The rising influence of individuals is transforming economies and societies. The demands of personalization and shifting corporate expectations have put exceptional pressure on companies to adapt, leaving many of them vulnerable to disruption by new technologies and business models. The increasing strength of individuals’ digital voices has empowered the masses to seek change and demand more from those who serve them, but these digital tools are double-edged, and society is currently confronting the damage being done in what many call the “war on truth.”
Rising corporate expectations. In the past decade, individuals have come to distrust large corporations and question the benefits of capitalism. Fifty-six percent of the surveyed global population in Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer Study believes that capitalism does more harm than good, and income inequality is rising around the world.140 Further, over 50% of respondents believe the looming threat of automation engenders distrust toward their employers. Companies like Amazon have perennially been under a microscope for their heavy push for automation,141 but they are not alone. Companies as diverse as Best Buy, Tesla and Adidas have all made significant investments in automating their factories or retail stores to great benefit but also rising concerns.142 Beyond public perceptions and technology investment, social movements like #MeToo have exposed corrupt behavior at the highest levels of corporate leadership. Multiple corporations, like Nike, Uber and Vox Media, have been heavily criticized for their toxic corporate culture and lack of diversity.143 While these might seem like isolated incidents, businesses around the world have sensed the worrying trend and have decided to take action. At the 2019 G7 summit, 34 leading multinational corporations, including Ikea and Unilever, pledged to tackle inequality and diversity in the workplace144 to set an example for the rest of the corporate world.145, 146 Additionally, in August 2019, 181 CEOs, including 3M’s Mike Roman, signed the Business Roundtable “Purpose of a Corporation” letter, a pledge to move away from shareholder primacy and toward commitments to all stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders).
Rising demand for responsible data stewardship. In its 2020 report on digital customer experience,147 Simpler Media Group found for the first time that customers viewed data privacy as a competitive differentiator for companies.148 According to a survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Consumer Privacy Index, 89% of respondents claimed they wouldn’t do business with a company that didn’t protect their data online.149, 150 The last decade saw many high-profile data breaches, including those at Equifax and Sony, which led to public outcry and regulators taking stronger action regarding data privacy. Earlier this year, in an effort to address these concerns, California enforced a sweeping data privacy act, the CCPA, in line with the EU’s GDPR, giving customers more control over data collected about them. The act goes so far as to give customers the “right to be forgotten” by a company. Major privacy laws also emerged out of Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Colombia. The conversations about data privacy have also extended into health care and given rise to a debate about whether U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protections are enough in the age of big tech. Google’s use of patient data came under U.S. Congressional scrutiny in 2018 and uncovered the extent of big tech’s reach in consumers’ data.
The demands of equality and privacy will be some of the most dominant topics of the next decade. Technology will be more prominent in every sphere. It will increase wealth concentration and the chances of exploitation. This will be met in kind by increasing checks and balances imposed by regulators and corporations to safeguard individuals.
Consumers are looking for companies to be good corporate citizens. This could mean paying fair wages and conducting business sustainability but will mean different things to different people. On the other hand, the rise of automation is rising, and companies preparing their workforces for a more automated future are taking the right steps. Automation and job disruption go hand in hand, but workforce training and preparedness now will enable a successful transition later. It is almost impossible to regain trust once it has been lost, so companies must plan and act to preserve it in the first place. Accordingly, companies must take note of the growing distrust of corporations and take proactive steps to mitigate such concerns.
Corporations and individuals will leverage data and AI to gain an advantage in the marketplace, but data privacy regulations will inevitably emerge to provide greater checks and balances. Businesses can expect to see significant fines from the CCPA and landmark privacy cases that will favor individuals. A deluge of data is expected to hit with the maturation of IoT but will be accompanied by its own new regulations to further safeguard individual privacy. It will be imperative for companies to stay abreast of new regulations to ensure compliance and anticipate future regulations in order to plan ahead and minimize disruption. Driven by strong demand, data privacy will become a core competency and a competitive differentiator for some. Many companies can be expected to include privacy intent in their mission statements to ingrain in customers their seriousness about the issue.151