4 minute read 6 Mar. 2020
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How to activate governance plans for emerging tech

4 minute read 6 Mar. 2020

Activating governance plans in emerging technology is key to helping it scale.

Developing and deploying innovative digital technology at scale today is crucial to business success. It allows companies to be more nimble, to challenge sector boundaries, and deliver better customer outcomes. But even the best, most innovative technology won’t scale unless it’s governed properly and ethically.

What do we mean by ethical governance? At EY, we define this as organizations being proactive and forward-thinking in their approach to innovation and growing sustainably and confidently in a fast-changing world. They must evaluate and balance the appropriate amount of outside, downside and upside risk necessary to advance.

Trust is at the heart of ethical governance. If consumers and businesses don’t trust technology or companies, they simply won’t use them. Our solution to this is Trust by Design1 ensuring trust is embedded into services and products from the outset by instilling a risk-optimization mindset into all technology.

EY recently commissioned a survey, Six habits of digital transformation leaders, which found that, across all corporate companies surveyed, almost half (49%) are drawing up plans for executive-level governance of emerging technology, only 8% already have a well-established and active governance framework. This suggests businesses have a way to go, and are deploying technology without due consideration of the governance and ethical frameworks that should moderate its use.

Figure 1: Leaders are more advanced in governing emerging technology  

While that’s a concern, it’s encouraging to see that leaders are aware of and closely considering ethical governance. Some 57% say they either review selected digital technology under a governance model, or their governance function is well established and active. This compares with just 20% of laggards, demonstrating that leaders are three times more likely to have advanced governance approaches.

Although companies are still getting to grips with ethical governance of emerging technologies, many large technology vendors are blazing a trail and building their own frameworks for the technology they create. For example, Microsoft² has set out six core principles it believes should be at the heart of any development of AI, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google)3 has formally laid out what it believes are principles and best practices for data governance in the cloud.

“Governance is a trendy topic, but for us in insurance, it’s core,” says MAPFRE’s Chief Digital Business Officer Mónica García Cristóbal. “I was responsible for AI and robotics for the last few years as MAPFRE’s Corporate Digital IT Director, and one of the first milestones that the group carried out regarding AI was to define a data governance model. We did this to boost the use of data from all the data sources available in an organized, reliable and transversal way. We acknowledged that once you enter an unexplored territory, such as the artificial intelligence or machine learning, the values of the company have to be aligned. When you enter a new space, be it Al or machine learning or cognitive, or voice recognition, the customers need to be in the center.”

Actions for the boardroom

Developing highly effective governance approaches is an essential habit of today’s successful digital leaders and will only become more important. Companies must tread the fine line of moving quickly, but ethically. Some key considerations are to:

  • Establish key functions within the business that are supported and empowered to establish standards and policies around governance, privacy and the ethical use of technology.
  • Ensure these teams are aligned with other internal teams and functions, so they work together, not against each other.
  • Align innovation and corporate governance teams early in the innovation cycle, so technology is more likely to be developed ethically and with good governance.
  • Avoid organizational structures and corporate governance that stand in the way of creative thinking by motivating business leaders to support the development of fluid teams through agile working models.

Cutting corners on this part of the transformation process often comes back to haunt businesses. Without trust embedded from the beginning, even the best technology can prove worthless.


According to a recent EY survey, just over half the companies that rank as leaders in digital transformation already have clear tech governance frameworks in place. These frameworks will work best with dedicated governance functions creating them, aligned with all other functions in the organization, and when trust by design is built in.  

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