At the beginning of this year, I took charge of a new region – one with hugely varying and diverse cultures – and I have quickly seen for myself how technology is adopted in different ways and how countries are digitally divided by access and availability.
Many facets of global communications today are influenced by cultural differences – be it email, Skype, social media or the telephone. In my experience, regardless of your preferences, the key to communicating successfully is understanding and respecting all of our differences to enable a positive impact.
The human touch
We humans are social animals. Technology can’t replace human interaction. We need to combine the human and digital elements to communicate across our borders.
Between 70 and 80 percent of our communication is often non-verbal, which is why we at Orange believe in the importance of the human touch in digital transformation. Body language can be a powerful tool in business communications.
In our Russian office, our meeting rooms are branded with the slogan "communication makes magic." By this, we mean face-to-face communication. Despite all the technological marvels we have today, you can still achieve much by actually talking to each other in person. This, for me, underlines how we can combine digital transformation and personal communication and put the "human" into technology.
The cultural divide is also dictated by the different technological possibilities available and what users are allowed to use. In Europe, for example, the Internet is used for connecting business, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is making rapid inroads into a number of industries already. In areas of my region – in both Africa and Russia – there simply aren’t the connectivity speeds, or in some cases, connection capability, to make this happen. So we have to be more innovative, while meeting the needs of the user.
Of course, we have the global leapfrogging phenomenon where technologically less-advanced countries jump generations of legacy technologies to adopt more advanced solutions. In some cases, building quality fixed networks was prohibitive, so regions ended up with mobile. Moscow is certainly ahead of 4G compared to many European countries, and its users pay less. Muscovites pay less than 10 euros for unlimited 4G.
This leapfrogging changes cultural heritage; using the latest technology that previous generations did not have changes mind sets. There are also discrepancies between developed and non-developed parts of countries that need to be taken into account when looking at statistics. I was reading an article that reported 52 percent of Russian people said if they did not have the Internet tomorrow, it would not change their lives. Yet there are 900,000 software developers in Russia. This is a huge paradox.
There are initiatives, in which Orange is helping, to address this. It supports the Digital India program, for example, which was launched to digitally empower Indian people. At the same time, Orange Healthcare is working on m-health solutions in Africa, where 62 percent of the population resides in rural areas. These solutions will bring critical services to the people.
Technology and culture directly influence each other. As cultures change, so does the technology it innovates. Much of this is for the greater good. It is, for example, a massive aid to global communication. But we must not forget how to talk face-to-face and the impact it can have in crossing the cultural divide.
Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.