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Digital Ethics: The role of the CIO in balancing the risks and rewards of digital innovation

Kevin Wo, Senior Vice President and General Manager ASEAN, Avanade | Jan. 19, 2016
Ideally, CIOs today need to develop a framework that can define not only how a company innovates and does business with its customers, but also how employee information is used and managed.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

From internet banking to purchasing shoes or tickets online, there is a trust equation between the modern consumer and the digital businesses they interact with. The emergence of digital technologies and the Internet of Things is enabling organisations to collect, store and analyse unprecedented amounts of customer data.

However, even with all of automation and insights that digital enables, there is still the expectation among consumers that their personal information will be safeguarded and used appropriately. For example, I may be comfortable with my car insurance provider tracking my driving habits and rewarding me as a safe driver, but would I feel comfortable with them automatically calling the police if I have an accident? Or arranging a tow truck? Or moving the next meeting in my calendar because I'm delayed? Many of us would consider it a breach of ethics for our insurance company to use their access to data to take these actions without our prior consent, even if digital technologies make it possible to do so. Gartner predicts that by 2016, 30 percent of businesses will have begun directly or indirectly monetising information assets via bartering or selling them outright.

To maintain the trust of customers, it is no longer adequate for organisations to fulfil compliance and security obligations; they must move towards implementing a digital ethics framework. Ideally, CIOs need to develop a framework that can define not only how a company innovates and does business with its customers, but also how employee information is used and managed.

What is digital ethics?

In our hyper-connected world, an explosion of data is combining with pattern recognition, machine learning, smart algorithms, and other intelligent software to underpin a new level of cognitive computing. More than ever, machines are capable of imitating human thinking and decision-making across a raft of workflows, which presents exciting opportunities for companies to drive highly personalized customer experiences, as well as unprecedented productivity, efficiency, and innovation. However, along with the benefits of this increased automation comes a greater risk for ethics to be compromised and human trust to be broken.

According to Gartner, digital ethics is the system of values and principles a company may embrace when conducting digital interactions between businesses, people and things. Digital ethics sits at the nexus of what is legally required; what can be made possible by digital technology; and what is morally desirable.  

As digital ethics is not mandated by law, it is largely up to each individual organisation to set its own innovation parameters and define how its customer and employee data will be used.


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