Digital is Human, Human is Data and Data is the Foundation of Trust

“If you torture data long enough, it will confess to anything you’d like.” – Ronald Coase

The technologies that pervade our existence are transforming how we as consumers live, work and play. Our latest study, “The Business Value of Trust,” highlights that almost half of consumers we surveyed consider themselves “always connected”, and 77% view social media platforms as critical to maintaining social relationships. Such rampant connectivity has given rise to an age of personal data sharing (and over-sharing) and increased consumer expectations for mass personalization, with 58% of consumers surveyed saying they demand personalized products and services from companies.

Such contextually relevant experiences are impossible without data, and markets recognize this vital connection. The amalgam of data — our “virtual selves” — is becoming increasingly valuable to companies, many of which are now scrambling to provide the highly personalized experiences to which we have flocked in recent years. In fact, data is among the intangible assets constituting as much as 84% of the market value of companies listed on the S&P 500 index.

There is, however, a dark side to this business-technology shift that raises important technological, social and ethical considerations: What exactly is appropriate use of data? Is it appropriate for a health insurance provider to monitor clients’ fitness band data and use it to adjust their insurance premiums? Is it proper for a taxi service to charge a higher price for a passenger who’s headed to the airport because she tweeted that she was in a rush? All of these – and many more - are difficult, commercial questions. But at heart, they are ethical questions. According to Gartner, by 2018, half of business ethics violations will occur through improper use of big data analytics.

Don’t just keep my data; keep my trust. The propensity for consumers to expose much of their personal lives, and thus data, online has provided an abundance of publicly available personal information that could be exploited if ethics are compromised by companies; 65% of consumers we surveyed don’t know how or where their personal data is stored. Our study revealed that one of the biggest threats to companies today comes not from the competition, but from the ability to win and keep consumer trust. In an age when personal data is the key to honing a competitive edge, data ethics is at the heart of business success, as you and I will increasingly choose to work with Vendor A over Vendor B, if we trust Vendor A more.

So, how to make data ethics as your company’s biggest asset? In our view, we suggest:

Add human intelligence to existing analytics capabilities. We believe the future of analytics will lie in its intelligent ability to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate use of data. Organizations need to develop an ethics framework (depending on the industry, data usage capabilities, etc.) and add it as a tool to the company’s current analytics solutions. The use of an embedded ethics monitoring mechanism, either via pre-built frameworks or use of a tool, would assist, guide or notify users if their machine/mining algorithms crossed the ethical line and take necessary steps to avoid unwanted situations.

Make data ethics a key performance indicator. Ethics must become a key performance indicator for every employee who has a direct or indirect connection with customer data. The starting point should be establishing onboard training for all new employees, and then initiating a company-wide program to help people understand the legal and business consequences of unethical data practices. Follow-up actions should include suggesting early interventions to avoid or mitigate risk, and reinforcing the goals and outcomes of the ethical framework.

Data ethics is the new battleground for digital success as there is no such thing as blind trust in today’s business world. Check out our new study findings to learn how to master the digital economy fundamentals of data ethics and consumer trust.

How will you prepare your kids for the world of work?

A wise old sage once told me that being parent is like being an archer complete with bow and arrow—your kids are your arrows and your job as a parent is to take aim, fire, and with fingers crossed hope they hit their mark. I liked that analogy because one of my kids is about to select her options for her exams at 16 and thoughts all round are turning to what she wants to do. Being part of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, means for once she might actually listen to what I have to say!

Last week’s FT was awash with stories about robots and the great hallowing out of the professional class but don’t rush out to sound the death knell of the job or career just yet. Survey data from my latest report People—not just Machines—Powers Digital Innovation shows that prospects for the “job” are actually rather good. According to the survey, 40% of respondents expected staff numbers to increase over the next three years while 40% revealed that they would stay more or less constant. Don’t underestimate the power of culture and vested interests to keep a wave of automation at bay because the truth is, anyone who works in the field of robotics knows the limitations of what they are working with: Robot companies want to keep humans i.e. us in the loop because it will make their machines more socially acceptable and less threatening. From what I can gather, most folks operating in what we can now call the robot industries say people will have an important role to playing directing the machine for decades to come.

