How Smart Companies are preparing for Smart Technologies

Mick Slattery, President, North America, Avanade
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Mick Slattery, President, North America, Avanade

In today’s hyper-connected world, an explosion of data is combining with smart technologies – defined as technologies that allow computers or machines to do work or make decisions traditionally done by humans – to radically change the way we work. There is no doubt that smart technologies are permeating across organizations at a rapid pace. For example, Microsoft recently made headlines for its update to Cortana for Windows 10, which will soon be able to scan emails to provide users with reminders about tasks they may have forgotten, and will also be able to learn users’ daily scheduling habits and point out potential conflicts before they arise.

  ​We are on the precipice of an exciting era for the enterprise and employees alike, where technologies get smarter and potentially free us up 

More than ever, machines are capable of imitating human thinking and decision-making across a raft of workflows, which presents exciting opportunities for companies to drive highly personalized customer experiences, as well as unprecedented productivity, efficiency and innovation. Whereas others may see smart technologies as threatening, at Avanade, we only see opportunities. We help clients around the world innovate and deploy these technologies every day in their organizations—and we see our clients realizing results today as they evolve their digital workplaces. 

Take, for example, our work with a global electronics retailer based in Europe. Like other leading retailers, this company was looking to reimagine its customer journey and create a seamless offline/online experience for its customers across multiple channels. We’ve been working with them on developing a true omni-channel experience entirely powered by the Microsoft suite of enterprise applications and the Sitecore platform. The solution provides the retailer’s employees with a rich, flexible set of tools that enable them to access the right information at the right time, thus delivering a superior customer experience and significant value. 

As the above example demonstrates, and as we’re seeing with other clients around the world, smart technologies offer clear benefits to the enterprise, including the opportunity to increase revenues, improve the customer experience via deeper insights and increase employee satisfaction in today’s digital world. In fact, Avanade’s latest global researchof 500 business and IT leaders makes quite clear: the next wave of smart technologies, connected things and intelligent automation is already changing the digital workplace and benefiting the enterprise.

Smart tech is a smart investment

Just how substantial are these benefits? 63 percent of global business leaders have already made significant investments in smart technologies and are benefiting from higher revenues, improved customer experience and increased employee satisfaction. More specifically, business and IT leaders told Avanade that over the next five years, they anticipate that smart technologies will drive, on average, a 33 percent increase in revenues. And because today’s brightest employees want to work in a digital workplace, organizations also expect to gain an edge in the war for talent; an overwhelming majority (92 percent) believe that it will be easier for their organizations to attract and retain top talent as they increase their reliance on smart technologies in the workplace.

In order to realize these benefits, however, companies must re-think how, when and what type of work gets done. The results showed that a majority of organizations are adapting to smart technologies by increasing their focus on retraining current employees, creating new roles and reorganizing their structure. You absolutely have to be ‘digital on the inside’ to be ‘digital on the outside’. Organizations will also be looking to hire more skilled workers to make more complex decisions. In-demand skills will include problem-solving, data analysis, critical thinking and collaboration.

Digital ethics a rising concern

In addition to these fundamental changes to the workplace, smart technologies are also ushering in a new set of ethical challenges for business leaders. I took a business ethics course years ago, as part of my college degree, and my biggest takeaway was “do right by the customer.” While that advice still holds true, today it’s much more about not doing what’s wrong for the customer. Confused? Consider the following scenarios: Would you be comfortable with your auto insurance provider using digital technology to alert the police when you have an accident? Or your work calendar rescheduling your next meeting because you are delayed? Smart technologies enable a degree of automation and insights that were not possible just a few short years ago, but they can create moral and human dilemmas for those who work with them.

To address these dilemmas, humans – not machines – will need to apply compassion, empathy and sheer common sense when developing a digital ethics framework that makes sense for their organizations. They should also remember that just because they can do something, that doesn’t mean they should. The good news? Enterprises are increasingly making digital ethics issue a priority, with Avanade’s research showing that 84 percent of global business and IT leaders are likely to invest in digital ethics in the next five years.

As companies begin to prioritize addressing ethical issues that may arise from the use of smart technologies in the workplace, they should consider the “three C’s” for establishing a digital ethics framework:

• Be clear –Let your employees know how you expect them to treat sensitive customer data, and let your customers know how their information will be used.
• Be concise – Make sure your policies are succinct and easy to understand. Eliminate unnecessary jargon.
• Be consistent – Establishing a digital ethics framework can help create new, positive behavioral norms. Adhering to policy leads to trust.

As with every milestone businesses reach in the digital journey, each comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. While the adoption of smart technologies and the predictions of our workforce changing may seem threatening to some, the reality is that humans are and always will be necessary to make a truly digital workplace successful. We are on the precipice of an exciting era for the enterprise and employees alike, where technologies get smarter and potentially free us up to work on more strategic initiatives that drive value, revenues and job satisfaction.