By Bill McDonald

Managing Director, Accenture in Scotland

THE rapid immersion of new digital technologies in all areas of our lives is bringing society to a crossroads.

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One path leads to improved productivity, connected services and economic gain. Artificial intelligence applications could improve productivity in the UK by 25 per cent by 2035 ; e-health services are forecast to connect as many as 1.6 billion people globally and the Industrial Internet of Things is predicted to add £244 billion to the UK’s GDP by 2030.

Digital transformation like this offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to put purpose and sustainability at the heart of our businesses.

For every positive story, some will draw dystopian contrasts: of machines taking jobs, distrust over the use of personal data and people marginalised because they don’t have access to digital skills.

We’re a long, long way from these “general AI” futures, if we ever get there, but the digital revolution is forcing us to ask ourselves where technology is taking us and where we want to take technology. The good news is that we have the chance to make a deliberate choice to ensure that the digital revolution serves society and it remains in our power to ensure digitisation works for all of us.

But what makes a responsible business in this brave new world and what choices should we make?

As part of an ongoing collaboration between Accenture Strategy and Business in the Community, we have set out where the opportunities exist to take positive action and how to manage the unintended consequences of digital in our latest report.

The first priority is for businesses to focus on rebuilding customer relationships through simple and transparent data practices, making them feel safe online and empowering people to access

the internet and make better

choices.

Apple’s use of simple English to explain its privacy policy is one example. Another is Barclay’s Digital Eagles programme which works with customers to improve their digital skills.

The next priority is enabling people to transition from traditional jobs to jobs of the future. This includes anticipating automation to harness digital to augment existing work processes that complement the workforce. Accenture and Airbus collaborated to develop digital-enabled, industrial-grade smart glasses to improve the accuracy and reduce the complexity of cabin furnishing in the manufacturing process of the A330 aircraft. Overall productivity for the cabin seat marking process was improved 500 per cent and the error rate reduced to zero.

The third priority of today’s responsible business is to use technology as a force for good to solve global environmental and social issues such as cutting waste and improving health and education. Design with purpose is the message to deliver technology solutions that benefit society.

Finally, there should be a drive to create more transparent, inclusive and productive value chains, by using technology to empower suppliers, source 100 per cent renewable energy and to track and trace goods to prevent corruption and exploitation.

With the digital revolution upon us, and the impact on business and society in the balance, these are priorities and key actions that we believe need to addressed. The window in which to make these choices is remarkably small. If we want this revolution to be inclusive and sustainable, we must take steps now.