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The Digital Trust Deficit: It’s Time to Balance the Books

As massively all-encompassing as our global adoption of the Internet, cloud computing and our wider approach to an online mobile lifestyle has been, there is still a problem of dynamics. The central issue is not a question of device performance, network connectivity or access to the right information in the right place at the right time (although yes, all of those things are important). No, instead we face a rather more ground level core issue and it is one of trust in the digital fabric that surrounds us – and indeed, trust in the digital services that it offers.

A long tail curve

At the outset, we have made great progress. In mathematical terms, we might regard digital trust to be a long tail curve. That is to say, huge advances have been made in terms of our appreciation of digital services, but achieving a complete and fully fulfilled level of digital trust into the thinner long tail part of the curve is still going to be tougher.

We now accept digital banking and online shopping to be (comparatively) safe. With several large caveats (and a complete distrust of Nigerian inheritance scams notwithstanding), most consumers have probably purchased at least one item from an online store by now and been able to execute payment securely and receive the goods or service.

But this is just the start – we have a long way to go in the quest to balance the books on digital trust.

From exposure and effective functionality to robust digital services, we get to a place where we can establish and build up incremental layers of digital trust. This, in theory at least, expresses and positions some of the challenge ahead.
An Accenture survey shows that 54% of consumers remain cautious about sharing their personal information online. The consumer example above (our own proclivity for online shopping) is important, i.e. much of what happens at the consumer level will be reflected in the enterprise space. The so-called consumerization of IT is important. It goes a long way to explaining how comfortable users will feel with digital technologies in the enterprise space as a result of their exposure to them in their daily lives.

From exposure and effective functionality to robust digital services, we get to a place where we can establish and build up incremental layers of digital trust. This, in theory at least, expresses and positions some of the challenges ahead.

Multichannel complexity

So how can digital identities be better secured?

There is a wide-ranging need for a new approach to information legitimacy. Information (in the shape of data, predominantly) needs to be attributable to Line of Business (LOB) functions and so must have a defined space and time in which it should exist. We need to build a new level of nomenclature and classification that is capable of categorizing and organizing data into zones where it can subsequently be stored, analysed and further managed – or indeed be made subject to all three actions.

This new embrace of information legitimacy must extend from end-to-end across the entire supply chain of the business for it to be effective. This ability to control must also extend end-to-end in terms of device endpoints and their connectivity to the business network. In other words, with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) we have to be able to place effective data management capabilities with commensurate levels of cybersecurity protection at every node in the business – both internally as well as externally, with partners and other customers.

Transparent end-to-end information legitimacy

Once we establish a base layer of trusted end-to-end information legitimacy, then we can start to finesse our wider approach to transparency across all digital supply chains that a business comes into contact with.

In a world where the IoT is about to drive increasing levels of connected manufacturing, security is a critical concern to be addressed. Bringing transparency to bear in these environments requires that we embrace a formalized and exhaustive approach to information audits. With audits and other baseline information assessment tools in place, we can start to understand exactly what data should be where, when and why. Even in the face of random event data, unclassified and unstructured data (such as harder to categorize video, voice and email information, for example), we can build our algorithmic controls to accommodate for the unknown.

If we don’t know today what a piece of random or unknown data is, then as long as we can say that we know why that information was created, there is no reason to suggest that we have lost any digital trust in it. The end result being that we keep the digital trust balance sheet fully balanced and all stakeholders are happy.

A boardroom responsibility

While much of this work will start with the IT function and impact directly upon the day-to-day workforce, its genesis must lie in the boardroom where the C-suite has a responsibility to now classify digital trust as a business Key Performance Indicator (KPI).

Only when firms recognize themselves to be digitally transformed data-centric businesses can this happen.

Only when the CEO, CTO and CIO join the CFO in putting digital trust into an organization’s lifeblood can it become an effectively managed aspect of any firm’s commercial proposition.

Only when digital trust becomes an item in the operational balance sheet can any firm seek to balance its existence, manage its growth and use it as a positive trading attribute.

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Author: Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance technology journalist with a specialist focus on the development and management of enterprise software applications and services. He has spent the last twenty years in a variety of technology-focused media roles and as such is fully conversant with the wider technology.