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20 November 2018 | By Nathan Brown Feature

#CBI2018: How to embrace next generation technology

Examples from both the private and the public sector at the CBI Annual Conference highlighted the business benefits of harnessing new technology

The adage most commonly tied to digital disruption can often seem a cuttingly simple one for business – “evolve or die”. Recent headlines would suggest that sectors from retail to construction, automotive and manufacturing have found this to be true.

While no one would argue that challenges do not exist, the resounding message from the penultimate panel session at the CBI’s Annual Conference is that the opportunities presented by the next generation of technology are massive. But to harness them requires an equally decisive shift in mindset.

As Emma McGuigan, Group Technology Officer at Accenture, put to the audience, for digital innovation to truly benefit the next generation of employers and employees, businesses will need to transform “the way we lead, the way we educate and the way we reward”.

Here are the key takeaways from the session:

Bring your people with you – A recent study by Accenture found that, contrary to popular perception, 60 percent of those surveyed were not scared of technology or automation but rather saw it as an opportunity to deliver a better service for customers and to be more productive. Gunnar Peters, Head of Telematics at Admiral Car Insurance, noted that technology had in fact allowed for a greater quality of human interaction between its staff and customers.

However, what became clear from the discussions is that business can not shy away from the issues these technological changes will bring. Businesses will bear the responsibility of upskilling its workforce and preparing it for the future, demonstrating to its employees how this new technology will help to elevate them and create cultures where innovation can thrive.

Working in collaboration – This will be vital. Businesses will need to be able to better identify those technological areas they find challenging and where other firms can provide real value. Speaking on the partnership between Admiral Insurance and Vodafone, Gunnar Peters and Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director for Vodafone, said that they built trust between them through open discussion about company strategy and identifying long-term mutual goals that extended beyond short- term profits.

Privacy v ProgressA recent CBI study found that almost nine out of ten people say businesses that protect their data will win their custom. This is where consumer loyalty will be built and lost. There is always likely to be a trade-off between privacy and progress and everyone will be aware of recent high-profile examples of the misuse of public data. In this environment it is imperative that businesses make clear the benefit to consumers in sharing their data.

Dina Barulfan, Deputy Director-General of the Israeli city of Ashdod, hired company Zencity to help measure and understand how local services are received and what inhabitants want through digital analytics. She said that those using data must always act “in good faith” and put in place a process to ensure that certain ethical lines are not crossed. Get this right, and, as ZenCity Chief Executive Eyal Feder highlighted, organisations can achieve a more insightful and nuanced relationship with those they engage with.

Don’t be afraid to fail – Am I investing the right way? Is this the right technology for me? How will the senior board react? These are constant questions for companies facing digital transformation. But as Emma Mcguigan reliably informed the audience, it took Edison 1,000 attempts to master the lightbulb.

Businesses must learn lessons from their own failure as well as the missteps of others from a variety of sectors. If the next generation of technology is to be successfully embedded in British business than, strange as it may seem, failure must be an option.

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