Bronwyn van der Merwe: Ignore social impacts at your peril

"Organisations will be confronted with the question: what can and should people continue to do that cannot be ...
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"Organisations will be confronted with the question: what can and should people continue to do that cannot be automated?" Bronwyn van der Merwe says.

OPINION: Embrace social experience, as well as consumer and employee experience, and your organisation will be better prepared and ready for the digital age.

There is no doubt that companies are becoming more focused on the customer, enhancing existing products and services or delivering new ones that provide great value in our lives by harnessing digital technologies.

Yet there is a catch. As businesses seek to give customers what they want, using technology, this often comes with unintended social consequences.

These unintended impacts were highlighted as a key trend for the year ahead in the Fjord Trends 2017 report – the culmination of months of research, and debate, bringing together the collective experience of more than 800 global designers.

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At Fjord, which is part of Accenture Interactive, we believe that organisations are not thinking hard enough about the implications of the business decisions they make and their impact – not just on consumer or employee experience, but on society as a whole.

Everything that is created requires something else to be changed, destroyed or depleted. And you can see the ramifications everywhere.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council is reviewing the way it processes water bottling applications following public pressure around the operation of Chinese-based company Miracle Water.

Last year Miracle Water was selling clean Hawke's Bay water (drawn from aquifers) to Asia, while thousands of people in Hawke's Bay town Havelock North fell ill from contaminated water.

Chinese media and consumers picked up on the story, placing New Zealand's water bottling industry at risk.

Further afield, officials and civic leaders in the United States called for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the short-term property industry in light of Airbnb's alleged negative impact on affordable housing.

By July last year, Airbnb had booked 100 million guest nights and become a Silicon Valley darling in the process. Yet there is a growth in hosts who are companies or full-landlords renting out multiple residencies year round – impacting the local housing market.

Even Pokemon Go was not without unintended consequences when armed robbers used it to lure players into a trap in Missouri.

Miracle Water in Hastings, takes water from the Heretaunga Plains aquifer and exports it to Asia.
MARTY SHARPE/ FAIRFAX NZ

Miracle Water in Hastings, takes water from the Heretaunga Plains aquifer and exports it to Asia.

The diminishing of our skills as we become increasingly reliant on technology is another unintended consequence. That applies to an ever-widening variety of jobs, from pilots to cruise ship crews and operators of nuclear power plants.

In 2017, we believe consumers and the media will challenge organisations that impact on their lives even more, not less.

The New Zealand Government is moving towards banning products containing microbeads, reflecting changes internationally, and retailers are expected to phase out these products in a 12 to 18 month transition.

Expect more initiatives such as the research centre launched by Cambridge University to explore opportunities and challenges posed to humanity by the development of artificial intelligence.

The US Treasury Department's Office will launch an office dedicated to responsible innovation and implement a formal framework to improve its ability to identify, understand and respond to financial innovation affecting the US federal banking system.

This is a model many other government departments around the world will surely follow.

Even Pokemon Go was not without unintended consequences when armed robbers used it to lure players into a trap in Missouri.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Even Pokemon Go was not without unintended consequences when armed robbers used it to lure players into a trap in Missouri.

Pressure will grow from individuals, too, with a rise in activism, amidst growing consumer awareness and concern about corporate ethics and sustainability.

Digital ethics will be forced up corporate and legislative agendas, in New Zealand and overseas.

Another trend highlighted in the report was the acceleration of the development of artificial intelligence as it becomes an established part of new products and services.

Organisations will be confronted with the question: what can and should people continue to do that cannot be automated?

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They must find ways to preserve and promote the dignity of work and ensure the value of human beings sits at the heart of their digital services.

Once, people learned in school, on apprenticeships or at university. Now, that's no longer enough; continuous learning and development is critical to stay relevant in a world that's constantly changing.

The best employers will look for employees hungry to learn and, vice versa, the best employees look for routes to continual learning and skills development.

Organisations readily consider customer experience and employee experience. Now they must address social impacts too.

They must question what impact their actions will have on society or the environment, where there will be hidden costs, and where they are most likely to be exposed.

This is not an easy process to go through, but it's easy to ignore, and then the generations that follow us will suffer the ramifications.

- Bronwyn van der Merwe is Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive) group director for New Zealand and Australia.

 - Stuff

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