Over the past week Microsoft has been in the headlines after a group of employees sent a letter to company leaders protesting a contract with the US Army. This story has received major media attention from Wired to NPR who are taking an interest in this case and how a tricky relationship exists between technology companies and the government.
The contract in questions was awarded in November 2018 and represents the first time Microsoft products, in this case HoloLens headsets, would be used in actual combat operations. This worried Microsoft employees who did not want the products they work on to be used in combat operations and is another statement of concern voiced by technology workers in the US against contracts with the US government.
The Wired article included an excerpt of a statement Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave standing by the contract and highlighted the importance he sees in continuing to work with the government and military.
“Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella rebuffed the plea. “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Nadella told CNN Business at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.”
As companies look to provide more advanced technological offerings workers increasingly find themselves working on projects where they do not know how the end user will utilize the product and in some cases who the end user is. Workers walk a fine line here and as companies provide more advanced technology to public and private sector clients an upfront policy on how to address who their clients are and be transparent about how relevant stakeholders might react to different projects.
Companies cannot sit idle but must be proactive and work with all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page and have a channel of dealing with complaints internally before too much disruption occurs. As technology solutions become more advanced and integrated into all aspects of life difficult questions of who has access to technology and when technology goes too far will become increasingly more prevalent. As issues arise dialogue is needed from all parties to workout what steps are needed moving forward and when to move away from a project. An additional factor complicating issues surrounding technology is that as new forms of technology become available and trends change the norms of technology shift very fast.
To succeed, an organization must take the time to set aside a block of time and address where technology can fit in with their organization and under what circumstances do technology and privacy go too far. A strong organization will be able to move through this time but if transparent conversations are not had by leaders from across the organization internal conflict possess the threat of making disagreements public and damaging the reputation and name of an organization. As with any advancement both progress and new challenges will arise causing leaders to make new types of decisions about who can access information, what projects the organization works on, and what types of organizations a specific organization forms strategic alliances and partnerships with.
The issues raised by Microsoft employees will not go away neither will the opinions of varying stakeholders who take different stands to improve their own position within organizations. As more stakeholders enter the conversation more ideas are generated but at the same time more safeguards and guidelines are needed to limit internal strife and the possibility that different sides take a hard position which could reduce the efficiency of an organization. This is an era that goes beyond making a right or wrong choice but is centered on making a choice that leaders can stand by and defend while not alienating stakeholders to the point of rebellion. This is bound to play out in additional companies and increasingly be brought up in the legal system.