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February 2020 | Technology

Steve Goodall: Change best delivered one step at a time

Steve Goodall is CEO of ULS Technology

Success stories in tech are becoming something of a rarity as we move into a new era of scrutiny.

It’s a truth that has been universal for thousands of years: what goes up, must come down.

The Romans knew this truth as the wheel of fortune. Shakespeare wrote the greatest plays in English history on the idea that great men (and women) fall. Whether it is a literal fall from grace or a reputational one, it’s not a stretch to characterise technology giants in a similar vein.

First heralded as pioneering firms out to disrupt the corporate stranglehold across industries by democratising, representing and supporting consumers – companies such as Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Spotify and Netflix are now facing the scrutiny as large companies.

They now face trials by Congress and Parliament and are pursued by regulators for billions in what governments and increasingly consumers view as unpaid taxes.

In late January proposals from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development were published, designed to force tech firms to pay more tax in countries where they make sales and profits, even if they do not have a physical presence. Tech firms are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not impressed.

This is not helpful profile for the many other tech firms quietly and legitimately making inroads and delivering change into less glamorous parts of business. Technology has been given status as a game-changer in nearly all walks of life.

Fintech, insuretech, proptech, medtech, biotech, driverless cars, battery tech that will remove the need for fossil fuels – these are just a handful of industries that have seen improvements come as a result of better use of technology and data.

Often the developments which garner the most attention are those that move an industry or process forwards in leaps and bounds. Incremental (yet often more substantive) change gets lost amongst the noise.

Sometimes the headline acts attract the wrong type of attention, leaving the genuinely progressive changes tarred by the same brush.

Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal harmed consumer trust in digital firms that lean heavily on the gathering of personal data irreversibly, in the short-term at least.

Add to this the new dawn of open banking and there is much scepticism and fear by those terrified of being scammed or manipulated if they share their data.

As technology develops and delivers improvements, there are inevitable mistakes that accompany that progress.

However high-profile errors cost everyone – high street banks may live in fear of the reputational risk that accompanies massive IT outages.

However, getting it wrong some of the time is how we learn – it’s how we have always learned. The deployment of smart technology, artificial intelligence, the use of analytics to make sense of big data – these technologies really took off at the start of the last decade.

They are beginning to mature, reaching their teenage years, if you will, which may explain why an element of disillusionment is now setting in.

I’ve seen various industry posts (on social media, ironically) and heard views shared at events that suggest there is a sense of technology fatigue marring the mortgage market. Indeed, several significant self-styled digital businesses in the advice sector have seen significant staff changes and/or a refocusing of their business strategies over the past 12 to 24 months.

This does not mean that technology has failed in the mortgage market. It means that we are learning how to use it and how to integrate with it better, through experience of it in action.

There are lots of things governing the structure of the housing market and the purchase (and remortgage) transaction process. Not least the people involved in the different stages of this process.

Rather than abandon hope for technological progress that helps to support better customer (and broker/lender/conveyancer) experience, perhaps there is cause for some optimism if we look to incremental change rather than step changes.

When we launched DigitalMove, our integrated conveyancing platform for consumers, brokers and solicitors in January last year, we did so through pilot schemes – testing and learning as we went.

Now the total number of instructed DigitalMove cases exceeds 5,000, with the vast majority of our firms now taking instructions from us via the platform.

These figures are significant and justify our recent commitment to an investment programme which will accelerate a further roll out of DigitalMove across the industry over the next two years.

Home buying is undergoing daily, incremental change. We have come on greatly in the year since we launched, but what has characterised that progress has been that it’s been robust and gradual. You will not hear spurious claims from us about re-inventing the process. Just the evidence that we are doing so.