Tech-clash: when ‘value’ and ‘values’ collide

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Accenture research identifies the rising tension between customers and business, exacerbated by technology

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10 July 2020 | 0

Tension between consumer expectations, the potential of technology, and business ambitions is leading to a clash that is impacting businesses, according to new research from Accenture.

In its twentieth Technology Vision report, where it surveyed more than 6,000 it executives worldwide, with more than 100 in Ireland, Accenture said for organisations to compete and succeed in today’s environment where “digital is everywhere”, they need a new focus on balancing “value” with “values”, aligning the drive to create business value with their customers’ and employees’ values and expectations.

The research found that even though people are embedding technology into their lives more than ever before, organisations’ attempts to meet their needs and expectations can and do fall short. The pandemic, Accenture reports, has amplified the pace of innovation to historic levels and a new mindset and approach is required to succeed.

 

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“Dazzled by the promise of technology,” said David Kirwan, head of technology, Accenture Ireland, “many organisations created digital products and services just because they could, without fully considering the human, organisational and societal consequences. While some have referred to today’s environment as a “tech-lash,” or backlash against technology, the report highlights that this term fails to acknowledge the extent to which society is using and benefitting from technology. Rather, it’s a tech-clash – a clash between business and technology models that are incongruous at odds with people’s needs and expectations. The potential for a tech-clash has never been greater. It is exacerbated by the pandemic with people relying on technology more than ever before to connect, work and live.”

“Today, we’re seeing a tech-clash caused by the tension between consumer expectations, the potential of technology, and business ambitions — and are now at an important leadership inflection point. COVID-19 is the greatest challenge the world has faced in decades and has transformed people’s lives at unprecedented scale, impacted every industry and co-opted enterprises’ ambitions for growth and innovation. Companies need to innovate, invent and redefine more quickly than ever before,” said Kirwan.

Today, we’re seeing a tech-clash caused by the tension between consumer expectations, the potential of technology, and business ambitions,” David Kirwan, Accenture Ireland
(Image: Accenture)

The research found that the vast majority (83%) of Irish business leaders acknowledge that technology has become an inextricable part of the human experience.

An addition to the research this year is a survey of more than 2,000 consumers globally, which found that nearly three quarters (70%) expect their relationship with technology to be more, or significantly, more prominent over the next three years.

The report says the continuation of existing models not only risks irritating customers or disengaging employees, but could permanently limit potential for future innovation and growth.

Key trends

The Technology Vision 2020 report identifies five key trends that companies must address over the next three years to defuse tech-clash, meet people’s evolving needs, and realise new forms of business value that will be driven in part by stronger, more trusting relationships with stakeholders.

The first is referred to as the “I” in Experience. Three quarters of Irish business and IT executives believe that competing successfully in the new decade requires organisations to elevate their relationships with customers as partners.  

“Organisations will need to design personalised experiences that amplify an individual’s agency and choice. This turns passive audiences into active participants by transforming one-way experiences — which can leave people feeling out of control and out of the loop — into true collaborations.”

The report asserts that this remains true in a post-pandemic world, though with a caveat: COVID-19 has transformed the role and importance of digital experiences in people’s lives, therefore enterprises should update their personalisation strategies to keep pace.

Secondly, the report says that just over a third (34%) of Irish organisations report using inclusive design or human-centric design principles to support human-machine collaboration.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) should bean additive contributor to how people perform their work, rather than a backstop for automation. As AI capabilities grow, enterprises must rethink the work they do to make AI a generative part of the process, with trust and transparency at its core.

“In today’s environment, the need for AI in the short-term is readily apparent,” the report argues. “With enormous challenges facing companies and the world at large, we need AI to help get work done, beyond automation needs. Long term, COVID-19 will let us see human-AI collaboration at its best, potentially easing people’s concerns about the technology.”

Smart things

The third trend is around the dilemma of smart things. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Irish executives report their organisation’s connected products and services will have more, or significantly more, updates over the next three years.

“Assumptions about who owns a product are being challenged in a world entering a state of ‘forever beta,’” the report states. “As enterprises seek to introduce a new generation of products driven by digital experiences, addressing this new reality will be critical to success. Now the pandemic is increasing our need for these smart and updateable products, which have great public health potential. The beta burden isn’t gone, but fighting the pandemic is temporarily taking precedence.”

In the fourth trend, Irish executives are split in their views of how their employees will embrace robotics, the report finds, with half saying their employees will be challenged to figure out how to work with robots, while the balance believe employees will easily figure them out.

“Robotics are no longer contained to the warehouse or factory floor. Now, as more people stay home, and distancing becomes the new normal, robots are moving faster than we could have expected by taking on new responsibilities during the pandemic. They are critical to ‘contact-less’ solutions and governments. With 5G poised to rapidly accelerate this fast-growing trend, every enterprise must re-think its future through the lens of robotics.”

Finally, innovation, as always, is a central concern. More than two thirds (67%) of Irish executives believe the stakes for innovation have never been higher, thus getting it right will require new ways of innovating with ecosystem partners and third-party organisations.

“Enterprises have access to an unprecedented amount of disruptive technology,” the report asserts, such as distributed ledgers, AI, extended reality and quantum computing. “To manage it all, and evolve at the speed demanded by the market today, organisations will need to establish their own unique innovation DNA.”

“The pandemic has shifted the balance, accelerating these technologies beyond previous expectations” said the report. “Whether they are rolling out technology to keep the world running or working to prevent industry collapse, the partnerships, products, and services that enterprises are building today have the potential to last long after the crisis, defining business and technology for years to come. Long term, the rules around innovation will never be the same – businesses need to be more flexible and innovative than ever.”

Unifying thread

Speaking to TechCentral.ie, Accenture’s Kirwan said there was one unifying thread through the various issues that can help organisations avoid the tech-lash is transparency.

“Customers are not happy with outcomes being created by a black box without gaining some understanding of how these decisions are being made, and therefore some ability to influence these decisions. Customers are growing increasingly hungry for more input on how their data is used, and many businesses lack the mechanisms needed to provide that engagement,” he said.

Kirwan highlighted examples of companies that were innovating to provide means by which consumers can control their data, determining who gets access to what and in what manner, but appropriate to the service being provided, and with the ability to revoke access or delete at will.

For those organisations that find themselves in the unenviable position of a tech-clash, Kirwan said the true path to resolving it rests in the domain of the enterprise, driven through what products and services organisations they build and how they offer them to customers, employees and ecosystem partners.

“Companies should ask themselves how they can provide greater transparency and increase the customer agency, giving the customer greater influence over the outcome,” said Kirwan.

A good example, he said, is a project called Counterfactual Explanation, run in Accenture’s flagship R&D and Global Innovation Centre, in Dublin, The Dock.

“Counterfactual explanations provide the minimal changes required on the input data in order to obtain a different result. For example, a counterfactual explanation for a rejected loan application would tell the user what changes they would have to make to the “inputs” of the application – like their income, assets, and so on, in order to have the application approved.”

This approach explains why an algorithm has made a particular decision, Kirwan explained, by showing one or multiple ways in which the input data could be modified to obtain an alternate decision.

“Counterfactual explanations guarantee that any recommended changes to the input data are the smallest possible changes needed to reach a different decision. So, it gives the user transparency as to how a decision was arrived at, but also what they need to change in order to get a different outcome.”

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