My take is that people will always work much in the same way people eat three times a day and pay taxes—it’s a fact of life. Some people will still work for one company all their lives and build careers, but others will move around much more than my generation is used to. The best advice would be to think about how our kids will blend work assignments and their gigs together into a sequence of roles and weave a wider career narrative. As parents, I think we have to radically update the careers advice we give our children. Good levels of education absolutely count but it has to be more about how you learn rather than the knowledge itself. If a career is derailed for whatever reason, and people need to reskill themselves, then it will be easier if you have the habit of learning. Moreover, perseverance, agility, social intelligence, resilience and great communication skills will really, really help. Maybe there is a role for the scouts in this digital age after all despite what my kids say...

My report goes on to predict some of the new types of jobs and roles emerging. For example, our populations are ageing, living longer, and an older population will need different health care requirements—could we see aging specialists, well-being consultants, and life-style motivators increasingly emerge into the job market? New focus areas for work could be much more people centric like care but also entertainment, sport and other personal services. In every industry, the better the technology becomes, people will need to focus on the skills that make them people—leadership, motivation, compassion, because you won’t get that from a computer.

When you meet young people I am always impressed by their energy and the self-determination. And many don’t actually want to work for “the man”; they want to work for themselves and here I give a nod to the astonishing rise of co-working space WeWork in my report (if you have not seen a WeWork in your city it might not be too long coming; their growth is phenomenal). Rather than being worried about the future, which is an easy trap to fall into, the world that my kids are coming into is full of promise and opportunity and, yes, uncertainty. But the ability to travel and experience different countries and cultures is way easier; the mindset on how and why we live seems to be shifting as the desire to have experiences rather than owning stuff grows (evidenced by an IKEA bigwig outlining new business models and the concept of peak stuff); Ambitions focus on creating balanced approaches to life as my generation raises its eyes as we hear “work life balance” but I say good on them.

My generation is the one that needs to begin building the foundations for a fair society in the future. Could we perhaps tax robots and channel the proceeds into a basic income allowance? What about rebooting the tax system based on 1950s principles of one man (note, man) working in one job that would last him a lifetime? What about how we learn and educate children (as well as ourselves) so an education delivers meaning and purpose as well as resilience and perseverance. And even when the Bank of England floats the idea that short-termism and quarter to quarter cycling might need a refresh in an era of hyper connectivity, hyper news coverage and over communication, then you begin to wonder if a more structural fix of the system is called for. These are big challenges but it’s going to be fascinating to see how we as a whole, respond to them.

Every click, swipe, "like," buy, comment, deposit, jog and search produces information that creates a unique virtual identity - something we call

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This May Be the Second Machine Age - But it's Still a Barbara Streisand World

As a minor representative of the Earth bound, life based form, commonly known as a “human being,” I think a lot – perhaps too much! – about what us humans will end up being in world full of very clever machines. One doesn’t have to be too far to the lunatic fringe of the “we’re all doomed” camp to be somewhat concerned that when Watson, or Alexa, or Siri, or Amy, or M, or Atlas, or Baxter or their grandchildren can pack a box quicker than me, create a sales forecast quicker and better than me, drive a car quicker and better and more safely than me, and write a novel more creatively rich than me (as well as more quickly, better, and safer; safer? – well, it’s unlikely that a “novelbotist” will be a drunk or a serial philanderer or a junkie!), we – that’s you and me mate – face a bit of an uphill battle to remain not surplus to requirements.

Given all of this, and given that my beat is sniffing out postcards sent from the unevenly distributed future, I’m always heartened when I come across something that we humans can interpret as a ray of hope! “Hey kids, we’re not moving to the bunker in Boise yet! I’ve got an idea ...”

