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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.

A more humanist approach is typically needed for digital ethics than other governance frameworks. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so the key for organisations is to assess the ethical implications of data usage from the perspective of their customers. Each organisation must consider its own customers and what they would find to be an acceptable use of data and technology to deliver products and services. These expectations will differ from industry-to-industry, region-to-region, and country-to-country. Expectations will also likely differ for online interactions versus human interactions. For example, would a customer be comfortable with store associates and bank clerks recommending products and services in the real world based on behaviors that cookies have tracked online? Conversely, would a customer be comfortable receiving a bad health prognosis digitally, rather than from a human?

Failure to appropriately assess data ethics considerations will put the reputations of businesses at significant risk in the digital economy. Similarly, in our increasingly hyper-connected and data-dense society, the ethical usage and management of employee data will be a priority for companies looking to attract and retain the best digital talent.

How can businesses embrace digital ethics?

A digital ethics framework should facilitate consideration of what is morally desirable for the customer, not just what is possible with technology or legally permissible. CIOs need to lead the digital ethics conversation, striking a balance between risks and awards of digital innovation. For most organisations, the first step in the process is building awareness of what digital ethics is, and educating stakeholders and employees that it is not the same as compliance, privacy,or security. The next step is to establish the digital ethics parameters for the organization, based on what is acceptable to its own customers. Two main dimensions need to be considered - risk and cultural acceptance. Consider not only whether ideas for translating data insights to new and improved products and services are possible, but also whether they are the 'right' thing to do from the perspective of the customer. Effective matching of this risk and reward in digital decision-making is critical to keeping a high level of interaction and trust with customers. 


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