Sian Young, COO of SDG Assessment App: “The more personal data that is collected and stored by companies the higher the risk of privacy violations”

No-one ever said that creating sustainable businesses would be easy, but Sian Young believes that small-to-medium businesses face particular challenges. In this interview, part of our Future of Work series, we focus on how smaller companies can hold themselves to the same levels as their multinational rivals. Including using blockchain.

Sian Young SDG Assessment App
Sian Young, COO of SDG Assessment App

Not that Sian has a background in technology. “My first role in tech was and is as co-founder and COO of SDG Assessment App,” she told TechFinitive. “I am a health coach and fitness instructor who has a passion for SMEs and entrepreneurs being a serial entrepreneur myself.”

The app, she explains, met a need. “I co-founded a cooperative and while working with its members it became clear that we needed an easy and intuitive tool to guide them along their business reporting journey.”

“There are so much more regulations like the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), and corporations will need to disclose more information about their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance for their supply chain. This affects SMEs because they make up 77% (UK) of corporations’ supply chain.”

Which area of society do you think will be negatively impacted by technology and what can we do about it?

While technology has the potential to bring many benefits to society, there are also potential negative impacts that need to be considered in the view of integrating technology to build a more equitable and just society. Here are some of the areas of society that could be negatively impacted by technology and my personal suggestions on how we can mitigate this. 

Employment: There is a study that states up to 70% of retail workers could be replaced by technology. In my humble opinion, it is the job of their current employer to offer them retraining opportunities if not for a role in their company in a role that is fit for the market. 

Privacy and security: The more personal data that is collected and stored by companies the higher the risk of privacy violations. I am no security expert, and we are fortunate enough to have a global web security architect within our company, but what about those that are new to technology? Simple IT security knowledge should be available through community colleges and education facilities as standard. Schools need to catch up as well.

Mental and physical health: As I said, I am a health coach and fitness instructor, and our cooperative Center for Sustainable Action is all about supporting the wellbeing of our members. Excessive use of technology, particularly smartphones and social media, has been linked to a range of negative health outcomes including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and sedentary behaviours. Having a strong usage plan for yourself is key to harnessing the good of technology and mitigating the possible ill effects. 

What is a recent example of technology disrupting work around sustainability reporting that you found interesting?

One recent example of technology disrupting work is the use of blockchain technology to improve the transparency and accuracy of sustainability data. Traditionally, sustainability reporting has been a manual and time-consuming process, with companies collecting data from various sources and reporting their ESG performance. Corporations have been unable to gather reliable data from their supply chains because they are such dynamic and often small businesses that do not know how to report as yet.

SDG Assessment can help address these issues by providing an easy-to-use handheld interface designed with the SME in mind. It’s bolstered by blockchain technology, providing a decentralised and transparent tool producing immutable records of a business sustainability performance, which is independently verified and audited. This allows corporations to look deep into their supply chain gathering the data they need for their CSRD compliance.

Who are some people in tech you find inspiring, and why?

I find the team at Leading Cities inspiring because they focus on using technology and innovation to address some of the most pressing challenges facing cities around the world. They bring together both public and private stakeholders through their QBE AcceliCITY Challenge Accelerator.

We are now collaborating with Leading Cities on our Cities4SDGs metaverse tool, which supports cross-organisational collaboration towards achieving global sustainable development goals.

What jobs do you think AI might replace?

AI has the potential to replace jobs that involve repetitive and routine tasks, as well as those that can be automated. Take data entry and processing jobs. AI can process and analyse data faster and more accurately than humans, making it ideal for jobs that involve handling large amounts of data. But we will always need data analysts to sense-check the work the AI is producing for no factual mistakes or bias.

Customer service jobs will be replaced with AI as we have all seen in chatbots and virtual assistants that can handle simple queries and provide 24/7 customer service support. Although this reduces the need for ‘human’ customer service there will also be a need for expert advice and the human touch.

Other roles to think about are driving jobs, retail and manufacturing.

Which tech skills will be in most demand over the next 12 months? And ten years?

Demands for certain tech skills will continue to evolve over the next 12 months and the next decade. In the short term, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and remote working, leading to a growing need for professionals with skills in cloud computing, cybersecurity, data science, mobile app development and DevOps.

Augmented and virtual reality skills will become increasingly important in various fields such as gaming, entertainment, education and healthcare. 

More Future of Work interviews

Our thanks to Sian for taking the time to share her thoughts on the future of work. For more predictions, read on:

  • Michael Solomon, Author and Founder of 10xManagement. “There’s going to be a protracted battle between those who wish to work from home and those who think productivity is harmed by remote work.”
  • Eva Pankova, Head of People, ROI Hunter, “A four-day week would definitely disrupt the market, making those companies that adopt it much more competitive. Just imagine a three-day weekend!”
  • Deepesh Banerji, Chief Product Officer, Deputy. “The key to preparing for the future of work is to develop skills that are difficult to automate, such as creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence”
  • Benjamin Taylor, Organisational Consultant. “This morning at Heathrow Airport I saw a cleaning bot stuck on a rubber line on the floor. In what world is it better to have £30K robots than humans?”

If you have something to say about the future of work, please email us at [email protected].

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Tim Danton

Tim has worked in IT publishing since the days when all PCs were beige, and is editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Pro magazine. He has been writing about hardware for TechFinitive since 2023.