IT Chronicles at CES 2021: Notes on Wednesday’s Keynotes from Microsoft and Walmart

CES Keynote

While most of the Wednesday keynotes at CES 2021 were replays of earlier sessions, two were new, and equally thought-provoking, with some significant implications for business technology decision-makers.

Microsoft president Brad Smith focused on technology as a double-edged societal sword. As has been true of every transformative technology since fire, information and communications technologies can be used to provide major benefits, like heating and cooking, or to inflict major pain, like burning down villages. Smith called out privacy, security, and sustainability as areas on which technology companies, governments, and even individuals need to focus on when deciding how and where technology fits into their plans and activities.

What I found particularly interesting about Smith’s talk is that those three areas have two things in common.

  1. Individual users and practitioners can be the first line of defense or the weakest links and greatest vulnerabilities where threats to privacy, security, and sustainability are concerned.
  2. How tech companies, governments, and the businesses that employ and do business with those individuals tell their respective stories about these concerns directly affects the role individuals play and how well they play them.

Everyone has a role to play in making the technologies they use and the businesses with which they do business better at protecting privacy (individual and corporate), more secure, and more sustainable. The more good guidance companies, governments, and business leaders can provide to their internal and external users; the more private, secure, and sustainable their connected resources will be whatever combination of technologies enable those connected resources.

For the Walmart keynote, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon chatted with Tiffany Moore, Senior Vice President, Political and Industry Affairs for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). McMillon said Walmart is focused on delivering value across the company’s entire ecosystem, from employees and customers to suppliers and shareholders. He cited the company’s response to the pandemic, its pursuit of greater racial equity, diversity, and inclusion, and its commitment to climate care as key elements of those efforts to drive value.

Last summer, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation made a five-year commitment to invest $100 million in a new Center for Racial Equity. The Center will fund and support advocacy, research, capacity building (which typically includes staff and infrastructure) at relevant non-profit organizations, and innovation of practices and tools.

Regarding the pandemic, Walmart is working with governments, labs, and insurers to support drive-through COVID-19 testing at nearly 600 sites across the US. And Walmart is coordinating with multiple states to prepare its more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Where the climate is concerned, Walmart seeks to achieve zero emissions across all its operations by 2040, without relying on carbon offsets. And more than 2,300 Walmart suppliers have signed onto its Project Gigaton, which seeks to avoid a gigaton (a billion metric tons) of greenhouse gas emissions from Walmart’s supply chain by 2030. Those suppliers have avoided some 230 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since the project’s launch in 2017.

Walmart matters simply because of its scale. Some 90 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart. The company does business in more than two dozen countries and sources supplies worldwide. But Walmart is also providing some great examples of things decision makers at almost any business can emulate to achieve greater diversity, inclusion, racial equity, and sustainability.

Perhaps the most actionable and relevant takeaway from this discussion for decision makers at other businesses is to involve and trust your employees more. Walmart has gotten multiple good ideas and strong support for the initiatives outlined in McMillon’s keynote from its own employees. And McMillon said he’s convinced increased trust in those employees will actually help Walmart move, respond, and grow faster.

Trust your employees more, and tell them you’re doing so, and why. Frequently and regularly. As Stephen M.R. Covey, the son of the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” first wrote in 2006, trust is “the one thing that changes everything” and increases the speed of business.

It’s apparently working for Walmart. It might just work for your business, too.

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William Goddard

William Goddard

William Goddard is the founder and Chief Motivator at IT Chronicles. His passion for anything remotely associated with IT and the value it delivers to the business through people and technology is almost like a sickness. He gets it! And wants the world to understand the value of being a technology focused business in a technological world.