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Corporate responsibility needed for digital pioneers

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As pioneering companies pursue boundary-breaking opportunities, they must assume a new corporate responsibility.
The concept of trust and good corporate citizenship will increasingly come to the fore as those who willingly compete in these new and exciting areas willingly agree to be bound by rules, or lose their ability to play on the stage if they do not, writes Hans Zachar, MD: technology strategy at Accenture in South Africa,
About 65% of IT and business executives surveyed in the Tech Vision 2017 report believe that regulations in their industry have not been able to keep up with the pace of technology advancement. There is little doubt that new age entrepreneurs will continue to move faster than legislators.
Some form of self-regulation appears inevitable if progress is not to be hampered, but a new set of rules will need to be codified to set the boundaries. These developments are likely to include the pioneers themselves helping to form the laws and regulations that govern privacy, data ethics and security.
A few recent examples highlight how companies have realised they need to keep moving to ensure their idea is not stifled. Amazon announced its intent to pilot a service using drones to deliver packages. While an initial set of regulations around the concept was worked on in the US, Amazon took the concept overseas to conduct the pilot, fine tune the service and launch its first delivery in the UK at the end of 2016.
Businesses in Africa and across the globe are also assembling joint task forces or collaborating with competitors to write rules where nothing exists. Last year, 25 startups united to launch a Bitcoin Smart Contract Federation in the belief that Bitcoin offers a more mature, tested and secure alternative to other smart contract platforms. By building the platform, they are creating the rules for others who will join this ecosystem in the future.
In February this year Standard Bank joined the blockchain consortium R3 to explore the technology and its uses — 75 global financial institutions form part of the network, with Absa having joined in 2016.
It is clear that waiting on the sidelines for rules to change and technology standards to solidify is not going to work.
Other emerging technologies include:
* Differential privacy — Integrates digital ethics and privacy standards for companies by receiving data in such a way that individual identifiers are never collected.
* Smart contract technology — Offers an automated way to enforce contracts whether the counter-party is trusted or not. Smart contracts design-in the rules for a value exchange and can be self-exercising or self-enforcing.
* Homomorphic encryption — Implements data sharing and transformations that are performed exclusively with encrypted data, decrypting it only when a user needs to see a result.
In this dynamic new world businesses are not just creating new products and services but are shaping new digital industries. From technology standards, to ethical norms, to government mandates, in an ecosystem-driven digital economy, the Tech Vision survey highlighted that a wide scope of rules still needs to be defined.
To drive governance and accountability, leading enterprises will increasingly embed the newly defined rules and standards into the technologies themselves. It is therefore no surprise that 78% of the executives we surveyed agree that their organization feels it has a duty to be proactive in writing the rules for emerging industries.
We have to fast forward to a world in which advances increase a thousand fold from where they are today and consider how on earth rules will change quickly enough. There will be a need for some level of speedier automation in legislation, as well as a level of self-regulation when change overshoots existing rules.
True authentication and verification could, for example, take place through a bureau service. South Africa has an awesome opportunity to use its population register to create a digitally managed single point of authentication — you just link to it securely and get confirmation. This is also a fabulous way to prevent fraudulent transactions from taking place.
At the end of the day, speed and efficiency remain critical to maximising outcomes in the uncharted world of the future and to fulfil their digital ambitions, companies must take on a leadership role to help shape the new rules of the game. Third world growth economies have a huge opportunity as they are not bound by legacy structures and modes of thinking. African businesses in particular must seize the opportunities created by the eco-system driven digital economy. Discovery is already a great example of how a company can create a single platform which is then provided to global insurance companies.
The huge benefit Africa has is the lack of established retail networks — these are encumbrances of developed markets — Africa can leapfrog them as it embraces these new channels for doing business, which in the future will be far more profitable than traditional bricks and mortar structures.
It will also be important to realise that to successfully implement an idea on the scale required, help from elsewhere will be needed. Most service organisations unfortunately still have pretty rigid conditions, terms and modes of thinking that will only prove to be a barrier to entry. The Google’s and Amazon’s of the world will not wait for you.
However, as rules are not yet advanced enough and much of the current processes within companies are outdated, it is important to keep in mind that when you release your innovation you must make sure you are secure enough and anticipate potential loopholes.
There’s a whirlwind of disruptive activity happening across industries and as these early pivot points of new industries develop, organisations will need to changes the way we see the world and how they embrace risk.
There is no doubt companies will be able to partner best with others that have the same security and technology standards, as well as similar ethical values and commitment to social responsibility.