Why SMEs Need To Consider Ethics In The Digital Growth Race


Remaining ethically compliant in the digital age

Advanced technologies are increasingly allowing 

organizations to capture and analyze large sets of data on customers and employees, transforming the way they do business. But what of the ethical concerns? SMBs need to manage these challenges to stay on the right side of the law and drive closer relationships with staff and clients.

The future of big data

We live in an increasingly data-driven world. As technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, cloud computing, social media and the internet of things (IoT) gradually become commoditized, even smaller businesses can tap their potential to become more agile and offer highly customized new services.

It’s no surprise that the market for big data analytics is predicted to reach $187 billion by 2019, while we can expect to see an estimated 8.4 billion connected ‘things’ in use by the end of 2017.

With so many interconnected devices in our lives generating and sharing data, businesses are in a unique position to leverage this raw information.

Productivity versus privacy

Embedded computing and big data harvest and analyze data on a massive scale, enabling businesses to tweak and improve products and services.

These IoT systems can also be used internally to maximize staff productivity: for example, tracking where employees are in a store and deploying them to where there are customers. Wearables like Fitbits may even be required as part of corporate insurance policies.

However, many of these systems collect highly personal data on users, and the technology behind it is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, meaning laws are slow to keep up. In the U.K., for example, the House of Lords is only just conducting a review into the ethics of AI.

Elsewhere, legislators are catching up. The new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect in May 2018 to ensure all global companies take extra care to secure EU customers’ data and obtain strict opt-in consent to use it. Fines of up to €20m or 4 percent of global annual turnover – whichever is higher – could be levied for serious infractions.

Safeguarding against ethical breaches

Managing these data privacy challenges won’t be easy, but there are a few areas where SME owners can start:

  • Develop and communicate a comprehensive employee privacy policy, including what personal data is collected, why and for how long.
  • Create strict security policies including prohibition of non-approved consumer-grade cloud services and devices for work purposes.
  • Create an acceptable use policy for internet browsing at work.
  • Stay abreast of consumer privacy/data protection legislation to ensure compliance with relevant legal frameworks.
  • Always consider the ethical impact of emerging technologies and consider adopting an ethical code of practice.

A more ethical future

According to futurists Rohit Talwar and Steve Wells, “A digital ethics code governing our use of data and technology has now become as essential as a health and safety policy.”

If done right, having such a code in place can help protect employers from potential litigation and industry fines, while improving relations with customers and employees. Most importantly, once a solid ethical framework has been established, you can really begin to tap the power of emerging technologies to drive business success.

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