• Koos Wolters, Partner |

Trust in your business is pivotal to success in today’s data-driven digital economy. In an uncertain, ever-evolving environment — where the pace of change is accelerating – customers, employees and investors are choosing organizations they can rely on to provide trusted services.

Amid the rapid emergence of technologies such as 5G networks, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), virtual reality and quantum computing, modern cybersecurity and privacy strategies have a vital role to play in creating and maintaining digital trust.

A timely new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) — developed in collaboration with KPMG as part of the WEF’s Digital Trust Initiative — warns of a “widening trust gap” between the public and today’s technology providers amid the pervasive adoption of modern digital tech and the proliferation of customer data.

As the WEF report — Earning Digital Trust: Decision-Making for Trustworthy Technologies — states: “From artificial intelligence to connected devices, from the security of personal information to algorithmic predictions, technology developers’ and digital service providers’ failures have eroded confidence at an unprecedented scale and rate.”

The report notes that recent trust surveys have all registered an alarming decrease in the public’s trust in technology use — and the loss of trust “is increasing year by year, just as our reliance on digital networks and technologies is accelerating.”

As the research findings of KPMG’s own Cyber Trust Insights 2022 report indeed shows, an unprecedented ‘data deluge’ is underway as businesses mine data at scale and increase investment in data-driven initiatives. And as businesses embrace data for timely insights to shape modern customer experiences, concerns are on the rise over how effectively that data is being protected, used and shared.

More than three-quarters (78 percent) of business leaders KPMG surveyed this year, agreed that adoption of AI and ML solutions for big-data analysis is creating unique cybersecurity challenges. Three-quarters also believe the rising use of AI and ML raises fundamental ethics and privacy questions.

Declining trust undermines brands, customer relationships, profitability

There is no mistaking the reality that trust is critical today to every organization’s brand, reputation, profitability, and long-term relationships. Rapidly evolving business systems need to be resilient, dependable, and positioned to respond instantly when things go wrong amid the soaring threat of data breaches and sophisticated cyber attacks.

But the WEF warns in no uncertain terms that businesses are not meeting public expectations for effective technology and data use.

“Citizens and consumers are beginning to demand that companies and technology developers take their values — around privacy, data use and inclusion — seriously. Where companies are unable to produce technology that meets those expectations, they can no longer expect widescale adoption,” the report states. “People expect better privacy protection, better cybersecurity, better transparency and more-ethical technologies. Right now, companies are not ready to meet this challenge.”

The WEF report also provides an instructive framework it has developed in collaboration with the world’s largest technology and consumer-focused companies, all working alongside government representatives from the US, European Commission and Singapore, as well as leading consumer advocates.

The WEF’s Digital Trust Framework urges businesses to commit to earning digital trust and to making better decisions on technology use in order to reverse today’s alarming trend. As the report states: “Trust is not about the specific technologies developed or deployed, it’s about the decisions that leaders make.”

The framework stresses how commitments to key areas such as cybersecurity, privacy, transparency, fairness and safety can improve waning public trust in new technologies and the companies delivering them. The WEF framework provides detailed goals to support digital trust, plus a roadmap showing companies how to become more trustworthy in their use and development of technology via digital trust programs.

Five key steps to building digital trust

The WEF’s insightful report should be on every CEO’s reading list as businesses everywhere navigate today’s fast-changing technology landscape amid the widening trust gap. In KPMG firms work with clients, we offer close collaboration and guidance on this critical challenge. KPMG identifies five crucial steps to building trust through cybersecurity:

  • Weave trust and security into the business as a golden thread. Smart businesses are weaving cybersecurity and data protection into every aspect of their operations — strategy, planning, investment, customer interactions, governance and culture.
  • Build internal alliances. Work with colleagues such as the Chief Data Officer and the Chief Privacy Officer to establish, embed and sustain digital trust. Clearly define and reinforce everyone’s roles and responsibilities. This includes the need for CISOs to gain a deeper appreciation of how the entire business works beyond its security requirements.
  • Reimagine the CISO role. In our data-driven reality, CISOs need to embrace a broader agenda and recognize their ability to make significant contributions in areas ranging from the ethics of AI to ESG. One-third of leaders we surveyed believe their CISO currently lacks the influence needed to protect the organization and its data.
  • Secure leadership support. CISOs gaining C-suite and board support will find it easier to drive the trust agenda. This means transforming the CISO’s duties from a traditionally narrow technical role into a strategic enabler for the organization. Half of the executives we surveyed doubt the relationship between the board and CISO is currently characterized by ‘high trust.’
  • Reach out to the ecosystem. Collaborate closely with key partners and suppliers to improve trust and resilience within a ‘trusted community.’ As our research shows, 79 percent of businesses say constructive collaboration with suppliers and clients is vital today — but only 42 percent report doing so.

“A critical decision we can make in the 21st century is whether we will work together to build trust, or watch innovation fail,” says Daniel Dobrygowski, the WEF’s head of Governance and Trust. “By focusing on the values and expectations of individuals, and by committing to security and reliability, accountability and oversight, and inclusive, ethical, and responsible use of technology, we can make the technology we develop more trustworthy.”

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