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Adopting new technology: tech laggards need to change or explain

In our day-to-day lives adopting new technology is generally easy, non-contentious and something that most of us enjoy, whether it be using a fitness watch, watching a new “smart” tv, shopping online or booking a holiday. Yet in business, where the benefits are arguably larger, there is still a resistance to technological innovation. However, we have now arrived at a new technology tipping point and companies that fail to recognise and react to this shift risk undermining their strategy and being left behind by their competitors.

Companies should not view technology as a threat but as a key driver to help reduce risk, increase quality and productivity, and improve employee wellbeing. Used correctly, technological innovation has the potential to transform every area of business. This does not mean replacing human workers or taking greater technological risks but is instead about reducing friction, making processes easier and allowing employees to add more value and not simply “do”. A simple example would be utilising machine learning to anticipate customer enquiries in a call centre to allow call centre professionals more time to answer more complex queries. Simplistically, the right technology for employees helps businesses to provide a high-level service to clients.

The myth of expectations

The myth of expectations is a mistaken belief that stakeholders have little appetite for businesses to utilise innovations that are already providing broad support in the wider world. In reality, stakeholders do expect companies to take advantage of technological innovation, and it is essential that companies both understand and meet these expectations. A failure to do so risks the future of the business itself.

A willingness to move forward is also essential for investors, who view failure to take advantage of tech advancements as a significant business risk. The financial stability of a business can be quickly undermined if it is perceived to be a tech laggard.

Bridging the generational technology gap

Contrary to popular belief, the technology gap between generations is relatively small. While personal habits may differ, the overall willingness to take advantage of technological advancement does not. The opportunities offered by innovation are clearly understood and appreciated by every generation, and businesses should not allow their use of technology to be determined by a vocal minority.

This is true of employees too. Graduates enter the world expecting to be able to maintain their technological habits in the workplace, so companies need to future-proof their practices to attract and retain employees. For example, this may mean enabling employees to use instant messaging, rather than relying on email. Nevertheless, companies also need to be mindful that their older employees also have technological expectations. Failing to retain this pool of knowledge and experience just because of dated tech and processes would be a huge mistake.

Tone from the top: board leadership required

Decisions on technological change must come from the top of an organisation. The recent Spencer Stuart 2017 UK Board Index highlighted that European businesses are recruiting younger board members to help them tackle issues related to new technologies such as artificial Intelligence, automation and cybersecurity.

However, the UK does not appear to be following the same strategy, with the index revealing that the average age of non-executive directors in the UK has risen to 60 over the past decade. The average age of executive directors has also increased from 50 to 53 over the same period. While this in itself does not prove any correlation with lack of technological change, it is seen by some as a worrying indicator.

Governance: new demands and opportunities

Working digitally offers new demands and opportunities from a governance perspective. This means that risk and audit committees will have to analyse, test and track risks in different ways than their traditional methods.

The experience of shareholders is also likely to be transformed by digitalisation and new methods of engagement. AGMs will take on a new form, through the introduction of virtual attendance and the utilisation of digital technology, such as Signal meeting, which enables speedier and better targeted communication with stakeholders. There are indications that this would be hugely popular, with a recent Share Society survey showing that 70% of stakeholders supported cyber meetings. GC100 has recently conducted a small poll among some of its members to gauge the general appetite for holding virtual-only or hybrid general meetings.

As we move to a “network society”, interconnectivity will continue to transform the business experience. Companies are now expected to take advantage of the technological innovation on offer and need to either change or explain why they are not meeting the needs of their clients and employees.

Michael Kempe

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