The past 25 years have been a period of unprecedented innovation, reimagining the way we communicate, buy products, travel, track our health, consume entertainment, and spend our time. Yet it has also been a time of unintended consequences and increased scrutiny of technology companies’ impact on society.
As tech companies continue to dominate the global economy and gingerly navigate the attention that comes with this domination, they must also manage an evolving set of challenges. These include customer preference for a variety of consumption options, the need to scale faster than ever, the dominance of software over hardware, and the global risk to data security and integrity.
Regulations and other safeguards to protect data privacy, cross-border protection of intellectual property, and innovations for easing the transition to a more automated world are still in their infancy. These issues are a significant threat to brand loyalty and trust for some of the largest and most widely known technology companies.
Adapting to the new dynamic
Going forward, winning tech companies will be those that are the most adaptable to this new dynamic. They will build a trusted relationship through a single-minded focus on their customers. They will embrace business-model innovation, process optimization, and workforce productivity. And they will manage a delicate balance between deploying frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, Big Data analytics, and blockchain and thinking through their impact on society.
We believe that these technologies can be incorporated responsibly into business processes to increase efficiency, optimize utilization of resources, and create a more rewarding work experience for employees. Tech companies can lead the way by demonstrating best practices that maintain this balance.
Building a guardrail for responsible growth
Organizations can ensure the responsible development and application of emerging technologies by focusing on very specific business outcomes to guide their efforts. Designing purpose-built applications for well-defined business outcomes can act as a guardrail for responsible growth, limit the likelihood of unintended consequences, and surface negative implications early enough to mitigate them.
But this is only true where company values are clear and where the C-suite works with IT to apply those values to the many decisions that go into creating an intelligent application.
The ethical concerns AI raises, for instance, vary greatly from industry to industry. The dilemmas associated with self-driving cars are nothing like the question of bias in facial recognition or the privacy concerns associated with emerging marketing applications. Still, in our work in 25 different industries, we are seeing best practices emerge. The organizations that focus on well-understood business outcomes are best positioned to develop responsible applications where personalization is a value, not a violation; where data sources are vetted for bias; where data privacy is a guiding principal; and where transparency and efficiency are equally valued.
Looking ahead, we expect that the sale of single products or point applications will no longer drive the growth of tech companies. As more and more companies from every industry embrace the notion of an enterprise connected by data, boundaries within the organization begin to disappear – as do lines between organizations and even between industries.
Earning a role in society’s transformation
The transition raises the bar for responsible behavior.
As high-tech companies develop products that are smarter, connected, cross-compatible, and built on common standards, scalable platforms will capture the high volume and velocity of data their products generate. In this porous ecosystem where shared data is breaking down silos, organizations will need to share revenue fairly with their partners and ensure accounting compliance. They will need to organize high volumes of customer sentiment data, ensure accurate record-keeping, and secure the supply chain from intrusion and counterfeiters – all while regulators and customers cast a distrustful eye.
No small task.
The tech industry has been at the center of a massive shift in the relationship between business and society, one that has been both a driver of progress and has raised serious questions about some of its outcomes. Those companies that champion the responsible deployment of intelligent technology will build trust, accelerate their growth, and earn an enduring role in society’s ongoing transformation.
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