Welcome to our four-part series on the topic of Digital Transformation or DT. This article is part three of the four-part series. The complete series should provide a robust look at this subject in companies across the globe and its urgent significance during and after Covid-19.
Our first two articles in this series covered ground on understanding Digital Transformation and getting to know the thinking and tools for the first implementation.
But in order to have real success, decisions put into action always prompt further insight into the resulting consequences or impact on people, process and things. This is where the focus on Trust and Ethics is at the heart of the conversation. While companies rush headlong into creating massive change for better turnarounds and larger profits (generally attributed as tenets of a successful business), the ethical impact of this change might not be in check or misunderstood. Where should one start?
What is Ethics?
Ethics is traditionally defined as the principled choice between right and wrong. These days, ethics can be defined or accepted based on a range of views and may have multiple correct answers. The concept of ethics is seen through various lenses such as religion, environment, culture and politics amongst other lenses. Ethics is a humanitarian philosophy that has universal acceptance and impact or the reverse.
Digital professionals and corporate executives may struggle when faced with the ethics conversation due to varying business pressures, critical lack of understanding on how ethics is a determining factor of good DT, and their own personal resolve towards right and wrong.
What does Ethics apply to in Digital Transformation?
Ethics is found at the intersection of a multitude of managed systems and enabling technologies/connectivity such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Some key concern areas are:
- Data governance
- Autonomous decisions by AI and ML algorithms
- Process automation
- Advanced data analytics
Managed systems can either mean, 1) organisations look at a purchase as a plug-n-play solution or 2) Managers viewing technological innovation as assured salvation.
“Digital transformation is an ongoing process of changing the way you do business. It requires foundational investments in skills, projects, infrastructure, and, often, in cleaning up IT systems. It requires mixing people, machines, and business processes, with all of the messiness that entails. It also requires continuous monitoring and intervention, from the top, to ensure that both digital leaders and non-digital leaders are making good decisions about their transformation efforts.” (HBR.com)
While leaders are being called on to manage the above process with heightened EQ, enabling technologies like AI pose their own ethical challenges. From unconscious bias to prematurely cutting down the workforce, the ethics of enabling technologies is an everyday conversation.
To this end, global corporations, governments and the tech community, in collaboration, have made great strides towards building AI and/or Tech for Good initiatives and constantly striving towards an ethical tech future. This is shown in initiatives to name a few:
- South African Presidency’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Commission to review and rollout plans to build a more robust digital economy for the citizens
- The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution which has country offices to lead discussion and collaboration for democratic tech use
- Microsoft’s AI for Good and Cloud Society initiatives to build a more inclusive idea around bringing people and tech together
- University of Johannesburg’s 4IR approach to integrating better tech understanding by making it mandatory for first-year students to also study ‘An Introduction to AI’
- Freely online resources to train staff and executives on understanding AI and tech for rollout in a company i.e. World Economic Forum’s AI Toolkit for Boards of Directors
Trust the process?
The scandal of Cambridge Analytica left Facebook reeling and with a now hefty $5 billion penalty by the Federal Trade Commission. The Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack’ took a deep dive into dirty data tactics of breaches and sharing between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (CA). After news broke of how the CA got access from Facebook and worked with that data to create persona profiles targeted on 5 or more data points for election campaigning, there was a public outcry of betrayal. And. Mistrust. Facebook allowed its users to be manipulated through unauthorized data breach of users’ profiles, in turn causing a by-product of dissent.
The list can seem endless; data breaches; spam emails claiming Lottery winnings; phone and email lists sold to third parties; bank account hacks, but renewed conversation shows that it doesn’t seem to be all doom and gloom. This example if anything teaches every executive, employee and citizen about always pushing for transparency in the process. It is everyone’s responsibility.
Trust the process.
Coined as the Future of Trust, the investment into building trust to preserve business ethics is only set to increase. The ‘Global 2000’ study by the IDC expects that 50 per cent of the world’s largest companies will have appointed a Chief Trust Officer by 2023. The appointed Trust executive will have responsibility across finance, HR, risk, sales and legal. The research went on further to show that by 2025 two-thirds of Global 2000 brands will call for the implementation of a formal trust initiative.
It may seem like the conversation around ethics and trust can be discouraging and overwhelming. The chosen attitude could be to keep the conversation only amongst the C-suite executives, or implement a solution and hope that people in the organization adapt to it.
The World Economic Forum in a recent article explained it well. “Trust can be eroded when people don’t understand the technologies available to them or how to use them. It’s not enough to expect this to be addressed in school or college. The rapid evolution of our business environments makes lifelong learning more important than ever, and all businesses must play their role.”
These steps may make the process easier to approach:
- Identifying and managing data that the organization is responsible for
- Understanding and mitigating bias through technology
- Ensuring open and transparent practices by employers with employees
- Learning about cybersecurity and its loopholes
- Designing systems or customer interfaces for privacy and integrity
Trust and ethics ultimately demand a compassionate and humane approach to pairing people and technology. In our final part of our series, we focus on a framework developed by our team called Shift. It is truly about bringing EQ into AI.
The Nihka Technology Group is a South African technology company based in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Group is focused on bringing the digital future to both the private and public sectors, locally and globally by delivering innovative, integrated technologies and intelligent solutions. Nihka offers end-to-end multi-dimensional consulting with an emphasis on integrating the human potential. Bringing EQ into AI. www.nihka.co.za