Digital Ethics

By Alchemmy’s Rob Price

97% of IT leaders state that their IT Strategy is fully or largely aligned to their business, yet only around 12% of Operations, Customer Service and Sales professionals agree that it is fully aligned. Of course, this is nothing new. The gap between expectation and ambition and the ability of IT to execute on that demand has always been there, but the challenge is increasingly the pace and rate of change of the options that technology brings. Low code, automation, citizen developers, ubiquitous access to massive compute power enables more of the organisation to deliver their own technology solutions and challenge IT to be more responsive.

Interestingly only 75% of all respondents saw that AI and Machine learning were a part of that strategy. The IT and Telco sector led the way with a predictably high 88%, yet I am astonished to see the low scoring Legal sector (66%), Travel and Transport (only 54%). There are many use cases around intelligent automation in both of these sectors – application of case law, or optimisation in scheduling as two obvious examples. I am less surprised to see only 62% in the Arts sector, yet I would perhaps point people to read “The Creativity Code” to see the application of AI in the creative industries.

I am fascinated by a regional variation in the results too – there is stronger than average interest in AI and ML in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was expecting perhaps high concern around access to talent driving this need, yet in Northern Ireland this was massively overshadowed by the impact of Brexit (0% for access to talent vs. 57% for Brexit as the main challenge). I’m also really interested that in regard to both AI Ethics & Digital Ethics, NI (92%/96%) and Scotland (83%/86%) again both stand out as clearly wanting to ensure that technology is used in ethical and appropriate ways to drive positive impact on Society.

In the UK especially, we’ve seen a really strong focus on AI Ethics (responsible AI, non-biased AI, explainable AI, AI Ethics Frameworks, AI regulations), yet far less so on Digital Ethics. Yet our survey shows that at the board level, there is a recognised need for broader change. 84% of CEO’s said Digital Ethics was an essential component of their Business Strategy (+8% vs. AI ethics) and 87% of CIO’s stated that vs a surprisingly low 70% for AI ethics. Other roles at the board level were more in the 70-80% range, still high – yet perhaps reflective of two points.

Over 4 out of 5 CEOs, the person responsible for the leadership direction and the reputation of the business, recognise the criticality of getting Digital Ethics right
Nearly 9 out of 10 CIO’s, who are behind many of the technology innovations delivering value for the business also recognise the need.

Recognising the need for a stance around Digital Ethics is one thing, but implementing an effective governance that guides the organisation, in an auditable way, through the decision-making process around digital ethical dilemmas is proving to be a complex problem. Many large organisations have tried and failed. Decisions need to be made around make up – the skills, and perspectives that members of a “Digital Ethics Board” bring, about whether it is internal or an external function, and then to find a path through the minefield of frameworks that are emerging to help guide decision making.

In 2018, I remember presenting at a conference in London around the need for Corporate Digital Responsibility – a key part of which is Digital Ethics. At the time, someone in the audience said “it’s really interesting, but that is something for the future. We aren’t ready yet.” That future is now. The evidence is all around us in the acceleration of activity in this field. Most importantly, the evidence is in the results of this survey. You, over 80% of you, have said that Digital Ethics is Essential.

The next question is how.

In 2021, Alchemmy launched a capability to help organisations implement Digital Ethics Boards. Bringing together internal and external expertise in technology, digital ethics, legal and regulation, PR & reputation, data and AI, societal & sustainability, Digital Ethics by Alchemmy provides a capability to both assist in the implementation of Digital Ethics boards by an organisation, or indeed in providing a subscription based external Digital Ethics Board to provide independent advice as and when needed.

Rob Price leads this in his capacity as co-founder of the global Corporate Digital Responsibility movement.

Digital Ethics by Alchemmy is a collaborative forum that exists to create and evolve capability, methods, frameworks and influence change to create a more positive society for us all.

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Published on

51th April 2022


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