This is a real problem because, as we strike out into the digital age, we’re going to be asking people to place a lot of trust in technology and new ways of doing things. Our challenge is to puzzle out how to bring about digital transformation with all its economic and social potential, in a way that people – and businesses and governments – will trust. The answer is a blend of innovation and caution.
The Chief Information Officers we talk to are under huge pressure to get digital transformation underway and roll out new digital services to customers. According to Gartner, 67 per cent of business leaders see the urgency of digitisation and 77 per cent of executives’ priorities are technology dependent. In other words, line of business heads and corporate end users have seen lots of cool digital applications out there and now they want them for themselves. At the same time, those CIOs are under equal pressure to keep corporate assets safe, to protect customer data, to defend the network minute by minute against all kinds of cyber security threats. As well as keeping the existing plates spinning for business as usual, of course.
Most CIOs don’t want to be the first to try anything new. But nor do they want to be last. The conversations we have are all around how to move forward in a way that delivers all the innovation and digital experiences the business needs, but without compromising the security of data or the integrity of the corporate infrastructure. Especially when it comes to core processes, CIOs are pretty conservative. While there are no easy answers, we do see some broad principles at work.
The first principle is that trust only builds over time (although you can lose it in a day). When it comes to digital transformation, we need to reject short-term opportunism and take a long view. It is an advantage if your business or brand has proof points from the past to underwrite your credibility as you go digital. It might be harder for large organisations to acquire the agility of start-ups, but they shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of a good track record. And when you choose a technology partner for digital transformation, then pick one that’s been around the block a few times, and you can depend on for the future.
The second principle is transparency. Honesty has always mattered but the digital age will demand greater transparency about your processes, your supply chain, your accounts, your sustainability record and the way you handle data from customers, employees and business partners. When something goes wrong (and it will) then be honest, be upfront, be accountable. People recognise that bad things happen, but they are less forgiving when a crisis is badly handled.
Of course, once trust is gone, it is difficult to regain. But not impossible. Digital technologies can offer new opportunities to build trust. For example, after the crisis of 2008, banks fell from grace. Yet, ten years on, good online self-service and human contact through video, phone and web chat are warming consumer attitudes towards financial service providers.
Third is all about the integrity of your supply chain. Customers want to trust the brands they choose. In the pharmaceutical industry for example, digital technologies and processes help to ensure product authenticity and quality throughout the supply chain.
If you're embarking on a digital transformation programme, then check the quality of your technology partners’ supply chain. To what extent are their data centres compliant with relevant data protection legislation? Where’s the evidence? What about the deeper supply chain? Does the telco or systems integrator vet their component vendors down to chip level?
As cyber criminals realise that large corporations have become more difficult (and expensive) to attack, they turn their attention to the non-digital supply chain. People like cleaners, baristas, canteen staff or agency workers can easily gather information from waste paper or overheard conversations. Or collect ID badges. That’s why it’s so important to bring security into your supplier contracts.
The fourth principle is collaboration, working in partnership to make the most of digital opportunities. A great deal of digital innovation is taking place in small and medium-sized enterprises. Yet few big companies are going to place a big bet on a minnow, however tempting the prize.
Small, new and innovative companies lack the means to connect with the large organisations who could most benefit from their originality and ideas. Certainly, in today’s global market, it helps to have some sort of global footprint if you want to do business with multinational organisations. The solution lies in developing platforms where innovators can meet incumbents and securely share, test and roll out new ideas.
A good example of this is in financial services, where the Radianz (part of the BT Group) cloud community links thousands of financial companies and institutions with specialist vendors and service providers securely and compliantly. By joining Radianz, fintech innovators have access to customers worldwide and financial services companies and trading institutions can tap into the best new ideas and digital innovations with minimal risk. Switch it on, trial it, roll it out – or switch it off and try something else. Financial services companies are highly averse to risk but this combination of conservatism (Radianz has been trading for 25 years) and innovation (400+ service providers) allows them to explore digital initiatives in a secure environment.
In the future, every company will be a digital company. To win and keep the trust of customers, of suppliers and of legislators, the successful digital business will take a long term view, cherish transparency and authenticate its entire supply chain. It will collaborate with trusted partners to harness fresh thinking and innovation from the SME sector. In this way, we can begin to move forward and start to deliver the benefits of the digital economy.