Why Technology Businesses Should Prioritise Purpose

Claudia Bate, FleishmanHillard’s UK technology practice lead, discusses ‘tech for good’ and whether the industry is doing all it can

The technology sector is one of the fastest developing industries – if not the fastest developing industry. It’s creating lasting change across all business areas, and influencing how we work, connect, and live. But with this far-reaching impact comes an equally large responsibility to use technology positively. The tech industry needs to make sure that it’s benefiting society, both through the technology itself and the broader purpose of tech companies.

One of the ways technology can be used for good is through the creation of new and innovative tools that help us to lead better lives and improve society. We can see the impact of this around us already –  fitness trackers are increasingly common, healthcare providers can now offer support quickly and conveniently online, and Microsoft is using robotic field agents to protect biodiversity.

In our FleishmanHillard Tech Trends 2019 report, we spoke to industry leaders and academic researchers about where they saw the future of technology, and how they believe it can be used for good. The responses we received are varied and thought-provoking.

Jeroen Tas, Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer at Philips, predicted, “we now have an ‘always on’ society – it can be, quite literally, hard to switch off. Technologies that proactively improve our sleep will become much more prominent in 2019.”

In comparison, Mou Mukherjee, Head of Registry at .Cloud, outlined how the cloud will allow young people to build micro business from scratch and modernise industries. These are just a few of many ways that technology is opening doors and improving lives.

However, just as vital is the impact and purpose of the technology companies themselves. Purpose is key to a business, but it’s often overlooked. Having a clearly defined and actioned goal that is effectively communicated can make all the difference to a technology company’s success.

Purpose attracts and retains talent, keeps stakeholders happy, and creates brand loyalty. Research has shown that 85% of the companies with a clearly articulated purpose show growth over a year [[1]]. What’s more, $22.9 trillion of assets are being managed by investors who value social and environmental responsibility[[2]].

When it comes to employees – particularly the younger generation – a company’s purpose is one of the deciding factors in taking a job. Research shows that three out of four millennials look at a business’s social, environmental, and governance polices before they consider a job interview. Figures like these demonstrate that a business’s purpose isn’t an optional extra, it’s a necessity for companies who want to succeed.

Having a purpose can take many forms. While some companies like Philips are creating programmes that invest in supporting good causes and improving people’s lives around the world, others are focusing closer to home. Purpose isn’t only about creating technology that improves lives, it’s also about looking beyond profit to the impact and ethics of a business. For many tech companies, how they use and share data will be at the heart of their ethical considerations and business purpose this year.

Responsible data management is vital to customer trust. The introduction of GDPR and a series of hefty fines for high profile companies – including a record-breaking £44 million for Google – has brought data handling to the centre of conversations around using technology for good.

When we surveyed people for our FleishmanHillard Authentic Insights report, one of the most revealing findings was that 80% of consumers rate data security and protection as ‘very important’, putting it ahead of healthcare and education in the UK. “It will become increasingly important to not only deepen our skills and knowledge for handling ever increasing amounts of data”, Professor Kevyn Yong, Associate Professor of Management and Associate Dean of Corporate Programs at ESSEC Business School, predicts, “but also how we handle this data in an ethical and responsible way.”

As the research cited earlier shows, demonstrating purpose needs to be a key priority for technology companies who want to see continued and sustained growth. Moving forward into 2019, tech businesses are faced with a challenge. They need to ask themselves three questions. Firstly, do we have a clearly defined purpose? Secondly, what are we doing to actively work towards this purpose? And, lastly, are we communicating this clearly? Answering yes to these three points sets a business up to grow, thrive, and confidently say that they are supporting the use of technology for good.

[1] LinkedIn Imperative 2016 Workforce Purpose Index

[2] 2016 Global Sustainable Investment Review

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