By Duncait Tait
Companies in all industries and across all regions are feeling the impact of enormous transformation and change. Pressure is mounting, as businesses compete against new disruptors entering the market, and look to ensure they stay ahead of the curve when it comes to established competitors. In the face of drastic transformation and increasing competition, organisations are more reliant than ever on new technology to deliver business benefits and improved outcomes; you only have to look at the expectations of business leaders about the potential of emerging technologies including AI, machine learning, quantum computing and 5G, in everything from healthcare to financial services, and even the public sector.
For business leaders, the focus has very much been on understanding how they can best work with technology partners and use innovative solutions to create business value, keep ahead of competitors and take the company into the future. But the ones that are truly set to succeed are those that are able to see past the hype of fast-paced technological change, and understand that having a positive impact means more than improving a company’s bottom line; it also means improving the world around them and delivering meaningful change for wider society.
The digitisation of business processes is no longer optional. Not only is innovative technology the linchpin of surviving and performing effectively against the competition, it is also the answer to how we can deliver the future of sustainable food and agriculture processes, better healthcare and more economic inclusion. Technology must be the foundation upon which we build a safer, more prosperous and sustainable world; a human-centric world, where people and society as a whole are at the heart of all innovations.
Transformation needs to go beyond technology itself
When we talk about digital transformation, technology is obviously a key part of this, but it also goes beyond software and hardware. People are the key differentiator to the success or failure of any transformation project. In fact, our recent global survey of almost 2,000 global c-suite executives found that it takes more than technology to achieve your business objective.
Looking at the relationship between organisations and their employees, customers and wider society, it was fascinating to see the extent to which each group is vital to business success and the role played by culture, creativity and digital technology. While the majority of business leaders (60%) pointed to employees as their main responsibility, customers followed closely at 55% and wider society the third priority (37%). But the biggest takeaway from the survey was the struggle that leaders are facing when it comes to balancing the needs of these three groups.
Take wider society as an example. Not even a third of people said they prioritise this group, yet almost three-quarters (74%) admitted that having a positive impact on society is critical in order to be successful as a business. The strain of balancing these conflicting priorities is undoubtedly weighing on the minds of many C-suite executives, which is why it makes sense that 80% of leaders also said that the ability to change and remain agile was vital to future success. People clearly recognise that current working practices will not see them thrive in the future, especially considering the current pace of change and the lack of consumer trust felt around the world. In fact, 63% of leaders believe that society has become more critical of the business community in the past three years.
Transforming your approach from business first to people first
The need to make a positive social impact hit close to home for many leaders, with 76% acknowledging that it’s their personal responsibility to ensure their organisation does this. In fact, it’s something that is demanded of the whole business community, with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) giving us all a set of common goals. For example, by using technologies like AI, IoT and cloud to establish sustainable food and agriculture processes, improve medical care, or to aid collaboration within business.
While business leaders may have recognised the need to make a positive difference to society, and the benefits of a robust and meaningful CSR programme is understood almost across the board, very little is being done on a practical level to implement CSR initiatives. The survey showed that 32% of organisations have seen no change in their contribution to society over the past three years, while one-in-10 believe that their ability to have a positive social impact has only worsened.
The reality is that having a positive impact on society shouldn’t be viewed as separate to other stakeholders, or indeed the overall business. Each group is intrinsically linked, and people – whether they are potential employees, future customers, or your average citizen – will be attracted to organisations that have a clear social vision. Delivering positive change means more than paying lip service to initiatives and programmes that can build a more socially-responsible business; organisations must always ensure that actions follow words.
Whatever your business, and whoever your customers might be, at the end of the day we are all part of wider society. For a company to succeed, the research showed that it must be driven by knowledge, creativity and innovation; and it must have technology and digital at the core of its transformation process. But more than anything, it must put people at the heart of everything it does.