I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how technology has become the cure-all elixir, with its increasingly important, and sometimes problematic, role it plays in our lives. This line of thinking was in large part spurred by The Future of Digital Disruption
event we co-hosted last month with Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.
The event was co-moderated by Professor Andrew Stephen from Oxford’s Saïd Business School and Teradata’s Martin Willcox, VP Technology (EMEA). Leaders from Audi, Barclays, Kantar, Sony Music, O2 Czech Republic, Facebook, MMA, WPP, Walmart, Teradata and others, as well as leading faculty and researcher’s from Oxford’s Saïd Business School Future of Marketing Initiative shared experiences and insights about some of the most complex issues facing leaders today, with a focus on challenges at the intersection of marketing and technology (e.g., analytics
, machine learning
) and identifying new ways to achieve business growth enabled by technology.
The keynote sessions and panel conversations were engaging and varied to encompass the dense topic of how digital disruption will shape the future. However, one overarching theme across all discussions soon became apparent: the importance of the role that humans have in the evolution of digital transformation.
This may be surprising, given the fearmongering over the past number of years regarding how AI and technology will render us humans ‘obsolete.’ But at an event discussing digital disruption and growth, the conversation kept coming back to this undeniable fact: it is a focus on people and the human element that sets companies and leaders apart.
The Customer’s Role in Defining the Company
It starts with the customer experience. Let me be provocative here - I believe that customer experience has become the new brand. Teradata has witnessed this first hand, as we took the ‘Voice of the Customer’ and used it to define our research into an updated Teradata vision, mission and purpose. Moreover, it has informed our customer experience, user experience and our offerings.
Technology is not eroding the importance or influence of the individual consumer on the success of a business. Quite the contrary - it’s this focus that is driving the application and creation of innovative solutions. For instance, understanding and quantifying Teradata’s brand value amongst its customers was a key component in developing not only our brand direction, but our brand as a promise to our customers that defines their entire experience with us, at every touch point – from digital to physical, from offerings to people.
In the broader industry, AI technology is being used to identify emotional drivers and sentiment in a brand’s communications. The American writer, Kurt Vonnegut, developed a theory in the 80s which surmises that every story follows a consistent emotional pattern. At the time, Vonnegut contemplated why computers had not yet analyzed these patterns. More than 30 years later, technology is not only analyzing these shapes but using this information to allow the technology itself to carry out these communications ‘independently’ through chat bots. AI also allows for the seamless journey from chat bot back to human when customers require this level of assistance.
My point is that it all starts and ends with a human. Technology is simply expediating the process and improving the journey in between.
Enabling People to Learn and Make Strategic Decisions Through Data and AI
AI does not put people out of business, it puts (typically, execution) skills out of business. As a result, automation tends to increase the amount of time people can spend influencing and improving the intelligence of the technology, driving transformational change over the long-term.
As Teradata’s CTO, Stephen Brobst, succinctly put it during his session at the event, “the future is not about automation; this decade will be defined by learning.” From a human perspective, we will have to be “learn-it all’s” versus “know-it all’s”.
One area for growth that he discussed was related to ‘AI bias’ – when undesirable bias occurs in an AI solution that reflects the values of its human designer. His point is that our training data should reflect the world we wish we had, rather than the world we do have, otherwise we perpetuate bias. In order for this to be achieved, it’s critical we have the right people available to evolve the technology and innovate, to ensure AI is mitigating this bias as opposed to creating it.
Transforming what business is doing to achieve these outcomes requires adjusting company culture, altering internal hierarchies, and empowering customer-facing staff, who often sit further down the chain of command.
Human Growth in a Digital World
The concept of human growth first came to my attention through ideas presented by Professor Stephen, when under his leadership Oxford Saïd became the first founding business school partner to The Institute for Real Growth
(IRG). Now knowing how indispensable people are to the business, how can we best encourage human growth in a tech-driven world?
Research has shown
that businesses that set human-growth objectives – those that relate to value derived by their customers, colleagues and community – achieve more sustainable growth. In other words, linking your business growth to people growth pays significant dividends in the long game.
One way to achieve this is the process of democratizing data: the process of making data accessible to as many people as possible within the company. This will be a central element to the future of digital disruption and one that can help drive human growth.
This post has just scratched the surface of the importance and nuances relating to human growth and one which we are excited to explore further alongside Oxford University’s Saïd Business School over the coming months and years as part of our partnership