The Chief Anti-Digital Officer ?

Posted on: May 28, 2019 by Rob Price

In our Journey 2022 research into “Digital Society”, looking at the increasing digital divide between those that could, and those that could not, keep up with the pace of change of technology, we concluded that there was a need for business to buy into a Corporate Digital Responsibility as we defined here and expanded upon here . A year on, and having just been shortlisted by Computing’s Digital Technology Leaders awards as CDO of the Year, Rob Price shares his personal perspective of the changes he is seeing in business, the economy and the market.

It is now about a year since I first talked about the need for a new ethical model driving business – a Corporate Digital Responsibility that guides each and every one of us in the businesses that we drive. It is three years, nearly four, since we first raised the concept of Digital Society, asking whether the pace of change was getting away from us, whether the ability to abuse those changes was causing an impact on society that was not as positive as it should be.

When I speak about this, whether presenting to new apprentices or experienced industry veterans, there is a question I ask. “On this scale of Dystopian through Utopian, where do you stand in your outlook of what digital and technology is enabling?” Every time, without fail, EVERYONE (bar myself) stands somewhere on the Utopian half of the scale. I then ask another question, “But do you trust EVERYONE to utilize these powerful technologies in the way in which you envisage they can be for these positive outcomes?” … and I watch it dawn on people that we cannot trust everyone, and therefore the risks are indeed increasing, and everyone shuffles a little toward the Dystopian end.

It is, of course, not to say that all business is inherently dominated by evil thoughts of world domination at all costs, although many are driven by the incessant growth and efficiency expectations that more are beginning to doubt are sustainable. You can only do so much more with less, unless of course our route is to use machine learning and AI to automate 90% of everything. But then we ask, what do you do with the people? As Peter Frase said in “Four Futures”, with the advent of cars at the turn of the 20th century, the consequence was that the horse population plummeted.

Am I exaggerating? Are you not worried? The point is that no-one knows. Civilisations rise and fall. Maintaining an equilibrium, a sustainable population on the planet through this degree of change is, of course, new ground for everyone. We used to look at governments and wonder how they knew what to do, or businesses and marvel at their success. But today we could argue that they seemingly aren’t so good at it. The rules have changed. In fact, there are no rules. Digital Disruption, or more precisely the pace of technological change, is threatening everything because we do not know how to manage it effectively.

Implement Corporate Digital Responsibility now. Overlay it on top of your CSR policy. Make it real.

And all will be well with the world.

Well, of course it won’t. It’s three words. If we do the usual and pay it lip service, whilst continuing to drive the KPIs and performance measures we’ve used for the last decades then it will make absolutely no difference whatsoever. We need a bigger reset. A change in the way we judge success. A change in the hopes and desires of humanity to work for a future for the planet, rather than short term and unsustainable prosperity.

In my early days as CDO, we (CEO and CDO) pondered the question, “Which organizations have reinvented themselves for future success WITHOUT having first failed”. I think it is a REALLY DIFFICULT question, and answers on a postcard please. The point is that they don’t. Whilst the next quarters results can be seen, they keep on rolling with the momentum. Only when revenues plunge, profitability fails, share prices collapse do organizations take stock, re-consider and change direction.

So what hope do we have that all organizations change to do that tomorrow? What catastrophe has to happen as that trigger? How bad must the incident be, how massive the personal data breach? The collapse of a global business perhaps? Of a government? Perhaps of society itself? Perhaps the signs will be less visible – such as increasing unemployment or technology addiction fundamentally impacting the nature of relationships.

One could argue that in some capacity, these things have already happened. Until it directly impacts each and every one of us, we find it too easy to turn a blind eye, and we easily forget. We continue to think it will be turn out ok, because, especially in Western Democracies, we have been used to decades of relative calm and positive evolution driven through technology innovation.

Yet, widespread and fundamental change is what I believe we need.

When I recruit our future employees, apprentices, graduates or otherwise, I am proud to stand up and talk about Worldline’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, around which our own highly rated CSR commitments are based. I then talk about our research on Digital Society, and the need to drive for improvement Corporate Digital Responsibility. But we need to not just talk about it. We need to live it. Every day. All of us.

What will you do differently tomorrow to help ensure that the Digital Revolution is not the last Revolution in our history ebooks.


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About Rob Price
COO for Worldline UK&I and member of the Scientific Community
Rob is COO for Worldline UK&I, the European leader in the payment and transactional services industry. He was previously Head of Digital for Atos UK&I, is a member of the Atos Scientific Community and was a founder of the award winning CIO/CTO Atos blog, the predecessor to Ascent. He successfully melds inspiration and creativity with strategic direction and implementation, focusing on driving more efficient and effective exploitation of technology and services to drive positive business outcomes and better connect our clients with their end consumers. The insight gained through both operational delivery roles and strategic Digital evangelist roles ensures that he views the Digital Revolution from multiple perspectives. Find him on twitter @The_Digital_COO

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