The latest source of my irrational optimism? This; the “unstore” ... You back? Great! The “unstore” is a recognition that bricks are increasingly losing the battle against clicks and that competing against Amazon is leaving more and more brick based players wandering deliriously in circles in the rainforest.

Not letting a good (exponentially accelerating) crisis go to waste, the “unretailers” are re-conceptualizing the role of physical space in the process of selling. When somebody can buy something – anything – from the 5.5 inches of Gorilla Glass they’re holding in their hand, what do we do with our 15,000 square feet on The Avenue of the Americas or our 45,000 square feet at the Turfland Mall, in Lexington, Kentucky?

Well, the answer that’s blowing in the wind seems to be to perform what we might think of as corporate jujitsu! Take your opponents strength and use that against them, and use your weakness to your own advantage.

In the current retail mano a mano, the “clicks’” strength - price, speed, efficiency, not having to put pants on – is seemingly all. But newly togged in white pajamas and a belt colored black the “bricks” are fighting back.

At the heart of this new phase of the battle is the simple recognition that though this may be the Second Machine age this is still a Barbara Streisand world. We human beings like other human beings. Though we all may have our “Satreian” moments – “hell is other people” (mine come particularly in the TSA line!) – we all basically want to be in “human hands”. We all want a human experience.

So the question now becomes what makes a great human experience and how does a great human experience in a world of Dash (hopefully not a world of Daesh) reassert itself.

The unstore is showing that the answer to this is the human touch; we want to touch things and we want to be touched. We want to pick the merchandise up, we want to try things on, we want to ask “how does it work?”, and “why did it do that?” We want to sit on it, listen to it, read it, argue about it with our wives. We want to see experts use it. We want to see cool people rock it. We want to waste an afternoon dreaming about it. We want to go back week after week and think, “one day”. We want the blue shirts to listen to us, to laugh at our quips, to keep chatting longer than seems normal. We want to sit in a comfy chair with a latte and be pleasantly surprised that nobody seems to mind that we’ve been there all day – with only one latte. We want to watch videos and see demos and get help and be advised. We want to take the merchandise back and get it fixed or upgraded or exchanged or customized or refreshed or accessorized. We want to hang ... with other people ... with other people that need people.

Then we want to go home, and on the way in the car, buy the thing we’ve been checking out online and have it shipped to us overnight!!!

In short the unstore is place to check things out without checking them out.

The unstore builds on a number of trends that have been developing for some time;

  • Music concerts used to be loss leaders to sell records; now streaming is a loss leader to get people to come to concerts.
  • The speaking circuit for stand up corporate (often not very) stand-up comedians – er, I mean, presenters - used to be a loss leader to sell books; now books are a loss leader to get stand up gigs (at the high Clintonesque end, often going at $100K, 200K a pop).
  • Museums used to advertise their collections and mention in passing they had nice dining facilities; now they’re “ace cafes with quite nice museums attached”
  • Bookstores introduced coffee bars to encourage customers to linger longer; now cool cafes have books on sale to go with your skinny flat white.

In this new Omni channel, hybrid mash up, of bricks and clicks, being human is an advantage again. As long as your humans can be human and you can put the experience in customer experience.

Of course, the first computers were humans but it’s all too common an experience today that we go into a big box store and the humans seem like robots. And the experience is hardly an experience at all. (Those of you paying attention at the back will recall that I’ve written at length about this before In the land that popularized and perfected the art of customer service the evenly distributed present seems full of the exact opposite at the moment – customer disservice

The unstore reintroduces the idea of the “enthusiast” – John Cusack in High Fidelity, the Click and Clack garage in Cambridge, the undiscovered writers working the tills at the Strand bookstore in NYC - people who love their subject and love sharing that love with other people.

