Edwina Fitzmaurice, EY Global Director of Customer Success, speaks to Global Finance about technology, innovation and customer success.
Global Finance: How has the technology industry evolved?
Edwina Fitzmaurice: Technology is at the top of the agenda in a different way because of the perceived opportunities and associated risks and challenges: everything is evolving at such speed. Digital transformation is back on the agenda. Data security ethics is becoming a major risk for many organizations, and companies are looking to each other, regulators and consulting firms to understand the rules of the game.
GF: Should businesses focus on the latest technology trends?
Fitzmaurice: We tend to move from one trend to another, and there has been hype over the years with Web3, blockchain, metaverse and now AI (artificial intelligence). People jump through cycles and move from one technology to another, but it’s important to have a long-term portfolio view when monitoring trends rather than headlines.
Cycles are like swings and roundabouts. People who constantly move from one swing to the next might not notice a longer-term trend around a shift in how we think about, experience, and build good technology. Moving from one technology to another is a unique exercise. However, roundabouts are exciting. You can collaborate on a topic, invite other people to the roundabout and control whether you are going fast or slow.
For technology investments, fluctuations and detours are not the same thing. We encourage people to observe the fluctuations and find the people and organizations on the roundabouts to build an ecosystem to observe in the short and long term and understand the cycles.
GF: How do you measure customer success?
Fitzmaurice: At its core, it’s about the adoption of technology and how people use it. We look at how many of them use the technology and how often, as well as the features and functions they use. We also have typical customer success scores like the Net Promoter Score. At its core, customer success is about ensuring we deliver on the technology promise to our customers.
GF: With all the technological innovations these days, how do you balance that with the ideas of safety, security, ethics and governance?
Fitzmaurice: I’m seeing a much closer conversation and collaboration with regulators, which creates a playing field that people can understand. It really is about the right balance. With too much regulation, the cost of compliance is too high and only the big players can play, resulting in monopolies. Likewise, with too little regulation, resource-constrained startups struggle to know where to place their bets, hampering innovation.
Public/private partnerships with regulators are a good idea, and we’ll probably see more of them. Standards bodies come forward with a point of view, but regulators struggle to recruit the right talent to keep up with innovation. Getting tech companies to work with standards bodies is one way to close this gap and move faster.
GF: Are there tensions between the regulatory approaches of different countries?
Fitzmaurice: The general feeling is that the EU tends to be the first to take a position on something and other regulators follow, but not in exactly the same way. For example, Asia has a different perspective on privacy. Everyone is working on these issues because you need to create rules of the game that people understand, and governments want to create an environment in which businesses can succeed while being aware of the risks. We will likely continue to see the EU move forward first, relatively speaking, and then the others will follow or catch up.
GF: In your opinion, what is the correlation between macroeconomic cycles and the concept of the roundabout? At the end of 2021, we were looking at the Metaverse as the next big thing, and now we’re looking at AI. How does this correlate?
Fitzmaurice: No one is immune to economic cycles, but it’s how people place their bets. The Metaverse has been positioned as the future of the Internet and the way we are going to experience the Internet, based on demographics (Generation Z and Alpha) and the gaming industry, which is larger than the entertainment industry . If that’s true, it hasn’t changed because the business cycle has changed. The question is whether you can maintain the right level of investment in what you deem important and not lose momentum when considering other options or significantly reduce costs.
There is a huge amount of investment and expectation around AI, and we will see how that plays out. I don’t have a crystal ball: it’s a portfolio approach, placing your bets and deciding which technological innovations you think are worth holding on to. Everything ends up finding its level.
GF: Do you think innovation occurs best in times of financial constraints or lack of capital?
Fitzmaurice: When there are financial constraints, you focus more on technology that has potential. Plus, with fewer resources, you have to be more imaginative and push yourself. People are starting to share resources and collaborate in a different way to move the agenda forward. The most innovative people stay the course on what they see as real disruptions and continue to dedicate resources to them.
GF: What are the implications for talent?
Fitzmaurice: Engineers will always be very busy: there is a lot of technology to design and engineer. Beyond that, I see a rise in the low-code/no-code movement, and generative AI is going to make this even more pronounced because effectively, we are democratizing the work done by developers.
In a simpler way, you can communicate directly with data using generative AI. Using a database and language interface, you can query data without creating screens, forms, or reports. People will have incredible tools, especially when we move to multimodal. We envision new levels of productivity to solve problems and develop solutions with an artificial intelligence co-pilot. People who are problem solvers and comfortable with technology will play an increasingly important role.
There will always be jobs in ethics, compliance, cybersecurity, data, data strategy and data governance: these roles are important for the balance between innovation and governance.
GF: How does diversity come into play for your teams?
Fitzmaurice: I really believe in diverse teams. We need to think about our talents in a different way and include the people we are trying to serve in technology development. This way we have a better chance of creating the kind of technology we want.
Besides engineers, we are also recruiting artists and musicians to work with our teams. We are trying to reach the essence of humanity and human-centered technology, not just STEM-oriented engineering. My global team has 40 neurodiverse people, and we have people working with us who are blind and disabled.
GF: How is the demand for technology different across geographies?
Fitzmaurice: Asia is highly technologically advanced and moving quickly to innovate, develop disruptive business models and digitalize consumers. This type of technological integration is impressive. Europe is innovating and moving from a position of protection. The United States aims to be very business-friendly and does not necessarily have the same level of legislation as Europe. There is a tremendous amount of innovation happening in the United States, but friction within the system makes it difficult to get it to people.
GF: Are companies being pushed toward technologies that don’t have safeguards or protections against risk?
Fitzmaurice: This is the biggest risk at the moment, and there is a real difficulty in knowing what to do because there is also the fear of missing out. There’s that balance between how far we go and how fast and having the right people around us. Businesses want opportunity, growth and to be part of the next wave while protecting their business.
Companies can mitigate this risk by first looking at their talent and determining whether the right people are providing them with advice. You need a roadmap that includes experimentation in a controlled manner. It is important to collaborate with standards bodies and ecosystem partners, which may involve building skills to be able to start playing across the portfolio. Boards of directors are looking for more assurances from management teams, and technologists are also transforming into risk management teams to fill this gap. This should be a very active conversation.