The Road Ahead for Technology Policy

Even as we recover from a difficult 2020, the world will never be the same. Jim Shaughnessy shares thoughts on five key technology policy challenges and opportunities in 2021 and beyond, ranging from workforce development to social justice.

2020 was a most difficult year. The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying social and economic crises impacted us all. While new vaccines provide hope that life will head back toward a pre-pandemic level of stability, the world will never be the same, as many social, technological, and business trends were accelerated by last year’s events. 

This is unquestionably true as it relates to technology’s impact on society and efforts to steer technology’s influence through public policy. In the U.S., the incoming Biden administration has a host of priorities that relate to the role of technology. And the recent EU initiative proposing a path forward on trans-Atlantic relations shows other governments are grappling with similar questions, while underscoring the importance of the rules of the road being compatible across borders. 

As we look ahead, I want to share some thoughts on key technology policy challenges and the opportunities in front of us.

Workforce Development and Talent 

The pandemic and technology intersect acutely in the area of workforce development. Moving forward, more people will be working remotely, even after widespread vaccination. Technology has and will continue to play an important role in that transition. 

But the pandemic has also accelerated a strong trend toward demand for new skills. Some of this is due to the emergence of new jobs that leverage technological innovations, but we also see increased need for new skills in non-digital roles.  

In order to create economic opportunity for all in our changing world, we need to shift to a skills-based approach to talent instead of one based on pedigree. At Workday, we are doing our part to help businesses transition to a skills-based model, from our participation in the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance and the Business Roundtable’s skills-based initiative, to Workday Talent Marketplace and our product offerings based on Workday Skills Cloud. And through our Tech for Good program, we are leveraging Workday technology for societal impact through our first-of-its-kind partnership with the non-profit organization Opportunity@Work. Using Workday’s Skills Cloud technology, Opportunity@Work is doing two main things—standardizing its skills library to help applicants better demonstrate the skills they possess, and suggesting relevant skills for job postings to help employers better describe the skills they need. This all aids its mission to better match talent to opportunity.

In order to create economic opportunity for all in this changing world, we need to shift to a skills-based approach to talent instead of one based on pedigree.

We’ve published a whitepaper detailing how companies and governments can work together to enable this new world. From a policy perspective, it’s important that governments take steps to foster this increasingly critical shift by improving workforce data collection and analysis and facilitating open data infrastructures (our Co-Founder and Co-CEO Aneel Bhusri, and our General Manager for Talent Optimization David Somers, recently wrote about how businesses and governments can work more closely together in this this area). In addition, we need to create incentives for standardized and reliable credentialing of skills and experiences, and also support training and skills acquisition programs that help prepare workers for whatever the future holds. 

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

The increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are helping drive this skills transformation, but expanded application of these technologies—in everything from self-driving cars to receipt scanning—has led to calls for regulation on both sides of the Atlantic. We believe that thoughtful and effective regulation is essential in this area. AI and ML in the enterprise help make better predictions, which when combined with human judgment lead to better decisions. But making the benefits of AI widely available requires trust, and foundational to that trust is minimizing potential harms. And, that can be best achieved via regulation that requires AI developers to adopt processes designed to build trustworthy AI products. We believe smart AI policy will be essential in maintaining public trust, which is a cornerstone of innovating with any emerging technology. 


This increased reliance on technology makes protecting personal data even more critical. Data is the lifeblood of modern technology, especially AI and ML, and people will be reluctant to adopt new innovations if they lack confidence that their privacy rights are protected. At Workday, privacy is core to everything we do, and we have a long history of providing strong privacy protections that enable our customers to meet their privacy obligations. 

But as we said when endorsing comprehensive U.S. privacy legislation, protections for individuals shouldn’t just depend on the company they are doing business with. It should be a top priority for the Biden administration and the new Congress to promote trust by enacting legislation with strong privacy protections that are interoperable with other countries’ laws. The timing is ideal, with Australia and Canada revamping their privacy efforts and recent legislation in New Zealand and the EU. In addition, states are also enacting their own regulations as demonstrated by California’s recent Proposition 24 ballot initiative, which strengthens its privacy law, and additional employee privacy legislation anticipated in California this year. 

Making the benefits of AI widely available requires trust, and foundational to that trust is minimizing potential harms.

Cross-Border Data Flows

Of equal importance is ensuring continued international data flows. While the European Court of Justice recently struck down the Privacy Shield, which provided a framework for personal data transfers from the EU to the U.S., other means for trans-Atlantic data flows remain. In the long run, though, a successor to Privacy Shield offers the best bet for long-term stability for data flows. The U.S. and the EU are already working together on such a framework, but reaching agreement will require compromises and good will on both sides, as well as a recognition that while our legal systems are different, we share a common set of core values. We think it’s vital that this becomes an early priority for the Biden administration. 

Social Justice

The social justice protests we saw this past summer sparked calls for action to drive meaningful change and increased recognition of the impact of persistent racism in society. At Workday, we have responded through our own company commitments and intentional investments to create more equitable workplaces and communities for all. But the federal government must act too by, among other things, enabling greater economic and educational opportunities for underserved communities, returning to a rational approach to immigration, and increasing access to voting. 

While the new administration and policymakers around the globe will be taking on a lot from a policy perspective this year, we think it's important to recognize the opportunity at hand to enhance the positive impact of technology in society. By coming together with regulations that will help enable innovation in a responsible way, we can accomplish great things.

More Reading