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This week’s must-reads for managing in the digital age: avoiding the technology trap; blockchain is vulnerable too; and good storytelling with data.
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AI and automation might benefit society at large, but there will be losers in the process, and at times even outright resistance, if people feel that their jobs and incomes are threatened. To avoid a backlash against the technology, governments must address its social costs and pursue policies that kick-start productivity growth while helping workers adapt.
Traditionally, businesses act politically only when they feel they are under attack, and they act by writing op-ed pieces, lobbying, and cultivating relationships with policy makers. But to the generation preparing to move into business leadership, this seems inadequate at best and corrupt at worst. Business is embedded in society, and it’s time for business leaders to care as much about democratic freedom as they do their own organizations.
Technology may hold the answer to two of the knottiest problems faced by the U.S. economy — the shortage of farm labor and the excess of vehicle traffic. But there’s a flip side: It also enables surveillance so widespread and intrusive, companies can track even our heartbeats — and the data collected by these sensors is far from secure.
It’s remarkable how many people line up either for or against globalization and then dismiss the other side. Who’s right? Neither. We should all be lining up for and against globalization, to retain what is constructive about it while challenging what has become destructive. We need to keep globalization in its place — the marketplace, where it creates value — while keeping it out of the public space, where it has become increasingly destructive.
There is a fundamental humanity to business institutions. Businesses are cooperative endeavors that leverage human work and creativity to create social value. Stable, functional, and purpose-driven businesses are key to real human flourishing. And yet many governments are expected to be neutral about business, acting as either redistributor or regulator. There is a third role, though: facilitator.
Traditionally, big energy companies focused primarily on power generation, not customer-centricity. But that’s changing — and today’s digitally empowered customers have opinions about everything from where their energy should come from to when their bills should arrive. Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy Corp., reflects on guiding her company through this transformation.
As the effects of climate change become more prominent, business needs to grapple with its own attitudes toward government. A more destructive physical environment requires a more nuanced relationship in which government is viewed as a partner in enabling and supporting markets rather than as a regulator that needs to be managed.
With tough new EU regulations on data security coming in 2018, global companies will soon be faced with a choice: Protect consumers’ data and reap the rewards of having access to it, or face the competitive consequences of consumer distrust. But companies caught unprepared for the change may lose the privilege of keeping consumers’ data altogether.
U.S. corporations still have considerable incentive to move forward on their own climate plans, despite the softening of federal government support. Organizations as diverse as Anheuser-Busch, Duke Energy, and Timberland have robust programs in motion around renewable electricity, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and tracking the climate impact of manufacturing. These plans were built on tangible business cases, not just goodwill.
The Bank of England, one of the world’s oldest and most influential central banks, has made analytics excellence a key pillar of its mission to promote economic stability within the United Kingdom. Like other central banks, the Bank has relied on data and analytics to formulate policy recommendations. But, since 2008 when it regained its status as a regulator, the Bank has begun using its access to new forms of data to increase its insights and forecasting abilities about the British economy.
Many major cities recognize the opportunity to improve urban life with data analytics, and are exploring how to use information technologies to develop smarter services and a more sustainable footprint. Amsterdam, which has been working toward becoming a “smart city” for almost 7 years, offers insights into the complexities facing city managers who see the opportunity with data, but must collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders to achieve their goals. The city’s chief technology officer, Ger Baron, makes it clear that their efforts are still early days: “I can give you the nice stories that we’re doing great stuff with data and information, but we’re very much at a starting point,” he says.
As the world gears up for a new round of climate talks, companies need to step up and make sustained, multi-year commitments to absolute reductions in their carbon footprints. It’s been calculated that the U.S. business sector needs to reduce emissions by more than 3% per year to avoid the worst climate scenarios — but this option is surprisingly cost-effective. Although many of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases haven’t yet stepped up, Gregory Unruh argues that they must do so now — or face catastrophe.
The “new attitude” in China toward sustainable economic growth depends upon thoughtful management of six types of capital: natural resources, human resources, financial capital, manufacturing infrastructure, intellectual capital, and social relationships. Integrated reporting looks at the performance of all six types of capital and how the performance of each element is related to one another. The challenge for China: developing partnerships with business to make it work.
The introduction of Google’s breakthrough wearable computer, Google Glass, creates numerous possibilities for risky behavior on the part of Glass users. Should companies on the cutting be held responsible for their customers’ poor judgment in using new tech? There are legal and social precedents that say they should, but business and corporate responsibility expert Christine Bader suggests ways companies can combat this problem.
The idea that energy is a “free-market good” is a myth that needs to be abandoned. Subsidies for energy exist for good reason. The authors argue that in order to wean ourselves off hydrocarbon dependence, U.S. and global policies that subsidize oil and gas production at higher rates than renewable energy production need to be changed to reduce the bias in favor of hydrocarbons.
Smart cities are popping up around the globe, from China where 193 smart cities are being piloted, to Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. Their development involves a wide scope of technology, everything from renewable energy, green buildings and smart grids to traffic management, urban security and medical technology. The goal: urban sustainable development and economic growth. Opportunities abound to be part of this global urban revitalization effort. The question is, at what cost to participants?
Boston Mayor Tom Menino is almost radically tech averse, yet he’s led a revamp of a customer relationship management system that has transformed the way the city, its workers, and its citizens interact. Starting with its Citizens Connect app (initially for better pothole reporting), Boston has expanded its data interface to allow faster turnaround times for repair, and has even held a competition across departments to reward the quickest response to citizen requests.
Data analysis is being used during the Olympic Games for everything from ensuring a smooth flow of commuter traffic to generating a multi-colored light show on the London Eye each night based on Twitter feed sentiments.
The planet’s focus today should be on resiliency rather than on sustainability, says Dennis Meadows, one of the original authors of the 1972 book Limits to Growth. That book was one of the first scholarly works to recognize that the world was approaching its sustainable limits.
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