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Digital Arctic

Digital technologies hold great promises for sparsely populated and logistically challenged regions like the Arctic.

Automation technologies and technical innovations make it possible to harvest the abundant natural resources efficiently, even with the high wages and high standards of living in the Arctic. Serious work is being done to promote the digital oilfield, ultimately with unmanned deep offshore production units, and on the horizon we can see a fully digital and automated seafood supply chain.

Transportation of goods is being made more efficient by digital technologies, and an increasingly larger share of our economies is now services rather than physical products. Furthermore, new trends like the maker movement and 3D printing hold the promise of local small-scale production of everything from toothbrushes to cars.

Communication technologies have the ability to connect people not only in the region but beyond and with the world at large. Education, work and entertainment has gone online over the last 20 years, and it has made it much easier for people living in rural areas to participate and thrive.

But the metropolises south of us still have the edge. Being connected is apparently not enough. Location still matters, and the best and brightest still gather where the most exciting schools, jobs and cultural scenes are located.

Digital technologies are yet to deliver on the promise.

In my opinion, one of the major pitfalls lies in not putting enough emphasis on developing local capabilities when implementing and supporting digital solutions. At least in parts of the Arctic, there is a tendency to rely way too much on foreign providers of digital technologies. If we never invent anything ourselves and never even really understand the technologies that we are using to become more efficient, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

The best way forward is to insist on the use and development of local capabilities in all we do, and to expect and furthermore demand of our local IT businesses to aim for a global market from day 1. The reason the Norwegian oil and gas industry is globally successful today, is because they decided from the outset some 30-40 years ago that they should be in the driving seat when it came to the exploration, development and exploitation of petroleum resources.

With knowledge comes the ability to do, and both Governments and major industries in the Arctic should demand that digital solutions are at least partly developed, but fully supported by the local workforce. It will do us good in the long run.

We should aim for a society where our young want to live. High standards of living, yes, a rich cultural scene, yes, but also challenging, creative and high-paying jobs.

Ólavur Ellefsen is the founder of Tokni, a Faroese company that specialises in game-based learning software. Earlier this year the major oilfield service company Schlumberger acquired the OilSim simulator and training business from Tokni. Ólavur is a presenter at the ongoing Digital Arctic Conference - www.digitalarctic.com. Ólavurs presentation can bee seen here: www.digitalarctic.com/Default.aspx