Digital Skills and Digital Ethics

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Digital Skills

Digital transformation continues to be one of the most important issues facing boards, regardless of industry. Digital transformation has two distinct goals; to improve current operational effectiveness across all aspects of the organisation, and to drive greater revenue through embracing technological innovation being adopted by customers in both existing, and new products and markets.

Digital transformation is a continuous process and investment, not a single one-off project, and delivering change is incremental over time. Many businesses focus on implementing new technologies (“Products”) and redefining internal systems (“Processes”) – two crucial pillars of any successful change programme. But it is the cultural transformation that is often overlooked.

Digital transformation enables crucial differentiation versus competitors and ensures ongoing proposition relevance versus new players entering the market. But the success rate isn’t the same for all companies, as many lags behind or fail in their digital transformation efforts.

Cultural change encompasses everything from moving from a command and control organisational structure to a more agile organisation, through to the training and reskilling for employees to take advantage of digital opportunities. By acknowledging the importance of this cultural transformation, eliminating silos and establishing a cross-functional and collaborative approach, the potential of achieving success is greater. Businesses must create a working environment that’s comfortable with change, as without this, new products and processes will be rejected or poorly implemented.

Those who are running digital transformation or launching new digital ventures can face many challenges in understanding what kind of technology is right for their company, which digital skills employees will need to learn and how they can create and manage a culture of change to respond to customer needs more proactively.

To stay competitive in the ever-evolving digital world, workers must have the skills for today, and tomorrow, coupled with the right attitude to easily adapt in a fast-paced world.

Gen Z and millennials have an advantage of growing up in a digital world, easily navigating the latest devices from an early age. But, for older generations in particular, there is a strong demand for professional development and digital training to keep in line with the growth of technology – and with a culture of rapid change. In larger corporations, culture is often based on a highly hierarchical structure, so reskilling the whole company and building an open, transparent and agile culture will take a lot more time and require a willingness to change; especially with so much red tape in the decision- making processes.

As we move into the next phase of globalisation, many jobs are likely to be replaced by automation and other technologies to create greater operational efficiencies. Mitigating the human cost of this displacement will require a lot of investment from both the private sector and government to keep the costs low and provide enough opportunities across all industries.

The polarisation in the workforce caused by automation, especially between those who have a higher university education and those who began work after high school. Retraining the workforce to learn new digital skills, moving them into new roles and offering learning programs will be critical for companies considering automation.

To stay competitive in the ever-evolving digital world, workers must have the skills for today, and tomorrow, coupled with the right attitude to easily adapt in a fast-paced world. In 2018, a study suggested up to 80 per cent of employees felt they lacked skills for their current and future career paths. And while a large responsibility falls to HR and IT departments – it’s business leaders that must ensure the seamless transition towards a digitally-enabled workforce.

  • What processes are you setting up to assist with digital transformation?
  • How can you set the foundations of creating an open, agile, collaborative culture?
  • What digital skills are you going to prioritise as you look to reskill your workforce?

Digital Ethics

With so many new possibilities in this growing digital economy, the industry must prioritise ethical frameworks during all phases of product design and development. One of the biggest hurdles we face is learning how to connect empathy, humanity and morality with technology.

Moral principles are something we all try to live by, but as we move into the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, how do we rightly construct a set of rules for digital ethics? Now, although this doesn’t directly invade our privacy, it is paramount in maintaining national security. But when links can be formed between information and identity formation, for example using data on an individual’s spending habits to build a digital profile – it should raise some moral questions.

Eight out of ten of the most surveilled cities are in China, and although the key motive is to disincentivise bad public behaviour and create a safer society, many argue such use of technology is suppressive and dystopian. The lack of control is the key issue – what are the boundaries we must set to create a fair and safe environment, not one built on fear and penalties?

‘Dark advertisement’ is another digital ethics area worth discussion. It’s used to target or discriminate against groups of people based on race, religion or gender. If used correctly, these targeted ads can be positive, helping users receive relevant ads based on their spending behaviour. The alternative abuses the opportunity to target a specific group of people, with an intention to mislead or manipulate them.

Digital ethics extends across many areas. One that’s gaining popularity is machine learning bias. Recently, Google’s AI algorithm meant to monitor and prevent hate speech on social media has been discovered to be biased against African-American.

If the machine learning algorithms are based on software developers’ own biases and faults, how can we hope to achieve artificial intelligence that’s truly ethical? Through its vulnerability to bias, discrimination, denial of accountability and social isolation, machine learning and artificial intelligence must follow a vigorous interrogation against the ethical standards – have a set of governance processes in place to unlock accountability, and be subjected to continued evaluation and iteration.

One of the biggest hurdles we face is learning how to connect empathy, humanity and morality with technology.

Should dark patterns in design be penalised, given that apps and websites are often designed to exploit psychological triggers and human’s addictive tendencies? Should sentient machines have rights? And should facial recognition technologies be able to operate without consent?

The industry must decide on the ethical considerations that should be put in place to protect consumers when introducing new technologies. Who and how will we govern and define a framework that we can all agree on, is something to think about.

Challenge yourself to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a room for an ethics role to be created within your organisation?
  • How can you, as a business leader, ensure your processes and technological solutions are ethically designed?

Conclusion

Our key priority should be building a digital ecosystem that promotes positive relationships with technology, is ethically considerate, protects user data, and most importantly, cares about its users. Creating digital products focused solely on meeting internal business metrics to the detriment of our users is no longer an option. We have a moral obligation to deliver products that have users, and their wellbeing, at their core.

As digital technology evolves, the discussion around these themes will continue to grow – and every one of us, whether designers, developers, business leaders, innovators or policymakers, has a role to play in shaping a positive, empathetic digital world that we will all want to be part of.

Today, the digital monopolies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent, and others) will have the biggest influence on the evolution of these trends, so keep an eye on developer conferences and product releases which will give an idea of their trajectories over the next few years.

Further research, user testing and investment will be required to fully comprehend the long-term ramifications and potential these trends will have on shaping better digital technology frameworks. But the revolution has already started, and the industry has to act to evolve it further. Brands that proactively adopt these principles early on will win the customers over – and help deliver a new, better way of ‘doing digital’ – with customers at the heart of the entire process.

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