In 1970, economist Milton Friedman wrote that “the one and only social responsibility of businesses is to use their resources and engage in activities designed to increase their profits, so long as it stays in the rules of the game and engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.

In 1970, economist Milton Friedman wrote that “the one and only social responsibility of businesses is to use their resources and engage in activities designed to increase their profits, so long as it stays in the rules of the game and engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.

Back when I was teaching corporate governance at Harvard Business School in the late 2000s, it was still common to hear this quote, generally used as a definitive answer to those who dared talk of corporate social responsibility.

Ten years later, how far away this time seems! In particular, from the legitimate demands of our communities and societies, who have come to expect companies to be fully involved in public debate and to stop considering that their financial performance is the only thing that matters. 

 

The end of the “move fast and break things” era

This is particularly true in the digital field. The 2000s were the years of the “move fast and break things” mantra. Many understood this management philosophy as a point of view on how companies should behave: change things now, worry about the consequences on society later.

This era is over.

Some emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence or automation, have the potential to deeply transform our societies. This transformation can be positive but can also have its downsides and create inequalities, especially when technologies are misused.

This means that we cannot stop at “is this something that we can do, technically and legally?”. We must also consider its corollary: “is it something that we should do – for our employees, for our environment, for the societies in which we operate?” In the world of technology, possibilities create responsibilities.

 

Business rationale: it is urgent to act

And I believe it is urgent for companies to prove that they have heard the message – because, as the Atos scientific community stated in its Journey 2022 report, in the face of the technological dilemmas that are facing us today, being passive is not a possibility.

For this reason, Atos wanted to be the first CAC40 company to submit its purpose, or raison d’être, to its shareholders for a vote. It is expressed as follows:

“At Atos, our mission is to help design the future of the information technology space.

Our expertise and services support the development of knowledge, education as well as multicultural and pluralistic approaches to research that contribute to scientific and technological excellence.

Across the world, we enable our customers, employees and collaborators, and members of societies at large to live, work and develop sustainably and confidently in the information technology space.”

 

 Shaping the information technology space – great! Where do we start?

This raison d’être expresses several convictions on which I will elaborate in the coming weeks.

Firstly: the information space, the space where our data and information circulate, is not an inert reality: it is built, and shaped by our choices and by the behaviors of various actors. As the European leader in key areas such as the cloud and cybersecurity, Atos intends to actively play its part.

Secondly, one of the key challenges that lies ahead of us will be to shape the information technology space to make it more sustainable and more transparent, especially when it comes to how everyone’s data (individual or company) is used. If we want to establish trust in the information technology space, this is a prerequisite.

For the same reason, security will play an essential role. Just as aviation security has been essential to shaping the airspace as we know it, the issue of cybersecurity, and data security in its broadest sense, will be paramount to shape the IT space. It is the second necessary condition for creating trust.

And we are only at the beginning of this technological adventure! In the coming years, the volumes of data that we generate will grow dramatically, and this data will become the fabric of our daily lives. One example among others, taken from the automotive industry: in the space of half a century, we will have moved from the first steps of electronics in vehicles to autonomous cars which can constantly adapt to their environment, through the use of edge computing. Other technologies, such as supercomputers or quantum computing, are paving the way for even more impressive transformations.

It will be a challenging journey – but it’s an exciting one. Let’s go!

 

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