Josh Matthews

Technologies in combination will achieve better outcomes for society

COVID-19 has re-contextualised and accelerated digital transformation initiatives for the majority of businesses. The pandemic has also redefined priorities, barriers, and mindsets within whatever that pre-pandemic definition of transformation was. Businesses are finally recognising digital transformation as a “have-to-have,” not a “nice-to-have.” Businesses are investing heavily in emerging technologies as they become essential for survival. But leaders realise more distinct business value through the combined power of emerging technologies being aligned towards achieving outcomes—versus the less fortunate that remain trapped by “piecemeal” implementations.

Whenever technology is discussed at a political level, it’s often centered around individual technologies: AI and ethics, “automation taking jobs”, 5G security, and so on… But this emerging business mindset for using technologies in combination to achieve outcomes must also be a part of the political thought process and policy development. Too often, politics is judged on actions—so often token actions—that are less about achieving outcomes and more about doing something that sounds innovative. It doesn’t have to be either-or: you can pioneer technology combinations designed to achieve outcomes for groups or the whole of society and still appear active in the short term—but also having a vision for the long term.

A social care example: Digital technologies are being embraced to improve both the patient and the care worker experience.

Digital, data, and device innovations have the potential to cut overhead costs while simultaneously improving the quality of both care patients’ and workers’ lives. Voice recognition is detecting the early signs of depression and analysing breathlessness as the early signs of heart disease. Open Bionics manufactures prosthetics for children and personalises them through an intellectual property contract with Disney. Social care providers can also benefit. Digital communication prompts patients to take medication. Care workers, doctors, and patients better-circulate information; scheduling tools and platforms allow providers and authorities to better-allocate resources. But, despite the undeniable potential, there are barriers to the widespread rollout of innovation.

To do this right, social care providers in the public and private sectors worldwide must adopt a “user-centric” approach to the design, testing, and rollout of innovation. They must build ecosystems that incorporate all stakeholders—critically the end-users: patients and care workers.

Digital transformation has new context and meaning; businesses are accelerating and policymakers have the chance to achieve real change by following their example

The intersection of emerging technologies is where businesses are realising greater value and achieving their goals. Technology and service providers are matching this by developing “integrated platforms” (search Accenture SynOps, Wipro HOLMES, or Genpact Cora, if of interest—or look at any company investing heavily in cloud computing platforms like IBM, Infosys, or Accenture, as well as the “hyperscale” cloud companies like AWS, Google, and Microsoft Azure). All these firms are pushing combined technology propositions through their ever-expanding ecosystems, acquisitions, or product development.

The more business-critical the challenge and the more complex the problem, the more integrated technology initiatives must become; efforts to solve societal challenges must follow suit.

It’s increasingly obvious that piecemeal approaches to technology and standalone pilot projects do not deliver the value and scalability that businesses need. The pandemic has given new context to what digital and transformation mean. We see it in the actions and cultures of businesses being forced to change in response to COVID-19. For most businesses, cost savings and efficiency remain vital as we recover from the pandemic—but they are also realising simultaneous improvements to customer, employee, and partner experiences as they transform. Employees’ mindsets are changing, and customers are more willing to adopt technology—demanding it in most cases—as are ecosystem partners. Automation (software automation, that is) is a prime example: many businesses have historically led their digital transformation projects with automation (Robotic Process Automation [RPA], for example) as a baseline step into digital transformation before adding combinations of analytics, AI, and other technologies.

Cloud has been through a decade of being the “cost-take-out” option for IT departments—reducing infrastructure footprints and thinning out datacenter estates. But increasingly, cloud is becoming about more effective data use and unleashing AI’s and other technologies’ potential to achieve outcomes through accessible, clean, and usable data that can be used to build quality algorithms.

At risk of oversimplification—but also in the aim of sparking a broader conversation about technology’s potential to achieve policymaking goals for society—a good start is embracing the idea that individual technologies very rarely produce any meaningful benefits. Used strategically in combination, in an effort to achieve outcomes for the people you represent as a politician or civil servant, you’ll be able to trigger the start of a journey to really improving people’s lives.

Josh Matthews is Chair of ALDES (the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists), a Cambridge City Councillor and Climate Change Spokesperson, and an analyst at HFS Research.