June 23, 2017
"Ethics and Business Ecosystems"
By: Niamh McKenna

I got a new laptop a few months ago—and I realised how much I had relied on the “autosave” login on my browser which saved me from having to retype my passwords all the time. After having to reset the umpteenth password, I then decided to buy some wine (the stress of upgrading to Win10!) and they offered me a “Register with Facebook” option. I clicked on a link and it literally took seconds. Perfect! Since then I barely see a website that doesn’t offer Facebook, Google+ etc. login options. In fact, these days our expectation of the "digital revolution" is that our experience should be seamless. We shop online, book restaurants online, engage with people from across the globe, etc., and all at the touch of a button. We don’t want to re-enter the same thing over and over. And that touch is becoming more and more seamless as companies expand their eco-systems to make it easy for us. Public sector and health services are also jumping on this bandwagon so we can report crimes online and tweet tax services (I’ve tried it and they are very responsive!).

The platform companies (Uber, AirBnB) gave us single point of access to multiple services—and shattered the traditional models.  Everyone is now looking to deploy multiple-strategy eco systems—making deliberate decisions to drive more sales, improve service or create a better customer experiences. Public Sector and health services are starting to do the same.

But of course, public sector bodies have a public accountability and, if they do go down this route, a question they need to ask themselves, is who are they partnering with?  If a serious ethical issue comes to light, that involves their partner in their eco-system, how will it affect the reputation of the public service that it is providing to the citizen?

So, for example, we know the power of analytics has huge potential for good in health services. Philips and Qualcomm Life announced a strategic technology collaboration to advance connected health across the health continuum—from healthy living and prevention to chronic care management and home care. Health authorities see the benefit of connecting to this platform and sharing their data—but what if it was discovered that the data was being misused? Hyatt Hotels uses Facebook Messenger to let guests book and order room service—but if the tax authorities start using Messenger and then Facebook starts using our interactions with the tax “chatbot” to drive suggested content or news to our feed … does that feel right?

As we know, public sector agencies are accountable to the wider citizen population, and with that comes a heavy responsibility to get it right.  Whilst we, the citizen, do want our public services to provide us with the same seamless digital experience that private companies do, we equally hold them responsible for behaving with impeccable ethical standards.  This presents a bit of a dilemma to both us as the citizen and the agencies who provide the public services we want and need.

Governments and public bodies are all racing to get digital. In order to do this, they will need to leverage the wider ecosystem but with the additional burden of ethics of with whom and how they partner. Indeed, the pace of technological advancement is so fast that what we worry about today may not be what we care about in the future. I think we should be looking at some kind of cross-Government policing body to help protect them, and us, from ethically compromising themselves.

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