Microsoft: Australian businesses need a strategy for digital transformation
Australian organisations that approach business change as a shape-shift within a greater strategy, rather than a company overhaul, are poised for greater success in digital transformation, according to new research from Microsoft.
The report, Embracing digital transformation: Experiences from Australian organisations, is based on detailed qualitative interviews with 30 senior leaders of business and government organisations to uncover the success factors and obstacles involved in digital transformation.
While there was no ‘right approach’ to the digital transformation journey, most organisations were opting for a ‘test and learn’ approach involving discrete projects and experiments, rather than business-wide structured programs. These smaller shifts allowed for fast iteration, encouraged buy-in from the rest of the business and reflected the pace of change in digital technologies.
Leading organisations typically transformed the customer experience first, using data to win, grow and retain their customer base or better serve citizens. They then moved on to other areas, including empowering employees, optimising operations and transforming products and operations.
The research also found digital transformation requires a pro-innovation corporate mindset ahead of the right technology. Successful transformation programs had buy-in across the business and were supported by strong leadership, an entrepreneurial culture and a pipeline to digital skills.
Organisations fell into two groups based on the extent to which they exhibited these traits. Proactive and Embracing organisations made transformation a top priority and empowered their people to pursue it, while Motivated but Constrained organisations often found their digital efforts hampered by internal obstacles. All organisations shared concerns such as ensuring security and privacy.
“The most digitally advanced organisations had several common elements but the role of people, in terms of leadership, culture and ambition, was the most pervasive,” said Microsoft Australia’s Managing Director Pip Marlow.
“Our research shows successful organisations have leaders who embrace digital transformation and empower their people to innovate and fully explore the potential of new technologies,” she added.
Proactive organisations also recognised the importance of questioning existing business models and experimenting with news ones, but only a handful were acting on this as part of the digital transformation process.
“Transformation is underpinned by a digital mindset that is a unique interplay of technology, people and process. It is adopting this mindset that we believe truly puts an organisation on the path to digital transformation,” Marlow said.
While respondents said the pace of technological change presented ongoing challenges, most believed upcoming innovations including expanded cloud computing services, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality would pave the way for future invention.
“Organisations expect digital technology to keep evolving rapidly, but they are also optimistic that it will create huge opportunities,” Marlow said. “There’s no doubt that harnessing the right technology can dramatically improve customer and staff experiences and lift productivity. It can even take organisations into whole new areas of business or allow new ones to emerge.”
Click here to download a full copy of Embracing digital transformation: Experiences from Australian organisations.
Chinese Firm Taigusys Launches Emotion-Recognition System
In a detailed investigative report, the Guardian reported that Chinese tech company Taigusys can now monitor facial expressions. The company claims that it can track fake smiles, chart genuine emotions, and help police curtail security threats. ‘Ordinary people here in China aren’t happy about this technology, but they have no choice. If the police say there have to be cameras in a community, people will just have to live with it’, said Chen Wei, company founder and chairman. ‘There’s always that demand, and we’re here to fulfil it’.
Who Will Use the Data?
As of right now, the emotion-recognition market is supposed to be worth US$36bn by 2023—which hints at rapid global adoption. Taigusys counts Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and PetroChina among its 36 clients, but none of them has yet revealed if they’ve purchased the new AI. In addition, Taigusys will likely implement the technology in Chinese prisons, schools, and nursing homes.
It’s not likely that emotion-recognition AI will stay within the realm of private enterprise. President Xi Jinping has promoted ‘positive energy’ among citizens and intimated that negative expressions are no good for a healthy society. If the Chinese central government continues to gain control over private companies’ tech data, national officials could use emotional data for ideological purposes—and target ‘unhappy’ or ‘suspicious’ citizens.
How Does It Work?
Taigusys’s AI will track facial muscle movements, body motions, and other biometric data to infer how a person is feeling, collecting massive amounts of personal data for machine learning purposes. If an individual displays too much negative emotion, the platform can recommend him or her for what’s termed ‘emotional support’—and what may end up being much worse.
Can We Really Detect Human Emotions?
This is still up for debate, but many critics say no. Psychologists still debate whether human emotions can be separated into basic emotions such as fear, joy, and surprise across cultures or whether something more complex is at stake. Many claim that AI emotion-reading technology is not only unethical but inaccurate since facial expressions don’t necessarily indicate someone’s true emotional state.
In addition, Taigusys’s facial tracking system could promote racial bias. One of the company’s systems classes faces as ‘yellow, white, or black’; another distinguishes between Uyghur and Han Chinese; and sometimes, the technology picks up certain ethnic features better than others.
Is China the Only One?
Not a chance. Other countries have also tried to decode and use emotions. In 2007, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched a heavily contested training programme (SPOT) that taught airport personnel to monitor passengers for signs of stress, deception, and fear. But China as a nation rarely discusses bias, and as a result, its AI-based discrimination could be more dangerous.
‘That Chinese conceptions of race are going to be built into technology and exported to other parts of the world is troubling, particularly since there isn’t the kind of critical discourse [about racism and ethnicity in China] that we’re having in the United States’, said Shazeda Ahmed, an AI researcher at New York University (NYU).
Taigusys’s founder points out, on the other hand, that its system can help prevent tragic violence, citing a 2020 stabbing of 41 people in Guangxi Province. Yet top academics remain unconvinced. As Sandra Wachter, associate professor and senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, said: ‘[If this continues], we will see a clash with fundamental human rights, such as free expression and the right to privacy’.