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Researchers and the IT industry join forces to ensure sustainable digitalisation

Norway will lack 40,000 technologists by 2030 and must train people with an expertise in both sustainability and digitalisation. UiA researchers are the hosts of an important gathering in June.

Photo of UiA employees
Senior Adviser Amna Drace, Professor Leif Skiftenes Flak and Head of Department Carl Erik Moe are ready to welcome 800 researchers and practitioners from far and near, 11-16 June. Professor Margunn Aanestad is also a member of the conference committee. (Credit: Damares Stenbakk)

“Digital technologies may pose problems, for example related to data security, privacy, democracy, exclusion and increasing inequalities. However, people may be surprised by how much digitalisation can actually do to promote positive social development and contribute to sustainable change,” says Leif Skiftenes Flak, professor of information systems at UiA.

This will be the topic at this year’s European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) 11 – 16 June, where UiA's Department of Information Systems is hosting around 800 attendees. The conference is being held for the 31st time and is a recognised forum for researchers in the field all over the world.               

Researchers meet practitioners

For digitalisation to help solve societal challenges, the IT industry needs to work differently, the UiA organisers say.

“There is rapid development in this field. Both the UN and the EU emphasise the importance of seeing digitalisation and sustainability in context. We need to establish a common understanding of the problem and we need forums where we can meet,” Flak says.

Bilde av Leif Skiftenes Flak

Leif Skiftenes Flak, professor of information systems at UiA. (Credit: Damares Stenbakk)

He has done a lot of research on digitalisation in public services and in the IT industry and is an active promoter of the national Norwegian GoForIT collaboration (Norwegian only). It was launched during the pandemic, as a response to the competence challenges faced by the various actors.

Today, the network consists of around 40 IT companies and 13 academic institutions and has received a lot of attention nationally and internationally.

Using artificial intelligence to understand complex environmental issues, carbon capture and storage, transition to a circular economy and better utilisation of energy are among the topics on their agenda.

“Since digitalisation is partly unregulated and the social consequences can be serious, we also engage in developing and disseminating ethical principles for responsible digitalisation,” says Flak.

Norway lacks 40,000 technologists

The GoForIT collaboration will be a central part of the conference's Industry Innovation Forum on 13 June. The conference brings together both researchers and practitioners in the field. Many examples of the relationships between digitalisation and sustainable development will be presented here.

Mali Hole Skogen is director of technology and sustainability in ICT Norway and leads the GoForIT collaboration. ICT Norway reports that the country will lack 40,000 technologists by 2030.

“UiA has played an invaluable role in the development of GoForIT. Now it is important that the new technologists we train have knowledge about sustainability. There will be no green shift without this expertise,” she says.

Skogen emphasises that the need for more technologists with sustainability expertise is so great that more people will have to work together in order for us to succeed.

“There is a particularly pressing need in the public sector, and we have brought several people from that sector into the collaboration,” she says.

She hopes the conference will result in concrete projects and that more people will join the collaboration.

“The conference itself is extremely important. There is nowhere else in Europe where specialists gather to discuss this topic.”

A toolbox for IT practitioners

The GoForIT collaboration is now developing a separate toolbox for sustainable digitalisation, which will be launched later this year. The tools provide training in the subject matter based on the role you have in your everyday work and cover all areas within technology and IT.

“In order for the industry to become as green as possible, we need a place to find resources to gain knowledge about this link,” says Hole Skogen.

The toolbox has been developed by both researchers and those who normally compete with each other. Professor Skiftenes Flak is convinced that we need more of this:

“Collaboration reduces the distance between the actors: Academia knows what expertise business and industry wants, and business and industry gets access to up-to-date knowledge from the research front in relevant areas. I believe this increases the ability and pace of change in both sectors. We need this,” says Skiftenes Flak.

You can read more about the conference here.