Because we can, does it mean we should?

  • Do you think you behave ethically at work?
  • Have you ever thought about it?
  • Why am I even asking this question?

What’s the future bringing Business Analysts?

This year I’ve been fortunate to attend some large Business Analysis conferences where a current hot topic is Digital Transformation.

The sessions tend to go something like this: 

A respected thought leader stands up on stage and tells us all how customer experience is everything and business analysts must change how they think about what it means to interact with customers.

Now; instead of viewing customers only from the point they start to use our services, we should be with them in all parts of their daily life. This means as soon as they are awake, online, and interacting with the world. A prime example here is the way electronic personal assistants have integrated into people’s daily lives.

And the change will be huge. This approach needs business agility, is data driven and will integrate robotic process automation and artificial intelligence into services. Business Analysts need new skills and competencies to work in these areas.

That all sounds great! Doesn’t it?

Inevitably some companies get held up as exemplars of digital disruption and customer experience. Companies like Spotify (I mean, who’s enough of a dinosaur to buy CDs any more? Just stream your music!) Companies like Amazon and Uber.

But, but *I* buy CDs, because that is how smaller artists make money. If I stream music from a streaming service,  the artist only gets pennies or fractions of a penny when I listen to them.

Plus, Amazon and Uber are experiencing a significan backlash due to reports of poor treatment of their employees and suppliers. As a result of this I now personally avoid using these companies where I can.

While it is clear that digital transformations benefit many people, others are losing out to the point where it affects the reputation and image of parent companies. Does it have to be that way?

Is there a role for ethics in business?

Ethical considerations in the world of work are nothing new. Will you work for a tobacco company? How about one that sells armaments? Maybe you would prefer not to work for one that performs animal testing, but you would modify that poition if the testing is for a pharmaceutical company to save peoples’ lives rather than on personal products

Some people work in the charity sector where they feel they can make a difference significant the lives of others while others focus on the nature of the job. They are keen that it challenges them and provides an interesting role and career opportunities and are less influenced by the sector it is in. As long as the company operates within the law then ethical considerations rarely raise their head.

However, as the nature of IT changes, ethical considerations are starting to creep into the daily lives of people that have not had to consider them before

Including Business Analysts.

Digital transformations are implemented by huge projects but maybe the Business Analyst needs to consider the ethics of a situation as part of their strategy analysis

Where should we consider ethics?

We’ve already discussed how digital transformations affect workers in the supply chain.

However, the area that springs to most people’s minds is data.

There are laws drawn up to protect the rights of individuals, especially around data privacy, but there are still many concerns about people’s information being abused. Organisations such as CambridgeAnalytica are willing to abuse the data of millions of people to influence the outcomes of elections.

Another area of potential concern is automated decision making

For example

  • Do you qualify for a mortgage?
  • Does your hospital scan show evidence of illness?
  • Will your CV be put in front of the recruiting manager?

These are all areas where decisions can be made quickly and effectively by an algorithm. These decisions change peoples’ futures, so it is vital that they are correct and fair. How can we be sure they are and, if not, how can they be challenged? Do those afftected even know when assessments are no longer being made by a person?  Who in the organisation understands what these algorithms actually do?

A recent example of budget airlines actively separating travelling groups in order to make more money from seat bookings shows how easy it is for these algorithms to flip from making manual processes quicker into something working against the customer.

Good practice is growing!

In the field of digital design, the concept of ethics is more firmly embedded.

“Design is applied ethics”

Cennydd Bowles

The design of many websites relies heavily on understanding peoples’ responses to layouts and patterns, and that way that these play into how people process information and make decisions.

The line can be a fine one between on, one hand, helping make a site simple and easy for people to use and on the other, using so-called dark patterns that trick them into actions they might not want to take. 

The modern addiction to social media is a good example. Ease of use and appeal to our social needs has been designed into the interfaces we use every day specifically to keep us coming back time and time again. Whether this is either necessary or even good for us.

Where does this leave the business analyst?

  • What is our role as business professionals to include ethical considerations?
  • What is our role as members of society?
  • Even, for the more cynical, where is the business case for it?

I think that ultimately we must consider ethical issues in business strategy the same way as we do political, legal and environmental ones.

Business Analysts can ensure that the impact on ALL stakeholders is considered as part of business change. This is both a benefit for stakeholder and can prevent future backlash against organisations’ poor operating practices.

The UK government is currently consulting on the ethics of AI, so why not let them know what you think?

I’d love to hear your views in the comments.


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