I have been watching the Volkswagen situation unfold with a kind of morbid fascination. I’m going to start by saying that I’m not an automotive software engineer so can’t comment on what the embedded software in a car’s “black box” is capable of; nor do I want to get embroiled in the “twitstorm” that is much better handled by the regular media.

However, the Volkswagen episode has caused me to reflect on the impact of technology on customer experience and ultimately reputation. Whichever review you read - the potential impact of this situation has far reaching consequences - economic, social, environmental, ethical and reputational. So Volkswagen’s share price has slid, the CEO has resigned, large sums are being set aside for recalls / compensation, more nasty stuff may have been emitted into our atmosphere than we’d like and VW’s brand as “the people’s car” is looking rather tarnished. The world’s media is queueing up outside VW’s headquarters in the rather aptly named “Wolfsburg”. The link between technology and reputation is massive and instant.

It’s arguably unfair to only single out the Volkswagen example, but I could make a pretty substantial list of others - think about the ATM network shutdowns or the e-bay password hack.

At this stage it’s dangerous to speculate or lay blame, only a thorough investigation, which I’m sure will ensue, will confirm exactly how this occurred. However, the undeniable view is that the responsibilities that lie in the hands of technologists are now far reaching. One could argue in 2015 that these responsibilities even exceed those of engineers or researchers. This is why we believe people who work in technology roles must work to a strong professional code of conduct and that the profession must engender a culture of responsibility for societal outcomes.

About the author

Paul Fletcher is the Group Chief Executive Officer of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. Paul joined BCS in 2014 after ten years at RM Education where he was Group Managing Director of the Education Technology Division. Prior to RM, Paul held senior management consultancy roles with A.T. Kearney and KPMG. He started his career in the Aerospace Industry. Paul is passionate about the role of IT in education and society as a whole.