Global Productivity Drought: When Will It End?
Global Productivity Drought: When Will It End?
According to Bret Swanson and Michael Mandel, author of the new white paper The Coming Productivity Boom, the next waves of the information revolution - where we connect the physical world and infuse it with intelligence - are beginning to emerge. And these waves will result in far greater productivity than we’ve seen in many industries so far.

Much has been made of the proliferation of sophisticated IT into the business world. However, this trend carries an important caveat. Digital industries, which account for around 25 percent of U.S. private-sector employment and 30 percent of private-sector GDP, make 70 percent of all private-sector investments in information technology. The physical industries, which are 75 percent of private-sector employment and 70 percent of private-sector GDP, make just 30 percent of the investments in information technology.

In Digital Versus Physical Industries, Digital Comes Out Ahead

In order to understand these numbers, we must first acknowledge the difference between digital industries and physical industries. Swanson and Mandel defined digital industries as those private-sector industries where the main output of the industry can be easily provided in digital form and can be readily delivered anywhere in the world via the Internet. This category includes entertainment, publishing, telecom, search, social media, finance and insurance, professional and technical services, and administrative and support services, many of which are IT-based.

Physical industries, on the other hand, are those private-sector industries whose outputs are provided mainly in physical form. This category includes construction, mining, healthcare, most of manufacturing, retailing, food services, education, transportation, and hotels.

In any case, Swanson and Mandel cited this “information gap” in the physical industries as a key source of recent economic stagnation, productivity drag, and the fact that many workers have not personally benefited from technological advances. The manufacturing industry is a prime example of this gap, with many organizations failing to invest in IT at all over the last 15 years. Although some companies have employed limited automation for the purpose of immediate efficiency, they have not taken advantage of the full power of creative IT by implementing new and scalable business models, processes, and platforms. And their productivity has stagnated as a result.

Although many physical industries have yet to reap the full benefits of digital transformation, Swanson and Mandel posited that this is changing. “The diffusion of information technology into the physical industries is poised to revive the economy, create jobs, and boost incomes,” they wrote. “Far from nearing its end, the Information Age may give us its most powerful and widespread economic benefits in the years ahead. Aided by improved public policy focused on innovation, we project a significant acceleration of productivity across a wide array of industries, leading to more broad-based economic growth.”