Trust and data in the fourth industrial revolution

As more businesses use 4IR technology across their operations and embed it in their products and services, they quickly realize that technology is only as good as the trust it engenders among all stakeholders, including leadership, employees and customers. If a product or service automates a tedious task, provides clarity into previously opaque systems, saves time or simply makes life better, it provides convenience and engenders trust.

Yet, great customer experience now includes superior data stewardship: it means not leaving customer and business data exposed to theft or using it irresponsibly. Companies need to understand this new digital social contract. Those that don’t risk their reputations—and their bottom lines.

Emerging tech companies will rise and fall on their privacy positions. Indeed, some companies are failing to grasp this tradeoff, and are underinvesting in the protection of data. Among businesses worth $100 million or more, only about half are making large investments in data governance, creating transparency into their data use and storage and increasing the control individuals have over their data.

The risks extend beyond data breaches. As more and more critical infrastructure—from hospitals and airports to power grids—is connected via the Internet of Things (IoT), the services upon which society relies are increasingly exposed to cyber-attack threats. Yet, while 81% of respondents in PwC’s Digital Trust Insights survey said IoT was vital to their business, just 39% were confident they were building in sufficient protections for it. So protecting and rebounding from cyber disruptions means raising one’s “digital resilience” through real-time vision into assets and processes, an enterprise-wide plan and response and continual redesign of business services and processes.

The rapid emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) adds another layer to 4IR’s social contract. “Trustworthy AI” that is secure, explainable, ethical and bias-free is now a business imperative. Given mounting concern among the public, shareholders, boards and regulators, it’s no wonder executives say ensuring AI is trustworthy is a top priority.

4IR challenges the adequacy of current regulatory and policy frameworks, too. That’s why lawmakers have taken increased interest in digital trust. Cyber protection means bringing cybersecurity, privacy, risk and government relations professionals together early when developing digital products and services. Taking the lead with a proactive, “Do It Yourself” approach to policy making (rather than reacting to regulators) is likely to be rewarded. Most important, however, is the appreciation that the less an organization places trust front and center, the higher the chance it may lose it altogether.

Most 4IR technologies are maturing quickly, becoming less costly to adopt, and market-tested across numerous industries. Adopting these technologies ought to be a main priority for virtually any business moving into a recession.

Mohamed KandeVice Chair, US and Global Advisory Leader, PwC US

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