Business: Use technology responsibly or risk exacerbating society's divides

Andrew Brem
The future of digital has to have a human face; if we lose sight of people, we will all be the poorer for it (Source: Getty)

Some people might think that Responsible Business is a contradiction in terms; that this week’s Business in the Community Responsible Business Week will leave companies free to act as selfishly as possible on the other 358 days of the year.

I certainly don’t believe that’s how it works. And yet we are living in a time when trust in institutions is under great strain. Economic, social and political divisions are growing. If we don’t think carefully about the role new technologies can play in bridging those divides, we run the risk they will widen them.

Throughout history, technological revolutions – from the horse stirrup to the spinning jenny – have consistently changed the world. While this disruption has generated enormous progress, it has also created a different legacy: those people left behind.

Read more: New technology will bring a roaring tornado of positive change: Or will it?

Similarly, the staggering power of the information age has great potential, for both good and bad. So how organisations make use of technology – what they use it for and, more importantly, who will be able to benefit from it – will be a crucial factor in determining how far the potential benefits of the digital revolution reach.

From this week, with the launch of Business in the Community’s digital priorities for responsible business, UK companies have a set of guidelines that will allow them to clarify exactly how they will use technology. Companies are called upon to “protect, support and empower customers” and to “deliver innovative products and services that serve society”. By focusing on inclusive benefits for all of us, the digital priorities might contribute to closing the trust gap too.

No organisation will survive if it does not have an eye for the long term, understanding the importance of acting responsibly as part of a sustainable future. And so the future of digital has to have a human face; if we lose sight of people, we will all be the poorer for it.

At Aviva, as we focus on our strategy of being digital first, we recognise that digital is more than a tool. It’s a mind-set, a way of thinking and working which offers great opportunities for business to innovate and grow, but one that will only deliver on that opportunity if it works for our customers and our communities more broadly too.

Read more: Don’t fear robots taking your job – worry about them cutting your wages

As part of Business in the Community’s Connected Business Event, we recently welcomed a number of companies to our Digital Garage in Hoxton, where we are developing new products and services that meet people’s needs for a digital age.

We hosted a financial services hackathon to develop a new pensions saving dashboard. It will help people in the UK to see all their pension pots in one place online, to enable savers to take control of their retirement. We have worked on voice-activated technology, through devices such as Amazon’s Echo, to help de-mystify the jargon that often swirls around financial services, making services more accessible. We heard from one customer who said what a “hugely positive impact” this service had for his visually-impaired mother.

Other companies are taking similar steps to ensure that digital innovation acts to the benefit of consumers and the wider public.

This week is a recognition that no single sector or industry will be able to craft on their own the future we all wish to see. Just as digital provides an unprecedented opportunity for information exchange and collaboration, it really is the responsibility of all of us to work together to create a digital future that works for everyone.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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