Baroness Dido Harding: ‘digital technology is for everyone’

In the age of technology, how can companies adapt to the ever-changing face of business? In the emirate for the Dubai World Cup, top-ten most influential businesswoman Baroness Dido Harding shares her expert insight with Vision

I’ve just been at the Dubai World Cup, which was an amazing experience for a passionate horseperson as you get to see some of the world’s best horses. There’s a lot that UK racing can learn from Dubai – for example, having the biggest race at the end of the day instead of at the middle, and just the whole spectacle of it. Even if you’re not that interested in horseracing, it’s a huge event. 

Martha Lane Fox founded Doteveryone and I first got involved with her previous project, Go On, the aim of which was to get everyone in the UK online. Doteveryone is an extension of this – it’s the idea that we as a global society need to figure out what the social, moral, ethical scaffolding of the digital world is. Not only is this really important, personally, I think this is a hugely exciting opportunity. 

What the digital world does is magnify human behaviour, both good and bad. It has come to the point whereby people are much more willing to say something digitally than they would face to face, which can cause harm, as well as happiness. Although the moral debates are essentially the same as we’ve been having for millennia, the impact is different, so we must think about what is right and wrong and make sure we build a fairer internet as a result.

The world is changing because of the technological revolution; it’s driving every bit as much change as the first industrial revolution did. Go On began with the view that digital skills will be viewed in the same way that literary skills were regarded in the 19th Century. But it’s much more than just digital skills. It is working through how governments, businesses, citizens change the way they work and the way they live. What counts as good behaviour online, and what counts as bad? I don’t think you can have a completely unregulated digital world in the same way you cannot have a completely unregulated physical world. 

One of the worries is that technological development, at the moment, is dominated by men. And yet if it’s going to drive the way we live our lives, you want to make sure it reflects the whole of society. Another one of our resolutions is to help non-digital natives; one of Doteveryone’s early projects was to set up digital mentors for Members of Parliament. The danger is that people over 30 will say “I don’t understand this stuff, it’s not for me”. But it’s for everyone. I think the innovation and the aspiration that has come from Silicon Valley is simply amazing, but they also need input from ordinary people living ordinary lives, and they need input from politicians, charities, other businesses – otherwise you’re only seeing the world through one prism. 

Another great project the team has been involved in is looking at how technology can help end of life care. The number one request for those in hospices or care homes was to have good Wi-Fi. It sounds so obvious, but if you’re immobile, you still want to keep in contact with your family, and to access all of the applications that sit on your smartphone. Before any sophisticated technology, these people want to be able to live – for however many days, weeks, months that may be. 

I’ve also done a lot of work on child Internet safety. TalkTalk was one of the early pioneers on putting tools in the hands of the parents, so they can decide if they want to block different types of potentially harmful content. Now it is standard in the UK, but at the time we launched everyone was saying it was impossible. As a company, it got us into the mind-set of thinking “What responsibilities do we have as an ISP? What do our customers expect us to help keep them safe online?” Tech is new for everyone, but we all have to work together to figure out what these answers should be.