rate of adoption of some digital practices has gained pace, and more intensive use has been made of a number of solutions (including cloud computing in particular) in response to the health crisis. Worldwide R&D efforts on various potentially revolutionary technologies (quantum computing, etc.) have continued to increase. At the same time, complex attempts are being made to establish some balance between the physical and virtual worlds after more than a year of not only physical distancing but also cautious legislative attempts to regulate, occasionally unlawful, online practices.
Field 2. Technology and environment
Technology is obviously neither an absolute panacea to the major climate disruptions that the modern world is soon to experience, nor the sole cause of all these ills. It does, however, have its own role to play here, and is central to several major issues identified in this area: energy optimisation and regulation of practices, cooperative and systematised approaches to the key risks of the 21st century, while at the same time avoiding the spectre of mass surveillance…
Field 3. Cyber risks and geopolitical challenges
The number, diversity and intensity of cyberattacks grew still further in 2020-2021, revealing the massive scale on which this cyber-industry has developed. At the same time, governments and their respective legislations are locking horns over diverging conceptions of (personal and industrial) data protection. This field makes reference to the European, Chinese, Russian and Indian regulations establishing the framework for new cyber approaches, and the associated risks.
Field 4. Digital providers and services
The rapid growth in digital services, driven by the health crisis, has served to consolidate the dominant position of leaders in this sector (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Baidu, etc.). Faced with the growing power of these large platforms, governments are torn between stricter regulation of their activities and a fear of weaking them, which could negatively impact competitiveness and technological leadership. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that these platforms are for the most part American and Chinese, and have an important role to play in the digital wranglings between their respective governments. Amid such battles, the European Union is seeking to carve out a place for itself, particularly through its efforts to build a space for pooling data and developing innovative use cases. Field 4 sets out some of the key European legislative procedures in relation to these issues.
Field 5. New ways of working and employee’s commitment
While some changes experienced during the health crisis may turn out to be of a cyclical nature, others are likely to continue into the long term, transforming the way companies and their ecosystems address issues of recruitment, training, management and organisational structure, and possibly even involving the platformisation of such areas. This could also, therefore, result in significant changes to employment law over the coming years.
Part 02. Four scenarios for digital futures by 2030-2035
The second part follows on from this foresight watch, presenting four digital future scenarios for the 2030-2035 timeframe. These scenarios seek to link together a number of sources, including the various items identified during the horizon scan, in order to present a number of models for potential future worlds. Other outcomes are of course possible. However, the future scenarios presented here will provide a framework for discussion on the key issues over the coming 10-15 years and, for each scenario, for measuring their implications for companies and organisations. In this second part, readers will also find short anticipation stories. These are inspired by each scenario, expanding our outlook regarding the potential futures ahead.
Scenario 1. Globalisation regulated by geopolitical balances
The first scenario is based on the assumption of a world in which the health crisis has acted as a trigger, raising awareness among governments and their population of the need to prepare for the environmental and health challenges of the 21st century. Economic interdependencies and the challenges of crisis management, which are common to all concerned countries, would then encourage the growth of political and commercial interactions between (both public and private) stakeholders based on a strong dynamic of common interest.
Scenario 2. Towards a European Power in a world of regions
In this scenario, economic transactions and standards systems (health, legal, commercial, etc.) are being restructured into major regional areas. This fragmentation of international trade and laws is the result not only of deep divisions between governments in terms of crisis management (health, environmental, etc.),
but also a decoupling of countries’ socioeconomic trajectories following the Covid pandemic and its repercussions.
Scenario 3. An all-conquering China in a bipolar world
This scenario depicts a trajectory in which China has succeeded in becoming the leading player in international trade. Amid a highly unstable health and environmental situation in 2030-2035, the country is promoting its own crisis management model and is positioning itself as a partner of choice for services, solutions and infrastructure to the most vulnerable countries. The accelerated rise of China in this model has exacerbated tensions with the United States. The standoff between them has affected many world countries, who are being forced to choose sides. A divided and weakened Europe is unable to implement its “third way” strategy.
Scenario 4. Far West, digital colonies and cartels
This last scenario immerses the reader in a world profoundly disrupted by the impacts of climate change within the 2030-2035 timescale. Many countries, crippled by their debts, are unable to make the necessary preparations. The digital giants, who have emerged from the economic crisis relatively unscathed and with immense reserves of financial capital, are taking advantage of this situation to establish themselves as providers of global solutions to governments, other companies and private individuals, and are even expanding their service offerings to fulfil certain sovereign functions of States.
Short stories from the future
We have also solicited fiction authors to write short stories of anticipation in order to embody this 2021 edition through original works. These original works immerse us in these prospective scenarios and allow us to broaden our vision of possible futures.
Brainjacked, by Alexis JENNI, writer, Goncourt Prize 2011
The Contract, by Guy-Philippe GOLDSTEIN, fiction writer, teacher and cybersecurity consultant
Pizza with Extras, by Ketty STEWARD, writer and President of the association Réseau Université de la Pluralité
Black Kill Switch, by Henri d’AGRAIN, General Delegate of Cigref