As technology continues to rapidly evolve and disrupt nearly every industry, companies are facing unprecedented challenges in navigating this digital transformation. This puts technology consulting firms in high demand, as organizations turn to experts for help establishing the right technology strategies, implementations, and operations.
However, with demand comes increased competition. In today’s market, it’s not enough for consultants to simply provide competent technical advice – clients also want partners they can trust.
They need help navigating complex issues around data privacy, security, bias, and more. Those firms that can demonstrate a strong commitment to ethics will have a significant advantage in winning new clients and maintaining long-term relationships.
Ethical consulting means more than just avoiding overtly illegal or harmful actions. It’s a holistic approach that considers technology’s broader impact on individuals and society.
Consultants practicing ethics will:
- Prioritize transparency. Clients should fully understand how their data will be collected, stored, shared and potentially monetized. Consultants avoid secrecy and help assess privacy/security risks up front.
- Consider unintended consequences. New technologies can disadvantage certain groups or exacerbate existing inequalities if inclusiveness isn’t a top priority. Ethical consultants examine how systems may propagate bias or disproportionately affect the disadvantaged.
- Uphold user consent and control. People should have a say in what data is collected about them and how it’s used. Consultants help enable meaningful consent as well as the ability for individuals to access, correct or remove their personal information.
- Mitigate harm. Even with good intentions, technology can enable or amplify negative outcomes like misinformation, addiction, discrimination and more. Ethical consultants evaluate potential downsides and recommend controls to curb manipulation or exploitation of vulnerable users.
- Advocate for the public interest. Consultants should consider technology’s societal impact beyond any single client or project. This may mean refusing work that would endanger civil rights or democratic processes, or speaking up about the dangers of mass surveillance for example.
- Commit to continuous learning. As the technical, regulatory and social landscapes evolve rapidly, consultants must stay abreast of emerging challenges. They maintain an outward perspective to understand how stakeholders are experiencing new technologies in practice.
Firms that benchmark themselves against principles of ethics will find themselves well-positioned for an increasingly discerning market. But the true motivations should come from within – a genuine care for responsible progress and human well-being, not just commercial interests. Authentic commitment to these ideals will shine through to clients.
Some practical ways consulting firms can strengthen their ethics brand include:
- Undergo outside assessments of their practices and policies, then publicly report on areas for improvement. This demonstrates accountability.
- Form advisory boards including diverse subject matter experts to provide ongoing guidance on societal impacts.
- Invest in specialized ethical training for all employees to build competence in areas like bias, privacy engineering, and human-centered design.
- Partner with non-profits and advocacy groups focused on technology accountability, donating time and skills to help address real-world problems.
- Publish case studies and research on “ethical refers” – projects where more harm may have resulted without the firm’s guidance on dilemmas around data sharing, automation bias, or other concerns.
- Clearly disclose potential conflicts on company websites and proposals, and turn down work that cannot be completed with true independence and impartiality.
As new technologies redefine economic sectors and social systems at unprecedented speed, the need for conscientious guidance has never been greater. Clients now want advisors who will help apply innovations responsibly and for the benefit of all stakeholders – not just to extract more data or maximize quarterly gains.
Technology consulting no longer ends at delivery of a functional product or service. Firms that lead with principles of transparency, care, empowerment and accountability will earn unrivaled trust as digital transformation partners for the decade ahead.