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Consumer confidence: digital’s ticking time bomb

Consumers need to know the benefits of new tech, writes LORNA HARDIE, regional director for Sub-Saharan Africa at VMware.

BAs we march headlong into the fourth industrial revolution it is important to reflect that history favours the brave. As much as we would like to believe that new disruptive technologies will change the future as we know it, we must look back at how certain technologies shaped the modern consumer before we can even fathom how new advancements will do the same.

If we take the likes of AI (artificial intelligence), Blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) there is still a consumer disconnect in terms of how they will impact their lives versus the palpable excitement that the IT industry feels about their rise. So, what is missing? The key here is education.

The consumer impact

Ultimately as a business you develop and create products and services that will at some stage have an impact on a consumer. Even if you are an industrialist who is building bearings for car manufacturers, your bearings will at some stage of their lifecycle be in a car driven by a consumer. If we take this example and apply it to technology, it is quintessential that as business we understand how the consumer feels about technology disruption, their perception of concepts like AI and blockchain and whether or not they have any idea of the true impact on their lives.

At VMware we recently ran a consumer survey in EMEA, where we turned to consumers to get a better idea of how they feel about this new digital frontier we are in. Accordingly, 46% of respondents said that technology was at the heart of their daily lives, recognising its benefits in a multitude of areas. Further, 53% realise this is driving a better customer experience with businesses, such as banks, retailers and even doctors and 50% of respondents also highlighted that they believe new technology can improve environmental issues such as climate change (50%).

But to every positive there is a negative, and 50% of consumers (taken from representative samples in UK, France and Germany) just don’t understand enough about the use and impact of these disruptive technologies. A whopping 45% of the public believe that AI ‘is a robot’ and fear its rise, in the same way SkyNet rose in the cult classic Terminator.

Consumer confidence

In 1879, a scientist and the president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, Henry Morton, stated publicly that one man’s tinkering was a “conspicuous failure” – the man he was referring to was Thomas Edison and the invention in question was the light bulb. Other inventions like the car, talking in moving pictures and even liquid nail polish were met with the same cynicism.

So if history is anything to go by it is no wonder that if we consider technology in banking alone, only 7% of respondents to the survey would give AI control over their money, even if meant they could save money quicker and 65% are scared or nervous about their bank having access to completely accurate data about their daily lives.

Now factor in the fact that reports locally by PWC and even McKinsey highlight that the South African consumer is one of the most cautious in the world – this means that we as business have a big job on our hands.

Capitalise on change

The onus is on us to transform the way the consumer feels and engages with new technologies and solutions. We need to educate them in terms of the positives, communicate the mechanics of how it works and speak specifically to the benefits.

We know the fabric of innovation is a digital foundation built in the cloud and powered by apps and services that combine new technologies to build life-changing experiences and superior products. But your consumer needs to know what impact these will have on their daily lives, that they can trust these apps and that no – AI is not a robot.

Take a look for example at the new Investec advertisement that speaks to data and its role in changing our lives; but then it also comes back full circle to the fact that the company still sees its consumers as human beings, who they will service face-to-face (if needed) and where they are not just considered a number.

Software has the power to help march the world forward, but there would have been no point in building the car if they did not put a steering wheel in it. The consumer is the first step in the new digital frontier and as much as we build apps, services and products for them – we can’t leave them behind in our excitement – even when building solutions for the digital workforce.

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