How consumers' desires are powering business performance

Dr Rick Robinson IT Director, Smart Data and Technology at Amey comments on the need for businesses to be more than just ‘smart’. 

undefinedOver the past 5 years, enormous interest has developed in the potential for digital technologies to contribute to the construction and operation of buildings, infrastructure and services upon which we depend to live, work and play. These ideas are often referred to as “Smart” buildings, transport, energy and cities.

More efficient, more competitive

Indeed, as digital technologies such as smartphones, sensors, analytics, open source software and cloud computing platforms become cheaper and more powerful, market dynamics will drive their aggressive adoption to make construction, infrastructure and city services more efficient, and hence make the provider of services more competitive.

But those market dynamics do not guarantee that we will get everything we want for our future: efficiency and resilience are not the same as health, happiness and opportunity for every citizen.

Some corporate behaviours promote these outcomes, driven by the voting and buying powers of citizens and consumers. Working for Amey, for example, customers are usually government organisations who serve an electorate; or private sector companies who are regulated by government bodies. In both cases, there is a direct chain of influence leading from individual citizen needs and perceptions through to the way we operate and deliver our services. If we don’t engage with, respect and meet those needs and expectations, we will not be successful.

Technology that benefits customers

So as we look to new technologies to help us create more efficient, competitive services for our customers, we are looking at how that investment can create technology capabilities that benefit the customers of our customers: citizens, communities and businesses. The information in our systems can create open data that can inform local discussions about waste and recycling, environmental quality and traffic conditions; and that can be a resource that enables local businesses to create their own innovations.

Businesses in other sectors are taking similar approaches. By focusing on consumer desires for sustainable products businesses are able to link corporate performance to sustainable business practices. This can be validated by the use of technology to track the economic and social impact of business operations through a supply chain. Jared Diamond has written extensively about successful examples of socially and environmentally sustainable resource extraction businesses, for example, in his book “Collapse“.

Positive social and environmental outcomes

Business models such as social enterprise and the sharing economy – the use of social media and smartphones to create peer-to-peer trading networks for food, accommodation, transport and other goods and services - also offer great potential to link business success to positive social and environmental outcomes.

Business models are a choice made by individual business leaders, and they depend (for their successful operation) on the daily choices and actions of employees. The more that all of us understand that our long term business interest is no different than the long term interest of the society in which we operate, and of which we are all a part, the more likely we are to take those decisions consistently. I hope that the more that we use technology to create innovations and new value in our businesses, the more that the information created by that technology will make that common interest apparent to us in every decision and action that we take.