Digital Ethics Top of the Boardroom Agenda for 2020

Digital Ethics Top of the Boardroom Agenda for 2020

June 2, 2019

According to Avanade’s latest Trendlines Report, businesses are ignoring their digital ethics responsibilities which may adversely impact consumer and employee trust, lead to lost revenue and result in a competitive disadvantage. We take a look at who’s leading the conversation…

By Joanne Leila Smith

Digital ethics is hot on the agenda as businesses grapple to keep up with challenges posed by emergent technologies, according to the latest research from Avanade, a digital innovation company majority owned by Accenture LLP and Microsoft Corporation.

The Avanade Report fielded responses from 1,200 C-suite, senior-level IT and business decision makers in 12 countries. Some key findings revealed that while most respondents (82%) agreed digital ethics is the foundation of successful artificial intelligence (AI), 81% also said they lack complete confidence that their organisations’ are adequately prepared to address ethical issues related to AI, robotics and similar technologies.

Avanade Senior Director of Emerging Technologies Aaron Reich says digital ethics is accelerating up the boardroom agenda even faster than security.

“Increasingly, clients are coming to us to have business-critical discussions which reinforces the central role a robust, digital ethics framework has in building long-term trusted relationships with customers, employees and other stakeholders,” says Reich.

According to Avanade Data & AI Lead for ASEAN Ritin Mathur, Singapore is leading the way in when it comes to implementing robust governance around AI and robotics.

“Singapore’s AI ecosystem continues to thrive with the emergence of AI start-ups and a big push to develop skills and innovation in this space. With the model framework for AI governance released earlier this year, Singapore is in a strong position to demonstrate how the public and private sectors can collaborate closely to ensure AI is ethically and responsibly used in businesses and public services,” says Mathur.

While many companies have compliance officers, the Avanade Report predicts a significant increase of senior digital ethics positions over the next one-to-three years. It states that these roles may have broad-ranging scopes across the business areas impacted by digital ethics, including compliance, risk management, product development, marketing, brand and reputation management, corporate citizenship and more.

To help address the challenges that digital ethics poses, Avanade claims that within its own business, it has created a global cross-functional taskforce responsible for developing and guiding the application of the company’s digital ethics framework. Reich says this framework comprises four components: fairness and inclusivity, human accountability, trustworthiness and adaptability. Implementation decisions are made by Avanade’s Ethics and Compliance Council.

“While digital ethics is fast becoming a boardroom discussion item, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that their company is considering the ethical consequences of their actions. Taking action means establishing guiding principles and making them transparent internally and externally, creating playbooks, providing training, engaging ethics hackers to identify potential ethics issues, and participating in public discussion and advocacy. Most importantly, it means enabling employees with best practices and tools to build ethics-by-design into their work,” says Reich.

According to the report, a number of companies have pressed ahead with digital ethics programs, adapting frameworks developed by Microsoft and the European Commission. In addition, companies are sourcing inspiration from health care, such as institutional review boards (IRBs), which provide ethical and regulatory oversight of research that involves human subjects.

The report says that due to the general success of IRBs, this type of governing body is the right fit for building a digital ethics framework.

Microsoft has created an ethical review board and says it plans to conduct an ethics review when it builds new products and services.

AXA has funded a separate research division on responsible AI.

Walmart has folded digital ethics into its overall ethics and compliance program under innovation.

Axon has created an AI and Policing Technology Ethics Board to provide guidance and principles on the development of its AI products and services; and

Design Vanguard, a group of head designers from Fortune 500 companies, developed a designer pledge similar to the Agile Manifesto for software development.

The Avanade report also says organizations are beginning to join ethics consortiums, including Partnership on AI, and to collaborate with universities to help guide discussions on best policy practices and implementation.

According to Reich, Avanade has participated in a series of digital ethics summits that included Fortune 500 companies, universities and governments, resulting in the following prioritized guide for designers and developers:

1. Build trust with users
2. Maximize effectiveness and efficiency
3. Make transparent and consensual use of data
4. Minimize harm
5. Share learnings

Reich says the principles being developed across organizations will not solve all digital ethics problems, however, they will help support organizational values and culture. Making these principles public offers a high level of visibility and accountability – necessary for building and maintaining consumer trust and confidence.


Ed. Avanade Trendlines highlight key predictions within a 12-month horizon. Trendlines are based on ongoing research and the combined experience of Avanade’s 36,000 professionals across multiple sectors worldwide. Over the course of 2019, Avanade says it plans to publish detailed perspectives on these trends.


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