Don’t Leave “Ethical Tech” Out of Your Digital Transformation Plan – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM DELOITTE

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Disruptive technologies create tremendous opportunity for organizations to become smarter, more agile, more flexible, and more responsive. But as employees deploy new applications, they are encountering challenges that create reputational and even financial risks for their organizations.

Some companies that don’t see technology as their core business may assume that these considerations are irrelevant, even as they increasingly rely on advanced digital and physical technologies to run their day-to-day operations.

But no matter the industry or sector, organizations simply can’t call themselves technologically savvy if they’re not thinking about the ethical implications of how their employees, customers, and others within their ecosystems are using technologies.

Few organizations and their leaders develop an overall approach to the ethical impacts of technology use—at least not at the start of a digital transformation. In a recent study, just 35 percent of respondents said their organization’s leaders spend enough time thinking about and communicating the impact of digital initiatives on society.

But in order to be truly savvy in the age of advanced, connected, and autonomous technologies, leaders must think beyond designing and implementing technologically driven capabilities. They should consider how to do so responsibly from the start.

At Deloitte, we see a relationship between a company’s digital and technological progress—in other words, its tech savviness—and its focus on various ethical issues related to technology.

Our research found that 57 percent of respondents from organizations considered to be “digitally maturing” say their organization’s leaders spend adequate time thinking about and communicating digital initiatives’ societal impact, compared with only 16 percent of respondents from companies in the early stages of their digital transformation.

Further, nearly 80 percent of the digitally maturing companies surveyed have explicit policies in place to support their ethical standards with respect to digital initiatives, versus only 43 percent of early-stage companies.

Digitally-mature companies are also typically supported by leaders committed to exploring and considering the intended and unintended impacts of technology disruptors, surrounding themselves with input from a diverse and inclusive set of stakeholders, and fostering an organizational culture of continuous learning, debate, transparency, and open dialogue.

As organizations recognize the ethical issues that technology disruptors may introduce, they must create a consistent method for identifying ethical issues and creating courses of action. The focus should include:

  • A drive toward a shared, inclusive, cross-functional responsibility. Ethical tech is a shared responsibility that should engage all functions and be championed at the top. As Mala Anand, SAP president of intelligent enterprise solutions and industries, notes, “Delegating responsibility [to the technology department] is not the answer. Creating ethical and effective AI applications requires engagement from the entire C-suite.”
  • Be ethically driven from the start. To be proactive and stay ahead of potential ethical tech challenges, consider designing new technology-driven products and services with ethical principles in mind from the start. This can help organizations anticipate and avoid problems, rather than having to react after a situation arises.

For example, Salesforce appointed a chief ethical and humane use officer to guide the company’s use of technology. The function aims to ensure that the company has a clear framework to guide technological decisions, and an executive bringing together internal and external stakeholders and experts to ensure the framework is flexible enough to account for emerging technology use cases.

  • Make it relevant, specific—and flexible. Develop a guiding framework that addresses technology use cases specific to your organization and its culture. As you work through the ethical tech decision-making framework, test out its relevance by applying it to specific technology use cases your organization regularly encounters and the way your people work, both together and individually.
  • Make sure it’s more than just compliance. Ethical tech awareness, recognition, and decision-making frameworks should be part of the organization’s cultural DNA—and not only a compliance or policy activity. It’s important that everyone in the organization recognizes potential technology-related ethical dilemmas.
  • Equip your people with the resources to respond. Teams and individuals should have the resources they need to make ethical decisions regarding technology. As with most issues bigger than any one person, when faced with the growing number of potential technology ethics challenges that can arise, workers are likely to wonder what they can do.

With technology evolving rapidly and unpredictably, approaches to ethical tech cannot beset it and forget it—they should be evaluated and updated as needed. Ethical tech depends on leaders making it a priority today, molding it into the culture of their organizations and developing ethical decision-making processes that are considered, thoughtful, and driven by technological experience and a diversity of input that can be adapted in the future.

To learn more about ethical technology and trust, click here.

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