Purpose drives profit. It’s a simple statement that encapsulates a revolution in corporate thinking. Research shows that 83% of companies that overperform on revenue link everything they do to their corporate purpose.
The world’s most powerful brands recognize that purpose differentiates them from their competitors, serves as the guiding point or North Star for all strategic decisions and investments. It crystallizes a holistic view of the business and its impacts on society and the environmental landscape.
The Purpose of Technology
Bringing purpose to life can prove to be incredibly challenging as enterprises navigate a complex ecosystem of fragmented operations, departmental silos, disengaged stakeholders, and constant pressures of operating margins and value creation.
This is where technology creates an opportunity. By harnessing the abundance of digital technologies, enterprises can bring their purpose to life and deliver on this promise, whether by engaging employees and stakeholders across a company’s ecosystem or by realizing commitments to improve the environment and empower local communities.
Across multiple industries, technology is delivering purpose, from the Internet of Things devices enabling sustainable operations to blockchains providing evidence of ethical sourcing. From data sharing that offers intelligence and insights to infrastructure that enables collaboration to automation that fuels efficiency and innovation, the purpose of technology is far elevated from the initial perception of business enablement.
Undeniably, the purpose of technology in today’s enterprise ecosystem is far greater than the traditional benefits of scale, efficiency, cost reduction, and streamlining of operations.
The purpose of technology is to drive, enable and influence:
- Growth and innovation
- Collaboration and engagement across stakeholders
- Empowerment and inclusivity
- Health, safety, and well-being
- Sustainability and positive environmental impact
Driving innovation and growth
A survey of 600 business leaders in North America and Europe by consulting firm McKinsey found the fastest-growing companies were using digital technologies to gain competitive advantage by creating meaningful and positive customer experiences with digital interactions; pricing products in real-time, and refining products continually with customer feedback.
But they are also using these technologies to drive their purpose.
In financial services, for example, artificial intelligence is a powering value. Machine learning is improving the accuracy of risk pricing, helping to bring insurance cover within the reach of the least wealthy and ensuring that the careful do not subsidize the reckless.
Allianz Global Investors’ purpose is to be an outstanding competitor in its chosen markets. Using neuro-linguistic programming and machine learning, Allianz is able to make better investment decisions for its customers and free up its people to investigate new markets and opportunities.
Fostering collaboration and engagement across ecosystems
A sense of purpose is also critical in driving engagement across all stakeholders – from employees to industry influencers, customers to partners and the communities in which companies operate.
Companies with a clearly articulated enterprise purpose do better at engagement, according to Professor Rebecca Henderson of Harvard Business School. “The sense of being part of something greater than yourself can lead to high levels of engagement, high levels of creativity, and the willingness to partner across functional and product boundaries within a company, which are hugely powerful,” she explains.
Henderson believes many people are motivated as much by purpose and the sense they are doing something worthwhile as they are by money.
Digital collaborative working tools like file sharing, wikis, and open project management software; platforms for data sharing backed by cloud infrastructure; connectivity fueled by IoT are all creating ecosystems that foster collaboration and alignment of efforts towards a shared purpose.
When Satya Nadella took over the reigns of the company, he defined the company’s purpose: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” Staying true to their purpose, Microsoft is working with industry leaders, organizations and partners to remove barriers to data innovation. The purpose of technology is to enable the effective sharing of data to address some of society’s biggest challenges and help individuals and organizations be more innovative, efficient, and productive.
From empowering Starbucks to leverage data to continuously improve the experience for customers and partners, to partnering with BMW Group to develop an Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP) designed to break down industry barriers through the creation of an open technology framework and cross-industry community, Microsoft is enabling greater collaboration and engagement across stakeholder.
Improving health, safety, and well-being
From improving working conditions to ensure greater safety to policies, products and processes for better health to plans and programs that foster well-being, enterprises are harnessing the power of digital technologies to change the way people live, work, play and produce.
GE Healthcare recognizes that its field workers can encounter hazardous conditions from radiation to pathogens to electrical issues. The company uses digital tools and a cloud-based content collaboration platform to offer workers access to relevant and timely information. GE Healthcare in building a “stop-work culture” that leads with the philosophy of think before you work. Workers armed with the right information and connected to the relevant experts are empowered to stop work if they suspect any risks or safety issues.
Mastercard’s global purpose is to use technology to make payments safe, simple and smart, and this led the company to innovate for parents and children. One of the constant concerns parents faced was about sending children to school with cash to buy lunch or pay for activities like educational visits.
Developed to allow digital ordering and payment, Mastercard’s Qkr smartphone app enables parents to make school payments on-the-go and ensure their children eat healthy. Technological innovation has proven healthy for the company, too, with revenues up 20% last year.
Enabling empowerment and inclusivity
Positive societal outcomes are quickly emerging as a critical underpinning factor of corporate strategies. As companies define aggressive growth trajectories, they are recognizing that community partners, employees, and all stakeholders need to be included in these plans, and the outcomes need to empower these very stakeholders towards success.
ING is bringing its sustainability purpose to life to drive societal transition through financial empowerment. From increasing financial literacy in Turkey through the use of a dedicated video channel to using technology to help deaf customers, who previously needed an interpreter, with their banking needs. As in the case of ING, there’s no denying that the purpose of technology is to offer greater connectivity, access and thus, inclusivity and empowerment.
Driving sustainability and positive environmental impact
The most innovative firms recognize that their purpose should go beyond profit and shareholder value, and include positive environmental outcomes. And the impact of technology in improving lives and enabling better outcomes for the environment is no longer a question.
One example of this is JanSport, a firm that has elevated the humble backpack into a fashion item. JanSport places ethical sourcing at the heart of its business purpose, committing to avoid sourcing any part of its products from suppliers who exploit workers or harm the environment.
To meet that commitment, it has deployed blockchain-driven SourceMap supply chain mapping software, which tracks the components that go into making its bags, from yarn to zippers. This shows, at a glance, where they originate and how they are shipped between processors across the world.
Global retailer Costco declares its commitment to having a positive impact on society with the message: “For Costco to thrive, the world needs to thrive.” Delivering on that commitment means protecting the environment and the company is rolling out global technology to support that goal.
One of its latest initiatives involves using IoT-enabled water-monitoring technology that has reduced the company’s water consumption at its sites worldwide by 10%. The purpose of technology is to not only save energy but also help Costco cut down its CO2 emissions.
Defining, articulating and delivering on a clear enterprise purpose that goes beyond purely financial considerations used to be a luxury indulged in by small firms and startups. Today it is the hallmark of successful companies of all sizes – and technology is integral to delivering its promise.