Having worked in public sector  for 10 years up to 2000 and with a US technology company since then, it’s surprising that it’s taken me so long to consider this question. Do technology companies really care ? There are lots of statements on social responsibility from them but are they more than lip service ?

This article discusses whether caring about the social impact of a project is beneficial for both end users and shareholders and if this is possible ?

Malcolm Herbert

Whether its the technology company giants (like Facebook, Google, Amazon etc), business technology providers (like VMware, Red Hat, IBM etc) or small startups, the same question should be asked, do they really have a social conscience ? As well as measuring financial performance, they may measure other key performance indicators (KPIs) and run customer satisfaction surveys, but does this show they care whether the products actually benefit the customer (or a customers customer).  Recent analyst reports and guidance and highlighting the need for social responsibility as a component for future success. 

Redefine your company based on the company you keep

Accenture Technology Vision 2018

Lets look at an example (and it’s a fictitious one). A technology company, SoftwareA, sells a products to CompanyB, that will potentially allow it develop better software, more quickly so that its customers can register complaints they may have with property rentals and landlords.  CompanyB sees regional and local government authorities as the main buyers of it’s product which links a comprehensive set of data on properties, landlords and transactions, with a nice easy to use interface, large amounts of date and some innovative software that gets information via  machine learning that enables problems to solved more effectively. The aim is that landlords fix problems quicker and that renters have less problems. 

LocalGovC buys the service from CompanyB, which includes the software, and this comes as a managed service, so that it is run and operated by CompanyB entirely. SoftwareA have provided the software that allows CompanyB to update the software and develop new functionality. 

Typically a company like SoftwareA will charge a license (or subscription) for the software product, sell some consulting to install and set it up as well as training for the developers and users of their product.  The normal measure of success for company SoftwareA is how much CompanyB spend with them, though they might also take other measurements like a Customer Satisfaction survey into account.  

CompanyB will also be deemed successful primarily on the amount that LocalGovC spends and if they are able to deliver the services at a profit.  As with SoftwareA, CompanyB should also be looking to the longer term and ensuring that their customers buy more product and renews any subscription, consulting or support services. Therefore, rather than a one-off deal, any corporate company will look to develop a longer term relationship with customers based on mutual success. 

LocalGovC will be also seen to be successful if it has bought a service under budget and that meets the requirements laid out by a wider government policy. However, this is where the pyramid of mutually assured success begins to break down. This is in part because 

However its possible that the IT based service provided by LocalGovC on its own will fail to improve the quality of social housing and the rental market in its area.  The service might have been poorly designed and not meet the needs of its customers, but to staff and management at LocalGovC this may not be the view. The metrics based on usage, response times etc might be being met, so whilst overall more tenants are suffering revenge evictions, rental prices are increasing and fewer landlords are offering affordable properties to the market, measures of success being used by LocalGovC are still being met. 

Whilst the organisations involved may see that they are responsible for the success of the final service (that is the improvement of rental accommodation on the LocalGovC area), it’s less likely the SoftwareA and CompanyB will be bought in. Things however are changing and it’s clear that to be more successful, even against the limited criteria discussed above, the software companies and service providers need to work on other areas outside of technology . However, by being more involved with process and people and not just technology, the technology companies by necessity have to care more the overall success of the project.  

Larger outsourcers haven’t got a great press and whilst they take on all the roles (including to large extent that of LocalGovC)., their drivers are that of a commercial enterprise, not of a social one and as such caring and responsibility to customers are secondary to that of shareholders.