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The 10 Commandments for CXOs in 2021


I Thou shalt wholeheartedly adopt Digital Transformation

REASON It’s good for business and consumers too. While adopting digital allows for an omni-channel reach, consumers also benefit with increased response time and speedier redressal of complaints, if any.
The impact of digital disruption was already being felt across every industry over the last decade. Customers and employees have been demanding greater mobility and easier and more transparent access to information of all kinds. Internal operations are being transformed as companies look to digitize and automate everything–the factory, the supply chain, even marketing and sales. Those companies that learnt these lessons well have moved from the stage of being digitally disrupted to being digitally transformed. The others have simply gone belly up.
The fact remains that COVID-19 has only fast-tracked the pace of digital transformation. Technologies such as cloud computing, collaboration tools, supercomputers, artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, robotic process automation (RPA), robotics, drones, 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, thermal imaging and 5G are being, and will continue to be, used to effectively complement the traditional methods of increased hygiene, quarantines and enforced global travel bans.

II Thou shalt not covet thy users’ data

REASON While regulators will continue to devise policies that will hopefully strike a balance between over-reach and protecting security and privacy of the data, companies must shoulder this heavy responsibility too. Tech companies, especially, have humongous amounts of user data that they can use to manipulate buying patterns. Data collection will continually raise concerns over security and privacy. Legal frameworks can help to guide issues like data collection, but companies need to continually monitor their in-house systems in a bid to protect consumer data privacy.

III Thou shalt embrace Ethics when employing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies

REASON As we continue to grapple with the pandemic and virus mutations, airlines and airports will want to limit passengers’ contact with high-touch surfaces and exposure to airport staffers. Contactless technologies and invasive health screenings are becoming mandatory at airports. Moreover, there are several security companies already trying to streamline and standardize the health-screening process. The use of biometrics is likely to extend beyond airport security. Face scans may also be used along with contactless payments at airport shops to monitor passenger behavior.
Existing forms of screening can also discriminate and impact passengers of colour, ethnicity and races. Employers can exclude certain sections of people for similar reasons. Moreover, there have been numerous instances that have revealed the bias AI algorithms.
In this context, Explainable AI and federated learning are some of the emerging approaches to train AI with sensitive user data while simultaneously protecting privacy. Explainable AI, for instance, implies that the AI-powered algorithms must explain how they arrived at a particular decision. Companies must go the extra mile to take care  of this issue.

IV Thou shalt protect your clients’ data from hackers

REASON The annual global cost of cyber crime is pegged at around $945 billion– over 1% of the current global GDP, according to a new CSIS-McAfee report. This is a significant rise from the 2018 estimate of $600 billion. AI will also help cyber criminals stay a step ahead in the cyber crime race even as companies use AI to fight hackers. Damage to companies includes downtime, a hit on the brand’s reputation and reduced efficiency. But most companies are ill-prepared to both prevent and respond to a cyber incident. The result: Personal consumer data gets compromised, and users suffer with little or no recourse to any compensation. Thus, these users may lose trust in the brand and perhaps never return.

V Thou shalt allow employees to work from home too and offer a Work-Life balance

REASON A June 2 survey by Global Workplace Analytics revealed that76% of global office workers and 82% of U.S. office workers wanted to continue to work from home (WFH), at least weekly, when the pandemic is over. WFH is here to stay, albeit with tweaks that account for welcoming and mentoring new interns in the workforce; not denying key promotions even to those who work with flexible hours, and so on. While most big companies have policies to account for these tweaks, smaller ones will have to usher in this New Normal of working with an open mind. This will, perhaps, be the only way to retain the workforce going forward.

VI Thou shalt embrace and respect gender diversity in the workforce, and have more women board members

REASON A July 20 article published by J. Clement, a research analyst at Statista, noted that most employees in selected tech companies were male as of 2019. Biotech company 23andMe was ranked first with 51% female employees–the only company on the list to feature a majority female workforce. Airbnb was ranked second with 48.94% female employees while Intel, Cisco, and Nvidia had less than 30% female employees each. According to McKinsey & Co., a lack of gender diversity poses a major opportunity cost, both for individual tech companies and the entire sector. The consultancy firm notes that diverse teams are typically more creative and innovative and help in generating more profit.

VII Thou shalt embrace and respect racial and ethnic diversity too in the workforce

REASON Six years after their first diversity reports, Alphabet, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter have seen low single-digit increases in their percentage of Black employees, according to a CNBC analysis of the annual disclosures. As per this June report, Facebook’s Black workforce grew the least (from 3% to 3.8% of the total workforce) in the past five years. Other companies, as the report indicates, have not made much progress either. As has been pointed out consistently, companies need to work harder to hire historically underrepresented groups in tech.

VIIIThou shalt embrace new technologies to solve business problems

REASON Technologies are tools to solve business issues. Treating them as end in themselves and bandying about these technologies to attract attention may backfire. Many startups, for instance, talk about being AI companies. Are venture capitalists (VCs) buying this story anymore? Not really. VCs need to know what business problems are being solved. Users want to know if they can get a speedier response–if AI, IoT or Blockchain can help in this task, it would mean a better ROI for companies. The idea is not to miss the wood for the trees, failing which we have technology solutions looking out for business problems rather than the other way round.

IX Thou shalt use tech for social good

REASON While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is good for society at large, it also is a good business strategy in today’s age. Consumers today are willing to pay more for goods produced by companies that are socially responsible in terms of not employing child labour, protecting the climate, saving energy costs, and helping underserved communities. Simply put, it’s a good New Year Resolution too.

X Thou shalt not silence your critics

REASON Companies have a lot of money, resources, and power at their disposal. Hence, companies typically use their might to silence the voices of whistleblowers and critics of their products and services. While it’s reasonable to expect that companies will be selective when taking cognizance of remarks by critics who are unhappy with its policies, the leadership should proactively step in when matters go viral. We all are wise enough to know that ‘where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire’.

By Authority of:
Your clients; Consumers of your products / services; Your shareholders

 (Leslie D’Monte is Publishing Director, Trivone)

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