Bill McDonald: Technology is now about empowering humans

Putting customers in the driving seat will be increasing role of tech advances, writes Bill McDonald, MD for management consultancy Accenture in Scotland.

Watching television has changed forever, writes Bill McDonald. Picture: Stockbyte/Getty Images
Watching television has changed forever, writes Bill McDonald. Picture: Stockbyte/Getty Images

Just the way we watch the television shows how much empowerment of the individual has changed. And it speaks of the wider picture of how technology is no longer a take-it-or-leave-it template, but a bespoke service tailored to the individual.

Can you picture early television broadcasts? They were carefully scripted and delivered to present a highly curated programme, forcing us all to not only share the same worldview, but also to watch on the programme-makers’ terms.

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But the evolution of video has fundamentally changed both our view of the world and how we interact with it. In less than a century, we’ve moved to an online world with billions of viewpoints, coming from governments and businesses and more importantly from people, every one with a unique perspective. We now have a truly live culture where technologies like Periscope and Facebook Live mean anyone can broadcast what they want and tune in when they want – on their terms.

It illustrates that the way we use technology today is to bend it to our own needs. Change may be endemic, but the key point is that we are now in control. It’s no longer people who are adapting to technology – rather, the technology is adapting to us.

In fact, every time an experience is personalised, or technology anticipates people’s needs and wants, we are being placed in the driver’s seat to realise or satisfy those needs. In evolutionary terms, this is the technology age of human empowerment and it matters to business. With technology that truly responds to people, based on what they want, companies can evolve from being a supplier to become their customers’ partner.

London-based IntelligentX Brewing Company has developed an AI (Artificial Intelligence) system to continuously collect and incorporate customer feedback. It incorporates this into its thinking to brew new versions of the company’s beers.

“Our AI can have a conversation with all of our customers, and that gives us the feedback that allows our beer to evolve,” says Rob McInerney, co-founder of IntelligentX. “You can talk to the algorithm whenever or wherever you’re drinking the beer.”

His co-founder Hew Leith adds: “People’s tastes are changing faster than ever before… And AI is the perfect way to respond.”

This is how businesses will grow their role in people’s lives, and establish a place in the future of society: by being more than just a provider of products and services.

We could call it the hyper-personalisation of technology. And it can drive commercial success at the scale of entire industries, not just at the individual level. The digital leaders of the world are already making big calls in response.

Electronics giant Philips, for instance, is looking to transform healthcare to a connected, comprehensive experience that’s both intertwined and accessible throughout people’s lives. Through apps and connected devices that integrate into people’s lives, it is possible for doctors and nurses to live alongside each patient, build a closer, more personal relationship, and provide comprehensive – not just reactive – care.

To patients, connected healthcare isn’t an improvement because of the technology itself. The draw is the empowerment it gives individuals over their own health – you only need to consider how wearable technologies are driving a tailored approach to personal fitness.

Meanwhile, companies like Philips are leading because their technology strategy focuses on the needs of the individual patient, on their terms.

As a business, therefore, becoming a true partner to people starts with technology. That said, the path ahead will have its challenges. These start with the matter of trust.

Barely one in two members of the public say they trust businesses to do what’s right. Even fewer look on business leaders as credible sources of information. For people to value these new partnerships, companies must work to gain and keep trust.

One of the best ways to do this is by putting the power in the hands of customers, and that can be achieved by designing technology that works for them. That means an end to technology tools with power that is only unleashed when customers adapt to or learn to use them.

The good news is that technology’s great new strength is in its growing humanity. Tools that interact with people, learn from those exchanges, and adapt for future interactions make the experience of using them all the more human.

To put these new adaptive technologies to use, businesses must adopt people’s goals as their own. Technology is an agent of change and now it can empower people in an interactive, collaborative way on each individual’s own terms.

And when companies truly enable people to reach their goals, so will the companies themselves, contributing to the growth of society and the economy.