Who really benefits from technology used to foster consumer relationships, the customer or the provider? Dr Stephen J Pratt FBCS explores the issue.

The mantra of every managerial course relates to ensuring customer satisfaction. To that extent, technology is being used to reach out to consumers to engage in a relationship that will hopefully benefit all parties. But in some cases, it raises the question of who really benefits?

In addressing such fundamental issues, the underlying challenge is whether technology providers, who drive the application and its subsequent use, should be focused on the ‘bliss factor’.

Research aside, the driving force for technology companies is market domination. However, market domination from a commercial perspective is not the sole concern, as social media companies have clearly demonstrated with their recently headlined, impactful influence from societal and political perspectives.

Selling the dream

It is clear that technology platforms have been designed and marketed on the premise of contributing to the quality of one’s life. Whether that is the flexibility to work from home (or the top of a mountain as some adverts portray), or enabling distant relatives to stay in contact, the basis is ‘look what technology can do for you.’

Within that context, technology has done a lot: e.g., raised educational or political injustices, humanitarian unfairness, the impact of climate change, health awareness and supported people during an unprecedented pandemic. But technology is not a panacea and can introduce problems:

  • Wellbeing issues related to working from home when business processes are ‘not joined up’!
  • Encouraging the young to sit in front of a screen rather than exercise - hence high obesity rate in the young.
  • Personal details of social media users, particularly those who are less savvy, being used for market revenue purposes.
  • Cyber attacks where increased social penetration means social penetration to all is very profitable from a criminal perspective.

Setting aside the financial benefits of remote technological solutions, can the offices of academia, medicine, judiciary, or government, be dispensed appropriately online without losing authority?

Do people, whether corporate consumers or those simply trying to access public services, feel more unimportant, isolated, disconnected and even dejected as a result of the remoteness of the relationship?

It is interesting (and somewhat ironic) when much of the commercial promotional material espoused is about the value of remote connection!

The importance of admin

Another interesting angle on the corporate approach to the introduction of technology is the impact on the role of administration and the specialisms that often surround it.

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Too often, the function of administration is oversimplified, with the financial benefits of automation (in the sights of the accountants) being predominant and the remaining components being effectively pushed-up the hierarchical chain to senior management (which in itself has a negative consequence).

Even in this simple example, the question is: can technology truly replace the function of administration in an organisation? If it can, is it at the expense of quality?

Taking the good with the bad

Being negative is easy, the focus should be how we steer technology away from hitting the rocks. That is assuming that we recognise the potential problem ahead, assuming there is one. As an academic, the starting position is in education.

The impact of technology needs to be highlighted, both positively and negatively. There is evidence of ethical values being taught, but too often as an after thought by those who got involved in technology seeing the rose-tinted advantages and inherent excitement it can bring their own (and therefore everyone else’s) lives!

For example, what is the attraction of computer science? To use technology for improving the wellbeing of society (from a blended combination of financial reward and ethical values) or simply the former?

Also, should this responsibility be shouldered solely by computer science and its respective professional oversight organisation? The use of technology is being promoted in all disciplines - and rightly so.

The discussion we should all be promoting is around the definition of the technological ‘bliss factor’ embracing all society, and hence involving all disciplines.