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Article
16 min read
Scott Harkey

When planning, designing and implementing digital initiatives, it’s all too easy for organisations to get caught up in the metrics and chase business benefits such as efficiencies. Whether they become focused on a particular problem or idea, or get fixated on product siloes, there can be a tendency to miss what really matters – that is, the people who can benefit from technology and use it to deliver positive outcomes. After all, technology is only ever as powerful as the value it brings to the real world; until it has been thoughtfully shaped, it’s nothing more than a set of tools.

 

Thankfully, we’re starting to see a movement in businesses recognising this. Large organisations in sectors such as financial services are shifting their approach by putting the customer at the heart of digital projects and making a conscious decision to build the product, idea or service around them. Whether it’s adopting emerging technologies or modernising back-office infrastructure, having a human-first lens is helping businesses reap greater rewards than efficiencies alone. It has enabled them to solve customer problems, bring new business models to the market and crucially unlock meaningful outcomes for themselves, as well as their customers.

 

While I’ve seen firsthand the long-term benefits of anchoring digitalisation around the individual, for lots of businesses, there’s still progress to be made in bringing these benefits to life. The recent IDC report Leveraging the Human Advantage for Business Transformation, sponsored by Endava, revealed a gap in companies’ digital transformation strategies, with many reasons cited for project failures stemming from cultural considerations, including a lack of employee buy-in (39%), conflicting opinions from leadership (36%) and a lack of internal collaboration (33%).

 

However, despite the shortfalls currently experienced by some businesses, by effectively anchoring everything around customers at every stage of their digital journey, they can make future technology investments pay off both for the people they serve and from a financial perspective.

 

Unlocking the human advantage

 

At the core of human-first technology is the understanding that its purpose is not to replace or replicate human roles, or even just accelerate the speed at which they can complete a task. Instead, people should be inherently part of what makes that technology valuable – it’s about using digital tools to extend, enhance and enrich human capabilities.

 

Applications of artificial intelligence (AI) are a perfect case in point, especially given the concern surrounding generative AI’s advances. While some are fearful that it will render many roles redundant, it actually has the potential to empower people to do more strategic and valuable work, especially as it becomes even more humanised. When implemented in a thoughtful and purposeful manner, AI can help humans become more aware of diverse streams of information and, in turn, free us up to gain the perspective to make informed decisions. AI is therefore not making the decision for the individual or replacing them, but rather interacting with them and better educating them to maximise the value of their human intuition and judgement.

 

It’s encouraging to see that organisations are beginning to recognise the impact of humans and technology coming together, as the IDC report also uncovered that 51% believe that retaining a human influence on the use of AI is very or extremely important. Ensuring that people engage with technologies, however, does demand that tools are developed with a deep understanding of different people in mind. Ultimately, nurturing adoption should never be an afterthought, but an integral ambition throughout any project.

 

Making digital more thoughtful and inclusive

 

The goal of any technology should be to incorporate and leverage diversity. Diversity is incredibly important to shaping technologies, as people from different backgrounds can offer a rich range of perspectives that can pave the way for both innovations and solutions that offer value to all users. Throughout my career, I’ve seen businesses fall short when building models because of biases that exclude certain people, and as a result, they’ve had to rethink how to ensure there’s diversity in the way the output is used.

 

One such example was a lending marketplace for small businesses. We discovered that their automated credit decisioning was biased, meaning that business owners with a non-typical background would be denied a loan despite the fact that they would be approved if they were given the opportunity to tell their story. Decisions were based on surface-level metrics, such as the applicant’s heritage or higher education status. After building on the model with multiple cycles to help it ‘learn’ and weave out biases while feeding in diversity, we have helped the business create an inclusive and valuable service to its customers. This was made possible by a diverse global team of experts to shape the solution, combined with an iterative, agile approach to development that uncovered both emerging and hidden barriers.

 

When challenges are inevitable throughout digital journeys, especially as the landscape evolves at pace, the ability to work through them is critical. That’s why the relationship between organisations and their technology partners also has a huge role to play in meeting human expectations. Partners who build trust and genuinely care can unpick cultural and individual roadblocks, as well as collaborate with stakeholders across the business to nurture engagement – and it’s an ethos that we have always championed with our clients.

 

Whether it’s the employee or the end customer, people can sense when a company cares and is committed to serving them, not just making money. As corporate responsibility becomes more prevalent and organisations are held increasingly accountable, the need for technology that has a positive impact on the people and the world around them will only grow. An approach that proactively builds around this truth will drive future-ready technology and resilient organisations.

 

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