As advanced Western values permeate the rest of the world, technology could be both the catalyst and inhibitor of global equality.

Companies that know and understand their purpose do better. Study after study has shown that having a strong vision, well-defined values and a varied culture leads to improved financial results and a happier workforce—at least in the West.

While the idea of stakeholder capitalism is not new, it is rapidly taking hold. Chief executives from 180 US companies say social responsibility should come before profit, and the World Economic Forum’s new Davos Manifesto seeks to ensure corporate leaders are taking their pledges seriously.

With corporate purpose and values in the spotlight, business leaders must take responsibility for ensuring the ideas are authentic, clearly communicated and accurately benchmarked. Defining and measuring success lies at the heart of this, with artificial intelligence, machine learning and data mining offering new ways to evaluate progress. Done right, this could underpin a shift away from traditional metrics such as profits and bottom lines, toward a holistic and dynamic overview of what is being achieved.

With that said, here are three areas in which we can all use technology to improve understanding of our impact, regardless of industry or sector.

  1. Reducing your carbon footprint
    Putting climate change and the environment at the heart of policy is a good first step for any corporation. It is not just about reducing your own environmental impact, but also helping others to reduce theirs.

    Harnessing information and communication technology products and services can help lower everyone’s carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 20%. BT Group has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 and we have already set and reached some rigorous science-based targets. Investing in renewable energy sources, cutting emissions from buildings, and moving toward electric vehicles are just some of the steps to hitting these targets.

    Technology can not only assist in setting and measuring these goals—it can help us achieve them too. For example, in cutting business travel: in the past, employees might have jumped on a flight for important meetings and events, today’s constantly improving collaboration tools and augmented/virtual reality gadgets now reduce the need for face-to-face meetings.

    In a similar way, technology such as robotics or 3D printing can also boost product and factory efficiencies, meaning fewer materials and resources are used to get the same, or even better, results. And AI is already being used for the predictive maintenance of equipment.

    The Internet of Things offers ways to utilize data to reduce carbon footprints. For example, an IoT-enabled vehicle-monitoring system can collect fuel economy and carbon data and suggests ways drivers and fleet managers can act to improve their environmental impact.
  2. Improving access to technology for all 
    While using technology in this way can only be positive, we must also be mindful of those at risk of being left behind.

    About half the world’s population does not have access to the internet, and this cuts them off from opportunities, while limiting their potential to build the skills they need to thrive. Improving this can bring benefits like mobile banking and access to financing to remote areas, while access to social media can give a voice to communities that may otherwise feel isolated.

    It is not just an issue for developing countries. In the UK, almost 12 million people lack the digital skills they need for everyday life. BT’s Skills for Tomorrow initiative aims to reach and help reskill 10 million people by 2025. By targeting teachers, young people, older citizens, small-business owners and families, the program has a wide and ambitious scope. It has also gone global, with a three-year partnership with the British Asian Trust in India to enable girls to access information, skills and opportunities— improving their understanding of equality, supporting their employability, and informing them about support for good health.

    Programs like these are vital to ensuring the proliferation of technology does not create a two-tier society.
  3. Treading the ethical tightrope
    In a similar way, making sure the spread of technology is also ethical should be central to any measure of success. While we have focused on the benefits these advances can bring, corporations must also guard against the potential for them to be misused, either intentionally or unintentionally.

    Corporate leaders should work with their stakeholders to help people feel safe online and instill confidence that their transactions and data are secure, while also protecting privacy and freedom of expression.

    For example, when we harness the power of AI, we need to make sure we understand how the system is making choices and ensure that those decisions do not include any inbuilt bias caused by the data or programming.

    For corporate ethicality to take root, regulation alone is not the answer. All corporate leaders need to step up to gain trust and ensure that data is not misused.

As technology reshapes our world, corporations can take advantage of new and innovative approaches to benchmarking success. We have discussed a few ways it can enhance the power of communications while also creating a meaningful impact. We have also seen some alternative metrics that can underpin corporate benchmarking and help plot a course for the future.

Understanding corporate purpose and measuring its results is a task that is constantly evolving. In 2020, business leaders must ensure all stakeholders are included and served, ensuring people remain the focus as technology marches on.