The people working at the Samsung store, or Bonobos, or Warby Parker, or Tory Burch, or in the aforementioned blue shirts, are people who are “into it”; who are “loving it” (not many of those at the home of the place of “loving it” I’d hazard a guess) and who are central to the “experience” that people are flocking to experience. They’re sharing their enthusiasm and excitement and pride on being “in the gang”. They’re not “selling” in a traditional self. In fact, they’re the human based version of the online “always be recommending” algorithm.

Every organization that operates in physical “space” is facing some version of this same “bricks v clicks”/”bods v bots” dilemma. And unsurprisingly there have been some amusing/ugly (depending on your perspective) steps along the way trying to deal with it. The café in a bank mélange is my particular favorite! The skinny flat white instantly turns into a cup of coffee with milk next to an ATM!

This misstep is actually quite instructive though; the bank has sort of got the memo but the memo got scrambled as it went through the business as usual machine (commonly referred to the capital expenditure approval budget meeting).

Rather than the existing branch being reconfigured so there’s a forth rate café sitting where the tellers, and the desks, and the safe used to be, the space could be reconfigured so there’s a nice lounge, and kitchen, and meeting rooms, and phone booths, and video displays, and TVs, and office equipment, all sitting there available for people to use when they come in to talk to the bank’s humans – their experts, their advisors, their counsellors, their coaches, their shoulders to cry on, their enthusiasts. The branch could be re-conceptualized as a place where people can come and have a human experience, centered around a very human need, i.e. the need for financial security and financial health. Dealing with people who are enthusiastic with helping you deal with your human needs.

Writ large, bank branches could become co-working spaces a la WeWork; centers of new growth in local communities. They could be places where the Chambers of Commerce meet; where VC’s hang to tap into the new ideas. Where Maker Fairs are held; where the successful send the elevator back down.

Oh, and, discretely, in the corner, there could be a small ATM. Just in case an old-timer wanders in for some cash.

A bank branch could be a “unbranch”; in a world where the most popular branch is the one people are holding in the palm of their human hands and where Betterment are only a tap away.

If you’re still wondering what a bank branch re-energized could look like, this might give you a better idea

Given that Silicon Valley isn’t coming to financial services is already here these issues are now longer merely theoretical ones for banks sitting on huge swathes of underutilized and depreciating assets but in fact existential questions that need practical answers. Today.

I started off this piece by suggesting that “unstores” were signs of hope for humanity! I’ll end it by suggesting that the “un” movement is a sign of hope for bankers too! Ouch! Cheap shot! But I couldn’t resist! Don’t take it personally fellas!

The “un” movement repositions people at the core of the “experience” - in whatever area; banking, retailing, teaching, etc, etc – that people want. People want to bank online, buy online, research online, entertain themselves online. Do everything online. But people want to be with people. People they like. People that impress them. People that they learn from. People that – if you want to get “corporatey” about it – “add value”. This might explain why Amazon themselves are opening stores and why Macy’s is undergoing reconstructive surgery

In the future people probably won’t add much value adding things, or moving things, or doing things. But people will still be able to add lots of value in inefficient, creative, cool, stupid, funny, odd, exciting, unpredictable ways; “how does it feel on?”, “this is how you get it to do this”; “hmmm, that’s a great question – this is how I’d do it”; “nah, I think the v7.2 is way cooler than the v7.1”. Ways that are hard to quantify, and measure, and optimize on a spreadsheet, but are really the future of every body’s work. Be you a banker or an AI agent natural language coder.

Finally (yes, finally, I hear you sigh), this notion of re-assessing the value of wildly inefficient humans in a machine age is riffed on here by Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly and I think the Sage of Pacifica is onto something; what I call the “Tokyo Hotel Model” - Japanese hotels seem oddly overstaffed in comparison with hotels in London or New York etc – is central to re-conceptualizing the role people play in the future of work.

People want great prices. But people want great people based experiences too. The “un” model perhaps unlocks a previously seemingly unlockable conundrum. Don’t automate humans away. Hire them to be human. Not second rate robots.