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73% of business leaders view responsible tech as a need

Thoughtworks, a technology consultancy that integrates strategy, design, and engineering to drive digital innovation, and MIT Technology Review Insights have partnered to explore how organisations understand responsible technology use, what has motivated them to adopt more responsible practices and what benefits they hope to achieve from this adoption.

The report, The State of Responsible Technology, draws on a survey of 550 senior executives from nine countries and regions - the United States (12%), Canada (10%), Brazil (10%), the United Kingdom (12%), Germany (12%), India (12%), Australia (11%), Singapore (10%), and China (12%). In addition, it features a series of in-depth interviews with technology experts from organisations including H&M Group, MOIA and California Polytechnic State University.

The key Australian findings include 55% of Australians believing technology should be used without causing harm to external or internal stakeholders, a much higher response to our US and UK counterparts who consider ROI more important.

When asked about tangible business benefits of adopting responsible technology, the top Australian responses were: attracting and retaining top talent (50%), prevention of unintended negative consequences (50%), improved brand perception (47%), and better customer acquisition/retention (43%).

The most important factors in Australian organisations' responsible technology practice are accessibility and inclusive design (63%), elimination of bias in AI (58%), and sustainability and environmental impact (52%).

For Australian businesses, the main barrier to embedding responsible technology practices more firmly in their operations is a lack of senior management awareness (63%), followed by organisational resistance to change (52%) and internal competing priorities (43%).

The key global findings include nearly 75% of respondents agreeing that companies' technology decisions will eventually account for 'responsible use' just as much as business and financial implications.

When asked about tangible business benefits of adopting responsible technology, the top responses were: better customer acquisition/retention (47%), improved brand perception (46%), prevention of unintended negative consequences (44%), attracting and retaining top talent (43%), and improving sustainability (43%).

Most survey respondents' organisations have some official policies in place for enacting responsible technology initiatives.

Of respondents, 67% said their organisation has methodologies, guidelines, or frameworks for implementing specific types of responsible tech. This was more common among public sector respondents than those working at financial services companies.

The main barriers to adoption when embedding responsible tech more firmly in operations were a lack of senior management awareness (52%), organisational resistance to change (46%), and internal competing priorities (46%).

“The reach of technology is extending into more sensitive and complex arenas, from credit decisions and medical diagnoses to criminal sentencing. It impacts everyday interactions with ourselves, friends and family, as well as our employees, customers and citizens. It is no surprise that companies are thinking more about how they’re building more responsible technology rather than  focusing solely on parameters such as convenience or cost. At Thoughtworks, we’re advising organisations on their digital innovation strategies, and how responsible tech can build customer trust, reduce risk and attract talent, adding value and managing any unintended consequences of their digital products,” says Rebecca Parsons, Chief Technology Officer, Thoughtworks. 

“At its core, the notion of responsible tech is about ensuring that everyone benefits from the deployment of technology. I’m encouraged by what I see in this report: today’s business leaders are not only starting to understand the urgent need for the responsible use of technology but they’re also seeing the solid, enterprise-enhancing reasons for doing so.”

“As technology becomes a fundamental part of every business, and as we see consequences of its misuse play out, responsible technology use has become a critical business expectation. How companies interpret that obligation, however, and the degree to which their execution is matching up to their aspirations, is rapidly evolving,” adds Laurel Ruma, Global Editorial Director of MIT Technology Review Insights.

The new Thoughtworks-MIT Technology Review Insights research follows the launch of Thoughtworks' Responsible Tech Playbook, which provides companies with technology tools and techniques to identify strategies to be more inclusive, aware of bias, and transparency, and to mitigate unintended negative consequences. Using these approaches helps technologists examine their product and technology choices from multiple perspectives, increasing the likelihood that harmful consequences will be uncovered.

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